How natural gas plays a critical role in the future of energy

Alan Armstrong

I recently spoke at the S&P Global Platts Energy Summit “Future of Energy” Conference about the role of natural gas in a low carbon energy mix, along with how Williams is balancing sustainability goals and the growing demand for clean, reliable and affordable energy. 

You can watch the replay here, but I wanted to summarize my thoughts in three key takeaways:

#1. Natural gas plays a critical role in reducing emissions

The top three countries with the most operating coal plants as of July 2021 included China with 2,990 plants, India with 855 and the United States with 498. We’ve seen firsthand here at home how converting coal plants to natural gas over the last 20 years is transformative in reducing emissions.

The U.S. power sector has seen a 33% in reduction in CO2 emissions with natural gas accounting for approximately 61% of the reduction and renewables accounting for approximately 39%. Clearly, natural gas and renewables are the right solution for quickly and economically decarbonizing the grid on a global scale. As world leaders work to address our pressing global energy challenges, one step we can take is to collectively acknowledge that wherever we can replace higher carbon and higher cost fuels with cleaner burning natural gas we should do it now and not wait.

Not only is there an enormous opportunity to curtail emissions growth in developing countries through LNG, but there’s still more work to do in the United States. Along our Transco pipeline alone, there are over 75 coal power plants still in operation today. Besides spurring job growth, converting these coal plants to natural gas would reduce over 380 million metric tons of CO2 emissions – the equivalent of removing 84 million cars from the road every year.

#2. Leveraging today’s infrastructure to build tomorrow’s future fuels economy

In the energy industry, existing infrastructure is more important and more valuable than ever. The next wave of renewable power generation will be up against two key constraints: both the transmission and storage of energy.

Therefore, transmission and storage networks like Williams are extremely well-positioned to aggregate and bring scale to multiple emission reduction opportunities: taking out higher carbon fuels while supporting renewable energy and emerging opportunities like hydrogen and carbon capture. Our ability to blend hydrogen into our existing system is a significant advantage and has the potential to accelerate the use of hydrogen in reducing carbon emissions.

With over 100 Bcf/d of interconnectivity, we continue to discover ways to repurpose and reconfigure our pipeline networks to provide additional capacity with the lowest environmental impact.  Brownfield expansions and finding ways to integrate emerging clean energy technologies into the existing infrastructure is the fastest and most efficient way to create large scale and meaningful emissions reductions.

No other energy infrastructure system integrates a reliable delivery network into critical population centers with a massive storage solution on the scale that natural gas transmission does. For many months of the year, we over produce natural gas, but we have the unique capability to store that energy in a manner that does not degrade or deplete over time. 

This ability to efficiently manage the delivery of clean energy supply through the peaks and valleys of energy demand is exactly what we need for renewable and emerging technologies to be successful and to reach full potential.  And we believe our infrastructure can be a critical part of both the near and long-term solutions.

#3. Emissions do not know borders

The atmosphere is collectively shared by all countries and does not know or care where reductions come from or how they are labeled, so the benefits of reducing emissions in the United States are lost when other countries continue to add emissions. 

Climate change is a global problem that requires an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to finding solutions. That starts with looking forward for answers tomorrow while working with what we have in front of us today to make an immediate impact. Natural gas is a key element of both.

The triple-punch of benefits provided by American-sourced natural gas must not be understated as we work to accelerate our clean energy future: it creates plenty of clean energy; it has a low-cost and abundant supply; and it’s a reliable, always-available resource. We have a huge opportunity to leverage our nation’s natural gas infrastructure as the world moves to a low-carbon future, while also helping our customers and stakeholders meet their climate goals