Propaganda versus reality

Turbomachinery Magazine, March/April 2020,

A campaign is afoot to marginalize natural gas in the nation’s energy mix. We mentioned it in the cover story from our Jan/Feb 2020 issue Can Natural Gas Generation Survive? The numbers cited by analysts in that article don’t support the move away from natural gas generation any time soon. Yet the propaganda continues. And it is being actively spread to utilities and the general public.

Here is an example:

“Renewables like wind and solar, complemented by flexible zero-carbon resources like storage and demand response, are already providing the same reliability services and energy as new natural gas plants at lower cost,” stated Mike O’Boyle, director of electricity policy at advocacy group Energy Innovation. “New gas infrastructure is increasingly likely to become stranded — the natural gas ‘bridge’ must end now if investors want to avoid massive stranded asset cost risk.”

The economics of this scaremongering are not backed by real world figures. The idea that grid support and grid inertia alternatives are readily and cheaply available is a fantasy. Perhaps on a small scale, under ideal conditions when the deck is stacked by regulation, someone might be able to make a limited case. But states like California need thousands of MW rapidly every night when solar power fades. It is up to natural gas to provide it.

What is most troubling is the attempt to undermine any investment in natural gas infrastructure. Planning to close a coal plant and replace it with natural gas to cut emissions by more than half? No way! How about upgrading aging natural gas plants to slash their emissions? Forget about it! And what about applying the latest seal and detection technology to reduce methane leakage by colossal amounts, and minimize methane flaring? That’s simply, “incompatible with a climate-stable future,” they say.

"Coal-to-gas switching can make huge progress in emissions reduction."

What we have, in effect, is the environmental lobby actively preventing sensible emissions reduction measures in their zeal to save the planet. If the goal is to greatly reduce and eventually eliminate emissions, coal-to-gas switching will make huge progress in that regard.

Seal up all the natural gas pipelines, get rid of flaring and you make another massive leap toward a cleaner planet. Upgrading old natural gas plants makes it possible for more renewables to be on the grid while taking emissions levels down considerably.

Meanwhile, build more wind and solar farms and continue to install storage facilities. Invest in research on hydrogen turbines and better batteries for a possible future when these alternatives are mature enough and cost effective enough for natural gas to fade into the sunset. But that’s unlikely before 2050. This bloodlust against natural gas generation is shortsighted in the extreme.

Global power capacity by souce. Source: IEA.[/caption]

Matt Schatzman, Chairman & CEO of NextDecade, firmly believes that natural gas should stand hand in glove with renewables. “It would be a huge mistake for gas not to be front and center in energy policy,” he said at the Baker Hughes Annual Meeting in early February. “Renewables can’t replace all the coal generation around the world, but natural gas can.” You can read about the conference and the future of oil & gas in our show report on page 24.

NextDecade is engaged in LNG projects such as Cheniere LNG, which already has six large turbomachinery trains operating, as well as Corpus Christi LNG where a third train is being added. You can find out more about the global LNG boom in our cover story on page 17.

The rest of the issue includes informative articles on compressor monitoring and control, machined part measurement, addressing high sub-synchronous vibration in turboexpanders, turbine filtration, data corrections applied in turbomachinery testing, coatings and compressor startup and operation.

We missed you at the Western Turbine Users event in Long Beach due to its postponement. But we hope we get the chance to meet some of you at the Turbo Expo in the summer. Stay safe, happy and productive. ■