Is Renewable Energy A Natural Gas

is renewable energy a natural gas

Renewable energy sources are derived from natural processes that are constantly replenished. Some examples of renewable energy sources include solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass. The key aspect that makes these energy sources renewable is that they cannot be depleted or run out, unlike fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.

Natural gas is a combustible mixture of hydrocarbon gases, primarily methane. It is found in underground reservoirs and extracted through drilling. Unlike renewable sources, natural gas is a fossil fuel formed from plants and animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Once extracted and used, natural gas supplies are depleted and cannot be replenished on a human timescale.

Types of Renewable Energy

There are several major types of renewable energy sources that are in use today. Some of the most common types include:

Solar Energy

Solar energy comes directly from the sun and is captured using solar panels to produce electricity or heat water. Solar photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into electricity, while solar thermal collectors use sunlight to heat water or air (

Wind Energy

Wind turbines use large blades to capture the kinetic energy from wind, which turns a rotor to generate mechanical power. This mechanical power is then converted into electricity using a generator (


Hydropower harnesses the energy from flowing water to produce electricity. Typically, hydropower comes from dams that control the flow of rivers, using the force of falling water to spin turbines (

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy taps into the natural heat beneath the earth’s surface to generate steam or hot water, which can drive turbines to produce electricity. It can also be used directly to heat buildings (


Biomass refers to organic material from plants and animals that can be burned directly or converted to liquid biofuels. Common examples are wood, crops, landfill gas, and alcohol fuels (

Natural Gas Overview

Natural gas is a fossil fuel composed primarily of methane and extracted from natural underground reservoirs and reserves (Source). It is formed through the breakdown of organic matter buried underground over millions of years (Source). Though odorless in its pure form, an odorant is added when used as a fuel source so leaks can be detected. Natural gas is clean burning and emits 45% less carbon dioxide per British Thermal Unit (BTU) compared to other fossil fuels.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, accounting for 90% or more of its composition. When burned, methane combines with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor. Other hydrocarbons like ethane, propane, butane, pentane, and hexane can also be present in small amounts.

Natural gas is extracted from underground reservoirs or shale formations through wells and drilling. Improved technology for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has allowed increased access to natural gas reserves. The natural gas is processed and purified before being distributed through pipelines for use.

Comparing Renewables and Natural Gas

When comparing renewable energy sources like wind and solar to natural gas, there are a few key factors to consider including emissions, intermittency, and dispatchability. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar generate electricity with minimal to zero greenhouse gas emissions during operation according to Energy5 ( In contrast, burning natural gas for electricity emits carbon dioxide and methane. However, natural gas emits 50-60% less carbon dioxide compared to coal when generating electricity.

A challenge with renewable sources is their intermittent nature, meaning the energy generation fluctuates based on environmental conditions. The sun only shines during the day and cloud cover impacts solar, while wind speeds vary. Natural gas can provide steady electricity production not reliant on weather. Natural gas plants also offer dispatchability, meaning they can be ramped up or down quickly to meet shifts in energy demand.

While renewable sources produce clean energy, their variability makes it difficult for them to fully replace fossil fuels like natural gas. Natural gas may continue to play a role providing grid stability and reliability alongside growing renewable generation. However, emissions from natural gas remain a concern and ways to transition to a zero carbon energy system are needed.

Using Natural Gas to Support Renewables

Natural gas power plants can provide essential support and backup for renewable energy sources like wind and solar. This is because renewables have variability in their output, depending on weather conditions. Natural gas plants can act as “peaking plants,” ramping up power generation when renewables cannot meet demand.

Natural gas is also useful for providing baseload power – the minimum level of electricity that must be supplied to the grid at all times. Wind and solar output can fluctuate throughout the day and night. Natural gas plants can fill in the gaps and keep the grid powered when renewable output falls.

In addition, natural gas helps maintain stability and reliability on the electrical grid as more intermittent renewables are added. The fast-ramping ability of natural gas plants allows them to quickly adjust output to keep supply and demand balanced. This minimizes grid fluctuations and prevents blackouts when renewables have sudden drops in production.

According to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Natural gas-fired power generation is pivotal to renewable energy development,” acting as a bridge until storage technologies advance farther (source). Utilities will continue relying on natural gas to manage grid operations as renewables gain a greater share.

Transitioning Away from Fossil Fuels

Many countries have set ambitious climate goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition away from fossil fuels. This is driven by the need to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as agreed in the Paris Agreement (McKinsey). Renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydropower are seeing rapid growth as they produce little to no direct emissions. In 2020, renewables overtook fossil fuels globally as the largest source of installed power capacity (UNEP).

To achieve climate goals, dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas needs to be reduced substantially. This energy transition aims to transform the global energy system from one dominated by fossil fuels to one powered predominantly by renewable energy. Phasing out natural gas is a key part of this shift. While natural gas emits less CO2 than coal when burned, it still produces significant greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Reducing reliance on natural gas is necessary to decarbonize the energy system and avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

Many experts argue that natural gas should not be considered a “bridge fuel” and investments in gas infrastructure will lock-in fossil fuel dependence. Instead, priorities need to shift towards scaling renewable energy as rapidly as possible, electrifying sectors like transport and heating, improving efficiency and developing energy storage solutions (UNEP). The transition away from natural gas and other fossil fuels will be challenging but is essential to creating a net-zero emissions energy system this century.

Challenges of Using Only Renewables

While renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower offer many benefits, relying entirely on renewables also comes with challenges. One major issue is intermittency – renewable sources fluctuate based on weather and time of day, making it difficult to match supply with demand ( There are also concerns around storage and transmission of renewable energy. Unlike fossil fuels, electricity from renewables needs to be used right away or stored in batteries. Building adequate storage and transmission infrastructure is expensive and complex.

Reliability is another concern with 100% renewable energy. The variability of wind and solar means backup power sources are still needed. Power outages could occur if weather causes renewable generation to drop suddenly. Without affordable grid-scale storage, relying solely on renewables risks reliability issues ( While costs continue to fall, transitioning to fully renewable energy on a large scale requires overcoming these persistent challenges around intermittency, storage, transmission infrastructure, and reliability.

The Role of Natural Gas

Natural gas is often referred to as a “bridge fuel” or “transition fuel” on the path to a low-carbon future. This is because natural gas emits 50-60% less CO2 emissions when combusted compared to coal (1). Replacing coal plants with modern, efficient natural gas power plants can significantly reduce emissions in the power sector. Natural gas is also more flexible than coal or nuclear plants, making it a useful backup to complement the intermittency of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

However, natural gas infrastructure also comes with risks. New pipelines and liquefied natural gas export terminals can lock-in usage for decades. This could make it harder to transition fully to renewable energy (2). There are also concerns around methane leakage throughout the natural gas supply chain. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, so leaks can negate some of the climate benefits of switching from coal to gas (3).

Overall, natural gas is not a permanent climate solution. But it may serve as a “bridge” to help reduce emissions in the short term, while zero-carbon sources like renewables and storage scale up. The key is that natural gas use must peak and decline in the coming years to achieve a deeply decarbonized energy system.

Future Energy Mix

According to the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook, renewable energy sources are projected to increase significantly in the future global energy mix. The IEA estimates that by 2030, renewables will supply over 40% of global electricity generation, up from 29% in 2021. Wind and solar photovoltaics will account for the majority of this growth.

Natural gas is also projected to increase its share of the energy mix in the coming decades. The IEA forecasts natural gas demand growing by 22% from 2021 to 2030. This is driven by gas replacing coal and oil, particularly in Asia. Natural gas emits 50-60% less CO2 emissions than coal when used for power generation.

However, the share of fossil fuels overall is expected to decline from 80% in 2020 to between 60-75% by 2050, based on different energy transition scenarios modeled by the IEA. Coal is projected to experience the largest drop in demand. Oil may also peak by 2030 before declining modestly. The IEA stresses that reducing fossil fuel use, especially unabated coal, is critical to reach net zero emissions.

Nuclear power is forecast to maintain its share of around 10% of global electricity generation through 2030. The role of hydrogen and carbon capture technologies remains uncertain but both are projected to increase if policies and investments accelerate their deployment.


Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal are key to transitioning away from fossil fuels and building a sustainable energy future. However, most experts agree that natural gas will continue to play an important role during the transition period.

Natural gas burns more cleanly than coal and oil, producing around 50% less CO2 emissions. While not renewable, the ample supply and existing infrastructure for natural gas gives it an advantage over other fossil fuels.

Using natural gas in combination with renewables can provide grid reliability since gas plants can more easily ramp up or down to complement intermittent renewables. As energy storage technology continues to advance, natural gas may play less of a role in the future.

But for now, pursuing an “all of the above” strategy using both renewables and natural gas allows us to make progress in decarbonization while ensuring grid stability and reasonable energy costs. The long term goal may be 100% renewable energy, but natural gas can serve as a bridge to help us smoothly transition away from dirtier fossil fuels like coal.

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