‘Bridge fuel’ in Indian context
The world, today, is constantly exploring new methods to switch to clean energy. Intrinsically, natural gas is often portrayed as a “bridge fuel,” providing a lower-carbon alternative to other thermal sources – coal and diesel. It is true that proponents of the technology suggest that natural gas can enable us to shift away from a high-carbon era of thermal power generation, towards a zero-carbon renewable future. This effectively means transition from thermal to natural gas to renewables. The rising interest in natural gas as a clean fuel and a corresponding rise in global gas exploration activities corroborates natural gas to become the bridge fuel. It is estimated by The International Energy Agency that the production of natural gas will increase and by 2035, a fourth of global energy will be derived from natural gas.
The energy needs of India are more imperative than before, amid the uncertainty of output from coal production. Traditionally, a little over half of the energy supply needs are met by coal fired thermal plants. India insisted on managing climate change through clean and renewable energy using energy efficient technologies, simultaneously reducing its dependence on generating power through these fossil sources.
However for a country like India, a major shift to renewables is a far-cry due to lack of relevant infrastructure and high costs associated with generating power from wind and solar. Natural gas can negate this effects, by smoothing this transition and reduce dependence on thermal power generation. A switch to gas can also reduce air pollution through lower emissions. However a complete transition looks bleak at the moment, as the installed capacity of natural gas is too less to commensurate with other modes of power generation and meet the ever increasing energy requirement of India.
Capacity building and augmentation of natural gas infrastructure is the key. Also it is necessary that new technologies that uses natural gas at consumption levels are developed and promoted – use of fuel cells that directly converts gas into electricity to power households.
By and large, the trajectory towards achieving a complete cleaner fuel for energy requirements looks promising. Natural gas, can act as a facilitator, though it is important to understand how a near-term shift to gas affects long-term trends and outcomes.