Official at LSU’s 2015 Energy Summit says natural gas can meet new energy demands

Natural gas producers stand ready to meet new power demands, but new infrastructure is needed, says Frank Macchiarola, executive vice president for government affairs with America’s Natural Gas Alliance.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan seeks to reduce overall carbon emissions from U.S. power plants, which is likely to lead to a move away from coal. Macchiarola says natural gas is the low-cost alternative to fill the gap, and says greater efficiency has allowed production to rise even when rig counts are reduced.

“We have more than enough natural gas to be able to meet future demand affordably,” he says.

Macchiarola spoke today at Energy Summit 2015, hosted by LSU’s Center for Energy Studies, and followed up on his remarks in a brief interview with Daily Report. He says more pipelines need to be built to transport natural gas, particularly in the northeast U.S., where building new pipelines can be unpopular, although high energy prices during recent winters may be changing that political dynamic.

America’s Natural Gas Alliance also supports robust development of liquefied natural gas for export. While Macchiarola concedes that current low oil prices discourage investment in LNG in the short term, he says over the long haul the demand will be there. He notes that Eastern European countries in particular are looking for alternatives to buying natural gas from Russia.

Also at the summit today, Jennifer Vosburg, senior vice president with NRG Energy and president with Louisiana Generating, said microgrids that can distribute electricity when the main grid goes down could be useful during emergencies such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Such systems can also provide reliable backup power, improve efficiency and help integrate renewable energy into the main grid, she said.

Vosburg noted only 124 microgrids are currently in operation—including 23 in California—adding the military has led development thus far. While some can operate in isolation, most remain connected to the main grid.

As technology improves, the potential for microgrid usage increases, including for industrial corridors and large residential neighborhoods. A hospital-based system, for example, could also power nearby schools, gas stations, supermarkets and public water facilities, helping the entire community recover from a disaster, Vosburg said.

On another related topic touched on at the summit, battery technology for energy storage is improving and costs are coming down, said Stefanie Goldman, R&D Manager for EOS Energy Storage. California’s mandate that 33% of the state’s energy should be derived from renewable sources by 2020 is helping to create the market, she said, and other states such as New York are closely watching California’s progress.

Louisiana has tremendous potential for both wind and solar energy, Goldman said. Energy storage allows for electricity from those sources to be delivered when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

Energy storage can be used to meet spikes in electricity demand, she said, allowing systems to avoid making costly upgrades. The technology also could be useful in the developing world where traditional infrastructure is lacking. While California mostly is going to lithium ion systems, her company is working on a lower-cost zinc-based system.

In response to an audience question, Goldman said energy storage systems are not yet widely commercially available for homes with solar panels, although it is possible to have a system custom built. She noted that Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has been developing what it calls the Powerwall home battery. The Tesla Motors website says the product will provide “energy storage for a sustainable home,” and says consumers can reserve their own for delivery later this year.

“It’s happening,” Goldman said of the technology’s overall development. “It’s just a matter of time.”

—David Jacobs

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