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Our consumption of energy is growing, and the increasing availability of technology is resulting in a rise in demand for energy to power it. From 2010 to 2030 the world’s energy demand is predicted to double. We’re charging our phones while working on our laptops, under electric lights in air-conditioned rooms.
Everything from our smartwatches to BlueTooth headphones and electric toothbrushes require charging, and the number of electric cars on the road grows daily. Our current power grid already works at roughly 80%, with the extra 20% saved for predicted surges in demand. The grid is also currently powered mostly by our limited supply of fossil fuels, and doing so emits considerable greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Aiming to fill this increasing demand with our current methods would cost governments more money that they could sensibly invest, and even if we could, the result would be a radical increase in toxic air pollutants and greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
Therefore, to meet global aims of reducing carbon emissions, it is essential to find a solution that will not only reduce emissions but will also storable energy and be able to be produced in vast quantities to keep up with our growing demand.
Remedy Using Natural Gas
Natural gas, another fossil fuel, offers not a total remedy for the pressing issues, but it may play an important role in the future of energy consumption alongside other innovations (such as the Internet of Things).
Methane is the main component of natural gas, it has clean and efficient combustion properties, releasing fewer toxic pollutants during combustion than coal or petroleum. However, accessing natural gas carries negative consequences. The gas is commonly accessed by drilling straight down into the earth and the rock is split open through a process known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking). This process is controversial as it is suspected to cause contamination to the water table. Another key issue that disqualifies it as a “clean” energy source is that the unburned form of methane is around 70 times more toxic than carbon dioxide. A leak of the substance at any point it the supply chain poses a potentially catastrophic impact to humans and the planet. Before natural gas can step in as a clean energy source we would have to consider both of these concerns.
Natural gas can also be utilized to produce hydrogen via steam-methane reforming. For decades hydrogen has been promised to us as “the fuel of the future”, but without manifestation, always remaining an example of how we could power our cities with clean energy in the future. However, current developments in wind and solar energy have boosted our confidence in the alternative, clean energy sources, which has resulted in hydrogen now being seriously considered as an alternative energy source.
Hydrogen as Natural Gas
Hydrogen is another example of how natural gas can be used to power the future. In theory, it could be used as an emissions-free power source, as turning it into energy creates just water and heat. But is it really clean and is it sustainable given that the main way it is sourced is from fossil fuels? Some suggest that the only way forward for the energy industry, under growing pressures to meet climate goals for the reduction of harmful emissions, as well as the need plan to address the rapidly growing consumption of electricity, is to solely focus efforts on growing and developing truly renewable sources such as wind, sun, and waves. A full-scale implementation of hydrogen as a reliable energy source would be costly, and potentially unwise investment considering natural gas reserves are not infinite.
In summary, natural gas has the potential to shape our clean technology efforts of the future, but it is not cure-all for the problems we currently faced with. Rather, it is one potential component in a future that will need to rely on numerous clean energy sources to first meet our energy consumption needs, and secondly decrease the emission of greenhouse gases. Importantly, before natural gas can be successfully used as a clean fuel source, it must be that, it must be clean. Methods must be adapted to make it safe, consequences must be considered to protect our environment from indirect damage as a result of acquiring the gas source.
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