The environmental center-left often refers to natural gas as a “bridge” to a future powered by wind and solar energy. The asserted rationale is technological advances in wind and solar power are still required to make these energy sources appropriately abundant and affordable. In the meantime, natural gas can produce inexpensive power that is much better for the environment than coal. Natural gas, therefore, should serve as a bridge between coal power and a wind and solar powered future.
The question arises: should natural gas be merely a short-term bridge, a longer-term bridge, or even a final destination?
An article by Andrew Campbell at The Energy Collective provides an excellent, balanced analysis of the bridge debate. Campbell notes that short-bridge proponents can point to California as an example of America’s most populous state already moving rapidly to wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro power. Campbell also points out that California is blessed with greater access to each of these resources than most other states. Also, an important point not mentioned by Campbell, is California electricity prices are 50 percent higher than the national average.
The question of whether natural gas will or should be a short bridge, long bridge, or destination ultimately depends on many factors for which we do not yet have the answers. Will wind and solar power ever meet the affordability promises of its proponents? If so, when? Will affordable carbon capture technologies make natural gas an even cleaner power source, negating the need for wind and solar? Will technological advances related to other energy sources displace natural gas, wind, and solar? These are questions that can dramatically impact the American and global energy future, and they are questions for which nobody has the answers.
At present, natural gas, nuclear, and hydro power are abundant, affordable energy sources that score well in full-spectrum environmental impact analyses. While we wait for the future to play itself out, these are the energy sources that can power America in a way that is economical and environmentally friendly.