Renewable Energy Is Catching Up to Natural Gas Much Faster Than Anyone Thought
In its role as a bridge, natural gas seems to have a comfortable future. First, it will replace coal and nuclear “baseload” plants, and then, as renewables grow to supply the bulk of power, it will provide flexibility, filling in the gaps where variable renewables (wind and solar) fall short. By playing these multiple roles, natural gas will long outlive coal and prove useful well into the latter half of the 21st century. It will enjoy a long, slow exit.
Or so the story goes.
Around 2015, though, just five years into gas’s rise to power, complications for this narrative began to appear. First, wind and solar costs fell so far, so fast that they are now undercutting the cost of new gas in a growing number of regions. And then batteries — which can “firm up” variable renewables, diminishing the need for natural gas’s flexibility — also started getting cheap faster than anyone expected. It happened so fast that, in certain limited circumstances, solar+storage or wind+storage is already cheaper than new natural gas plants and able to play all the same roles (and more).