Over the past decade, the U.S. has begun a major transition toward a more-efficient, cleaner, and lower-carbon energy system led by the power sector. Our research finds that that transition will not only continue, but could accelerate over the next 20 to 30 years and will lead to major economic and environmental benefits.
While many stakeholders still believe that unconventional energy development and America’s energy transition are antithetical, they are actually complementary. Natural gas is the only fuel that can cost-effectively deliver large-scale carbon emissions reductions over the next 20 years while also providing a bridge to achieving even lower carbon solutions over the long term.
Our analysis shows that developing unconventional resources today is unlikely to delay the rollout of renewables. Instead, it can actually enable their scale-up. We also find that the use of natural gas today will not lock in greenhouse gas emissions for the indefinite future, and that low-cost natural-gas-fired power plants will provide the essential standby power needed to scale up renewables.
However, to achieve this successful transition to a low-carbon future, the U.S. must address a number of key challenges:
8. Containing Methane Leakage. Uncontrolled methane leakage can offset the climate benefits of natural gas. Cost-effective methods to contain leakage are available and need to be deployed throughout the natural-gas value chain.
9. Setting Policies That Encourage Cost-Effective Emissions Reductions. Climate policies and regulations should be market based to encourage cost-effective carbon reductions, rather than specifying particular technologies.
10. Fostering Clean-Energy Technologies. The U.S. needs to encourage ongoing private- and public-sector research investments in cost-effective, low-carbon energy technologies and applications, including potentially broader uses of unconventional natural gas.
11. Building Out a Smart, Efficient Energy Grid. The long-term (by around 2050) transition to a low-carbon energy system will require a robust power-grid infrastructure capable of addressing the intermittent nature of renewable power sources. The U.S. federal government and states must invest now in these grid improvements to enable renewables to scale over the long run.