By Lauren Sydoruk

New Curtin University-led research has found that natural gas could become the leading global energy source by the early 2030’s, providing a smooth transition towards largescale renewable energy use in the second half of the 21st century.

The research, published in the journal Mineral Economics, used the Global Energy Market model (GEM) to assess the rapid rise of natural gas use in the global energy market and whether it could act as a transition fuel towards a low and zero-carbon economy.

Lead author Senior Research Fellow Dr Roberto F Aguilera, from the Curtin University Oil and Gas Innovation Centre and the School of Economics, Finance and Property at Curtin University, said natural gas has many benefits including its wide geographical distribution, its abundance, its affordability, and its environmental benefits, given the lower carbon intensity of gas compared with coal and oil.

“Carbon use has increased substantially since 1950 and is expected to keep rising for decades due to ongoing consumption of fossil fuels. Significant increases in the use of natural gas over recent years and ongoing advancement in the LNG industry provides an ideal opportunity to decrease carbon levels in the energy system,” Dr Aguilera said.

“In this study, we provided an accurate fit of the historical energy mix and associated carbon levels, while also making projections for the future. Our model’s parameters implicitly represent energy drivers including economic growth, technological progress, policies, and relative prices. Our findings show that there will be a rapid rise in the use of natural gas in the global energy market by 2030, which in turn will cause a reduction in carbon levels around the world.

“In the next few decades, opportunities for renewables will mostly be found in electricity generation. In the longer term, greater possibilities are likely to exist in transportation, predominantly for cars and passenger vehicles such as buses, but cost-reducing technological progress will be necessary to make sure it is affordable for consumers.”

This study shows that decarbonisation of the energy market occurred from 1850 to 1970, which resulted from rising consumption of natural gas and a declining share of wood and coal in the energy market. Decarbonisation stalled around 1970 due to restrictive policies for the use of gas, while policies in favour of coal and nuclear were enacted.

The model suggests the energy market would again begin to decarbonise because of rising natural gas usage, thus helping to advance environmental and economic sustainability alike. As for coal, the study suggests its market share will not increase much from present levels and start a definitive decline in the mid-2020s.

Dr Aguilera said that the optimistic view for natural gas projected in this study was positive news for Australia, as the country is on track to become the global leader in LNG in 2020.

“Australia’s established position as a natural gas and LNG producer and exporter will give it an edge in the development of renewable energies such as hydrogen, which in our model, can gain significant market share in the second half of this century. Although natural gas is cleaner burning than coal and oil, it is still a fossil fuel and therefore not by itself compatible with a low carbon future,” Dr Aguilera said.

“Our model predicts that the market share of natural gas will resemble the cycle of oil – a gradual rise and fall, with the gas peak occurring between 2050 and 2060. This will provide sufficient time to develop non-fossil sources comprised of solar, wind and hydrogen.

“Our modelling results may have significant implications for government, policy makers, corporations and consumers who all play a role in the global energy market. It is also important to consider that the implementation of deep climate policies would potentially reduce energy consumption levels and alter the energy mix, so our findings may need to be altered to account for this.”

The research paper, titled, ‘Revisiting the role of natural gas as a transition fuel,’ can be found online here.