Hydrocarbons: A Stopgap Until Renewables Become Economically Viable?

Released March 9, 2016 | SUGAR LAND

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Researched by Industrial Info Resources (Sugar Land, Texas)–As exemplified by the recent COP21 climate change conference, nations around the world are aiming to reduce carbon emissions. Zero-emission renewable energy sources are seen as the endgame in the race to reduce carbon emissions, including solar power, hydroelectric, and geothermal, among others. These methods of power generation are the most environmentally friendly, but are uneconomical and commercially non-viable.

There is a lot of optimism in the industry, however, as efficiency ratings on photovoltaic solar panels continue to increase, new materials are being implemented and production lines are scaled up to allow for cheap, mass production. Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s minister of petroleum and mineral resources, illustrated that point at the recent IHS CERA Week event when he said, “Solar is definitely going to be the answer to energy’s future.” He noted, however, that hydrocarbons such as crude oil and natural gas are here for the long term. As such, hydrocarbons may soon be classified as stopgap measures on the way to fully renewable energy.

Key players in the global gas market are pushing to market natural gas as a type of clean energy rather than just another fossil fuel. Natural gas emits far less carbon dioxide than sulfurous coal or fuel oil, and is exceedingly cheap in this low oil price environment. While natural gas has traditionally been priced according to an oil index in many areas, with its prominence in the world’s energy mix due to its low commodity and power station build costs, it is slowly distancing itself from crude oil. Natural gas is relevant to carbon emission reduction efforts due to its position as an alternative to coal. With a similar price point, availability and ease of conversion, switching an aging coal plant to burn natural gas instead is becoming increasingly common as more countries begin to supply the ever-increasing demand for electricity around the world.

It is the price of natural gas and the baby step-like shift toward burning it that positions it as a stepping stone to renewables. Alexander Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Management Committee at Gazprom (Moscow, Russia) has said he would like the future to be natural gas together with renewables. With the vast reserves that are purportedly still in the ground in Siberia as well as North America, it seems entirely possible that natural gas will be a part of the global energy mix for many years to come.

On the renewables side, Industrial Info data shows that over the past 15 months, 98 new solar power projects worth over $7.7 billion have been added to the global database each month. In the U.S., 121 projects worth $12.7 billion have been added over the entire time period. For the 24 months prior, January 2013 through December 2014, Industrial Info added a monthly average of 88 projects worth over $8.4 billion. The U.S. during that time added 83 projects worth $14.7 billion. So even over the past four years, there is a demonstrable trend toward lower prices for more projects, indicating an increase in efficiency and economy for solar projects. In the U.S. this can likely be partially attributed to the renewal of the Renewables Tax Credit.

Industrial Info Resources (IIR), with global headquarters in Sugar Land, Texas, five offices in North America and 10 international offices, is the leading provider of global market intelligence specializing in the industrial process, heavy manufacturing and energy markets. Industrial Info’s quality-assurance philosophy, the Living Forward Reporting Principle™, provides up-to-the-minute intelligence on what’s happening now, while constantly keeping track of future opportunities.