August 24, 2022

Utility Dive: There is a place for natural gas on a zero-carbon grid: EPRI

By Robert Walton

Dive Brief:

Dive Insight:

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. has warned that gas generation will be necessary to balance the transition to more variable renewables and storage. EPRI’s new research concludes there is a role for natural gas capacity and generation “during the transition to zero [emissions] and at the destination.”

“Utilities are pledging net-zero targets that can include plans to build gas-fired capacity, which raises questions about levels of natural gas that are consistent with electric sector decarbonization goals,” the paper states.

Researchers modeled scenarios where wind and solar generation shares ranged from 52% to 66% in most regions, compared with 0% to 19% gas generation. Nuclear, batteries and other resources were also included in the analysis. Natural gas capacity “can be compatible with net-zero emissions goals if a net-zero policy framing allows units with CO2 removal offset,” EPRI researchers concluded in the paper. 

Carbon removal technologies, however, remain largely untested in the U.S. In February, the Department of Energy announced up to $96 million in funding to develop carbon capture and storage, or CCS, capabilities at gas power plants and in industrial applications. The technologies would be required to capture 95% of CO2 emissions generated.    

“In general, we have seen CCS not being an effective controller of greenhouse gas emissions,” Slocum said during a Tuesday webinar focused on how the gas industry could use the 45Q credit to also expand exports of liquefied natural gas. “The Government Accountability Office came out with a report last year where they particularly noted that CCS in the electric power sector has been a complete failure.” 

That report noted that DOE had provided almost $700 million to eight coal projects, “resulting in one operational facility.” NRG Energy’s Petra Nova facility in Texas received almost $200 million, according to the DOE report. The project, a partnership with JX Nippon, shut down in 2020 and, according to Reuters, missed its carbon capture goals by roughly 17% over the course of a three-year run.

“Past experience isn’t necessarily a good predictor of future performance, especially in the power sector, where many technologies have historically surprised experts by their technological progress,” John Bistline, a program manager in EPRI’s energy systems and climate analysis group and co-author of the report, said in an email. He pointed to solar photovoltaics, wind, battery storage and shale gas as examples.

Existing gas plants in the United States “generally do not have carbon capture technology,” Bistline said, though there is a test facility in Texas, and NET power has announced plans for several CCS gas plants using a new technology.

But Public Citizen’s Slocum said it still makes more sense to invest in renewables and battery storage. “No one is going to finance or build a new gas plant with CCS unless DOE/tax credits finance nearly all of it,” he said.