In 1977 Jack O’Leary, deputy secretary of the newly formed Ministry of Energy, called on reporters for a press conference in the building of the Old Post Office in Washington – now Trump International Hotel – and set a dark future for energy.
Richard Myers, the talented young editor of The Energy Daily, asked where natural gas would fit in the future. O’Leary replied, “Forget natural gas. It’s an exhausted resource.” Myers wrote an exceptional analysis entitled “Requiem for Natural Gas.”
The next year, Congress passed two important natural gas laws that changed things. The first was the extremely important law on natural gas policy (known as the natural gas law). The second was the Act on the Use of Power Plants and Industrial Fuels (known as the Fuel Use Act), which was intended to restrict the use of natural gas for uses that are considered essential, such as raw materials for fertilizers, plastics and household appliances. The electricity suppliers were instructed to use coal for the new generation and not for gas. Ornamental flames were banned and there were even questions about how John F. Kennedy’s Eternal Flame could be lit at Arlington Cemetery.
The Natural Gas Act began to liberalize natural gas prices and to resolve special regulatory nodes where natural gas was split between strictly regulated intergovernmental gas and less regulated domestic gas. The net result was to dry up the gas supply to the international market. The in-state price was higher and therefore the offer was larger.
More gas in the ground
Based on the data available, there was no reason to believe there was more gas in the ground, let alone that there was an abundance of it. But there was.
The second law, the Fuel Consumption Act, has somewhat negated the positive aspects of the first law. The market forces were at work and more gas came onto the market. Higher prices stimulated supply, but demand was limited. In the early 1980s there was an oversupply of gas known as “the bubble”.
Three things release natural gas. The Congress repealed the 1988 Fuel Consumption Act and new drilling technologies were just around the corner. Horizontal drilling improved fracking applications; In the early 1990s, this technology started to revolutionize gas supply. A second technology was the aeroderivative turbine. It sounded like little more than a jet engine modified for ground operations. These machines were more efficient than the old “heavy frame” turbines.
The new machines conquered the market. In the United States, more electricity is now generated from gas turbines than from coal or nuclear power. It is the main fossil fuel for power generation.
There was another gas in the wings, more of a carefree spirit than a serious contender at the time: hydrogen.
During the turmoil of the 1970s, environmentalists used hydrogen as a magical gas to solve the energy crisis. It shouldn’t be, not then. It was considered a revolutionary fuel, especially for cars and trucks, but it would take too much new infrastructure to take off.
According to experts, hydrogen is now a serious player Guidehouse, the global consulting firm that helps utilities and governments plan for the future and become green. Its role is seen either as an additive or in Europe as a fuel.
Daan Peters, a director at Guidehouse in Europe, told me in an interview on public television “Chronicle of the White House” This hydrogen has stimulated the imagination of European governments and utilities. It is, he said from Amsterdam, part of the European Green Deal – Europe’s attempt to go green all the way in a circular economy.
A consortium of European countries – including the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom – is planning a giant, 10 gigawatt wind farm in the North Sea which will be dedicated to the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen obtained from cracked water is called green hydrogen; What is achieved by reforming natural gas or coal is called blue hydrogen.
The North Sea project aims to produce over 800,000 tons of green hydrogen annually. Production costs are falling, Peters says.
Hydrogen is coming
In the United States, there is a desire for even cleaner natural gas – it starts as the cleanest fossil fuel – in a wide range of efforts.
Mark Eisenhower, partner at Guidehouse in Washington, told me: “Policy and stakeholder goals are being implemented in countless ways towards decarbonization in the middle of the century.” This includes carbon capture, use and storage, and exacerbating methane leaks from the Gas fields and the enrichment of natural gas with hydrogen to improve combustion and reduce carbon pollution.
He added: “In the near future, renewable natural gas, hydrogen-enriched natural gas, and hydrogen grids will be viable technologies that can be used to decarbonize the current pipeline goods.”
Wind and solar energy both offer the possibility of producing hydrogen by electrolysis without devoting themselves to this purpose. Excess electricity from these renewable energies can be diverted to hydrogen production – a kind of energy storage.
There are reservations. First, hydrogen does not have the same energy density as natural gas, which is why more hydrogen is needed for the same effect. Hydrogen has about a third of the energy content of natural gas and must be modified in the entire gas system. If, unlike a mixture, it is green hydrogen, these modifications will be more serious. Pipes, storage, compressors and pumps must be aligned with the realities of hydrogen.
“Guidehouse research shows that using decarbonized gas in the existing pipeline infrastructure, in addition to electrifying and developing clean energy, can support a cost-effective transition to a decarbonized and resilient energy system by the middle of the century,” said Eisenhower.
In his novel “The Mysterious Island” from 1874, Jules Verne, one of the fathers of science fiction, said: “Yes, my friends, I believe that one day water will be used as fuel, hydrogen and oxygen if it is used alone or together used, it will provide an inexhaustible source of heat and light, the intensity of which coal cannot. “No more fiction?