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I read this piece by @drvox w/ great interest. As always, his pieces are well-written & -researched. I thought I would provide a thread in response w/ some of my observations. And, yes, I realize that writing a 1500-word thread in response to a 4000-word article is OTT. [THREAD]
@drvox Yes, I will repeat some of the points made by @drvox and agree with almost everything he wrote. Two departures: 1) I think RNG can play a bigger role than he thinks, and 2) it’s a good thing for gas companies to be part of the solution.
@drvox For background, I serve as the Chief Science & Technology Officer at @ENGIEGroup so I run the corporate research program. We have one of the largest non-nuclear clean energy R&D programs in the world ($200M/yr, 900 people). Green gases are the largest part of the program I lead.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup We believe that RNG (which in our view is a combination of biomethane and synthesized natural gas) is a critical piece of a zero-carbon future.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup B4 people attack me b/c I work at a gas company, pls note that @ENGIEGroup is the world’s largest independent power company. We sell elec & gas. If the world wants to electrify we will sell you electricity. If the world wants gas, we will sell you gas.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup But no matter what you want to buy, we want it to be zero-carbon by 2040.

As a company that sells both gas and electricity we very clearly see the benefits and drawbacks of both.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup In our reasoned view, the fastest, cheapest, and most resilient way to get to zero-carbon includes a non-trivial portion of the energy mix coming from fuels. Getting to zero-carbon via 100% electrification would be slower, more expensive, and less resilient.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup Let me explain some nuances on all this.

There are several ways to decarbonize gas/fuels:
4)methane synthesized from renewable electricity,
5)gas with capture, and
6)gas with offsets.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup Efficiency is the across-the-board winner for the electricity and the gas system. Let’s do that as quickly as possible.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup Electrification only works if in we also decarbonize the power sector (which is happening in the UK & USA). We should electrify the obvious things, such as light-duty vehicles. But some sectors are hard to electrify: aviation, shipping, and industrial loads (steel, cement,...).
@drvox @ENGIEgroup But what about water and space heating? That’s easy to electrify so why don’t we do that as quickly as possible? There are a few reasons for caution.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup Heating represents significant load. Even in a hot state like Texas, the heating requirements in the winter would move the year’s peak load from the summer to the winter. Those winter peaks are “peakier” because cold snaps move quickly and drive sharper load spikes than...
@drvox @ENGIEgroup ...heatwaves do. Peaky loads are expensive to serve because the electrical infrastructure has lower utilization and therefore higher costs.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup There are two standard ways to electrify space heating: electric resistance heaters and heat pumps. The challenge with resistance heaters is that when they all turn on at once as the cold snap passes through, they distort the harmonics of the grid.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup Because heat pumps have rotating machinery, they don’t have the harmonics problem of resistance heaters. But, the challenge with heat pumps is that they don’t work at really cold temperatures, so they usually have electric resistance or natural gas backup.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup If natural gas is one of your backup options, then we need to keep gas capacity. If we need to keep gas capacity, then we need that gas to be zero-carbon and we need people to pay for gas infrastructure.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup Also, here’s the thing: gas can be moved and combusted very efficiently. Power plants are not efficient. Because of the inefficient power system, we'd have to invest a lot of money into expanding our grid’s capabilities. I’m all for improving the grid, but it would be pricey.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup Electrification can also be expensive for homeowners. I served as a regulator for @AustinEnergy for 5 years from 2008-2013. Austin Energy is the municipal electric utility in Texas’ capital city. Austin’s building stock has a mix of all-electric homes and homes w/gas heating.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy Whenever we dealt with the electricity rates, the all-electric homes were a constant issue because their utility bills were so much higher in winter months than homes with mixed fuels. Regulators are scarred with this knowledge.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy Here’s another thing: as much as I love electricity, the grid goes down too often. The underground gas grid – while prone to its own set of failures if it isn’t properly maintained -- is much less vulnerable to windstorms.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy The wildfires in California, which were caused by the power system which then caused rolling blackouts to prevent more fires, were a reminder that if we go 100% electric we’re putting all our eggs in one basket and that basket can go up in flames every once in a while.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy Meanwhile, the world has trillions of dollars of gas infrastructure. And leveraging those pipes, tanks, compressors, and appliances would save us a lot of money and time.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy Biomethane works fine and we should do more of it. But, as @drvox noted it is limited in scale. Some countries in the middle east have almost no potential for biomethane, but some places (with significant ag waste and small population, for example), can produce a non-trivial...
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy ...fraction of their gas needs from biomethane. I see biomethane as a rural economic development opportunity.

Synthesized methane looks particularly promising to me. To ensure grid reliability I anticipate the world will overbuild wind & solar capacity. To avoid curtailment...
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy ...excess capacity could synthesize methane. Doing so is expensive & inefficient today, but b/c it’s based on a manufacturing process, I expect it to follow the same technology learning curve as wind & solar: costs will fall dramatically in the next 1-2 decades as adoptions rise.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy If we use electrification and efficiency to reduce the amount of methane we need, and biomethane and synfuels to displace some of the remainder, then the last bit can be conventional fuels with carbon capture or offsets.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy In other words there are several pathways to a low-carbon future w/gas in the mix. And I don’t think we know which one is best so we should try all of them & see what combination works in different locations. I think it’s too early to start removing tools from the toolbox.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy I practice what I preach: when I remodeled my house 3 years ago, I paid the money to *add* gas plumbing and solar panels. I pre-plumbed and pre-wired my garage for natgas or electric vehicles. I added a super-efficient heat pump, too.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy I expect Austin’s gas mix will decarbonize alongside its power sector. But as it stands, my natural gas home and water heating avoids the CO2 emissions from Austin’s coal plant.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy What concerns me most about the article by @drvox is the tone: it has an accusatory jeer towards gas companies as dishonest and manipulative. Since I work at a gas company allow me to suggest that it’s unfair to paint all of us with such a broad brush.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy I can’t speak for other gas companies, but @ENGIEGroup is wholeheartedly dedicated to decarbonization. ENGIE has already reduced emissions 50% in 3 years – that is really incredible. I can’t think of another major energy company that has done so.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy The next 50% will be tougher and involves decarbonizing gas. It is basically the only thing I worry about with my job and the only thing I’ve heard from top management for the last two years. We are focused on how to do this in a swift, profitable way.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy I don’t know SoCal Gas the way @drvox does, but I imagine that they are looking at a low-carbon future and would rather be part of the solution than bankrupt, so they propose a solution that works and they are familiar with: RNG.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy Is that dishonest and mischievous? Or is that obvious and logical? Rather than beating up on gas companies for trying to clean up their act, we should welcome them to the team.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy Also, generally speaking, the climate crisis is an all-hands-on-deck kind of moment. Developing lists of who cannot be part of the solution (oil and gas companies, gas utilities, nuclear, etc.) doesn’t help us.
@drvox @ENGIEgroup @austinenergy If major sectors and companies are told they cannot be part of the solution, then they will fight the transition. But if everyone is told there is a place for them in a low-carbon future, then progress will be swifter and face less resistance.[END]
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