Is Natural Gas Better Than Renewable Energy?


The world’s energy needs are rapidly growing, and finding the right energy sources to meet demand while minimizing environmental impact is a complex challenge. Two major options are natural gas and renewable energy. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, has been hailed as a cleaner transition fuel away from high-polluting coal. Renewable energy comes from natural sources like wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower that replenish over time. There are pros and cons to both natural gas and renewable energy, but renewables are better long-term solutions for a sustainable energy future with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

This article will examine the advantages and disadvantages of natural gas versus renewable energy when considering factors like cost, environmental impact, and long-term viability. It will argue that while natural gas burns cleaner than coal, it still contributes significantly to climate change as a fossil fuel. Renewables don’t release any direct greenhouse gases and will be more cost-competitive over time. There are still challenges with transitioning to 100% renewable energy, but the rapid growth of wind and solar demonstrates renewables can scale up to meet energy demand while natural gas usage should be phased out.

What is natural gas?

Natural gas is a fossil fuel that forms deep beneath the Earth’s surface. It is composed primarily of methane (CH4), a compound with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms (U.S. Energy Information Administration). Natural gas is found in underground deposits of porous rocks like shale or sandstone (Union of Concerned Scientists). It is extracted through drilling and pumped to the surface.

When burned, natural gas releases carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Like other fossil fuels such as coal and oil, natural gas emits CO2 when combusted. This makes it a significant source of emissions that drive global warming.

Pros of Natural Gas

One of the main advantages of natural gas is that it has an abundant domestic supply. The United States has massive natural gas reserves that can provide affordable energy for decades (Source: Natural gas deposits are available in many areas of the country and new methods like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have unlocked even more supply. This keeps natural gas prices relatively low compared to other energy sources.

Natural gas is also flexible in how it can be used. It can fuel power plants to generate electricity, provide heat for residential and commercial buildings, and even power vehicles as compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). This versatility makes natural gas a good option for many applications (Source: The existing infrastructure for natural gas delivery also makes it relatively easy to adopt.

Cons of natural gas

Natural gas is a nonrenewable fossil fuel formed deep beneath the earth’s surface. While it burns cleaner than coal and oil, natural gas still emits carbon dioxide (CO2) when combusted. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the combustion of natural gas emits 50-60% less CO2 than coal and 20-30% less than oil to produce the same amount of energy.

However, natural gas is primarily composed of methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Extracting, transporting, and storing natural gas results in leaks of unburned methane, which is estimated to trap 86 times more heat in the atmosphere over a 20 year period compared to CO2. These methane leaks can counteract many of the climate benefits of switching from coal or oil to natural gas.

Since natural gas is a finite resource formed over millions of years, reserves are being depleted much faster than new ones are created. The substantial development of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has unlocked vast new supplies of natural gas over the past decade, but most experts agree these newfound reserves will last only a few more decades at current rates of consumption. The natural gas boom has made the fuel more affordable in the short-term, but longer-term supplies are finite.

What Are Renewable Energies?

Renewable energy comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. Some of the most common renewable energy sources are:

Solar Energy

Solar power converts energy from the sun into electricity through the use of photovoltaic cells. It is a clean and abundant renewable energy source. Solar energy can be used for heating and electricity in homes, commercial buildings, and industrial processes (Source).

Wind Energy

Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in wind into mechanical power that runs a generator to produce electricity. Wind power is one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources. Wind farms can be built on land or offshore in coastal waters (Source).


Hydropower harnesses the energy of flowing water to generate electricity through turbines in dams. It provides a clean, renewable source for power generation and water management. Hydropower is a flexible energy source that can adjust rapidly to shifts in electricity demand (Source).


Biomass utilizes organic matter such as plants, wood, agricultural waste, or garbage as a renewable fuel source. Biomass can be burned directly for heat or converted to biogas or biofuel. It is commonly used for electricity generation, heating, and transportation (Source).


Geothermal energy harnesses heat generated within the earth to produce electricity, heat buildings, or power industrial processes. It taps into underground reservoirs of hot water or steam and brings the heat to the surface through wells (Source).

Pros of Renewables

renewable energy produces no direct emissions

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar provide substantial benefits for our climate and health because they generate energy with zero direct emissions (). Renewable energy technologies can help countries meet their sustainable energy goals and move towards a low-carbon economy (). The most significant advantage of renewable energy is that it produces power without emitting greenhouse gases. Solar panels and wind turbines generate electricity with no carbon dioxide or other pollutants that can cause climate change. This helps mitigate the impact of burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas ().

Cons of Renewables

While renewable energy sources have many advantages, they also come with some downsides and challenges. One of the biggest cons of renewables is their higher upfront costs compared to fossil fuels like natural gas. Installing solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal systems, and other renewable technologies requires a major initial investment. According to Energysage, the average cost to install residential solar panels ranges from $15,000-$25,000.

Another downside of renewables is their intermittent nature. Many renewable sources depend heavily on weather and environmental conditions to generate power. For example, solar panels don’t produce energy at night, and wind turbines need adequate wind to spin. This intermittency means renewables may not provide a constant supply of energy like fossil fuels. Energy storage solutions can help overcome this challenge but add even more costs.

Overall, while renewable energy has environmental benefits, the high upfront investment and intermittent operation present barriers to widespread adoption. Improvements in storage technology and decreased costs over time may help renewables become more viable alternatives to traditional energy sources like natural gas.

Natural gas vs. renewables – cost

The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is an important metric for comparing the cost of different energy sources over their lifetime. According to a Bloomberg report, the LCOE for new onshore wind power is about $46 per megawatt-hour, while large-scale solar power costs around $45 per megawatt-hour. In comparison, new natural gas power costs between $44 to $68 per megawatt-hour.

While natural gas and renewables have reached cost parity in recent years, government incentives still play a role. Tax credits and other incentives for renewable energy can make sources like solar and wind even more cost competitive with natural gas in some markets.

Natural gas vs. renewables – environment

When it comes to environmental impacts, there are tradeoffs between natural gas and renewable energy sources. Natural gas emits 50-60% less carbon dioxide (CO2) when combusted compared to coal. This makes it a cleaner fossil fuel option, and contributed to reduced US CO2 emissions as natural gas replaced coal for electricity generation (UNEP, 2023). However, natural gas is still a fossil fuel that emits CO2 and other pollutants when burned. Leaks during natural gas production and transport also release methane, a potent greenhouse gas (NY Times, 2020).

In contrast, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydropower, and geothermal produce little to no emissions during operation. The most common renewable sources produce zero emissions. Widespread use of renewables could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution compared to natural gas. However, renewable energy development does have some environmental impacts, such as land use changes and effects on wildlife. There are also emissions from manufacturing and transporting renewable energy infrastructure.

Overall, natural gas has a lower emissions profile than coal, but still results in air pollution and climate impacts. Renewable energy offers greater potential to deeply decarbonize the energy system, but some impacts do exist during construction and manufacturing. Policymakers and utilities must weigh these tradeoffs as they plan future investments in generation capacity.


When considering natural gas versus renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, it’s clear that renewables are better for the environment but natural gas currently has a cost advantage. While natural gas does produce carbon emissions, it is much cleaner burning than coal and emits about 50% less CO2 when used for electricity generation. This makes natural gas a better “bridge” fuel as we transition to a more renewable energy future.

However, natural gas extraction and transportation does still contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar have zero emissions when generating electricity. As governments incentivize and utilities invest more in renewable power, costs are coming down dramatically. In many areas, renewables are already nearly cost-competitive or cheaper than natural gas. Renewables will continue to get less expensive in the future as technology improves.

So while natural gas remains cheaper today and provides reliable power generation to fill gaps when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing, renewable energy is clearly the better choice for the environment long-term. The future is bright for renewables to become the dominant energy source globally while natural gas plays a declining role as a bridge to a carbon-free future.

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