Natural gas is the energy source that powers most of the world’s power plants, but it is the least-used of the four fossil fuels.
That’s according to a new study, which says that if natural gas remains as cheap as it is, power plants will continue to grow and will consume more energy.
“Natural gas has a very low marginal cost to supply the power supply, so it is very difficult for it to decline over time,” said Benjamin Weisberg, a professor at the University of California, Davis.
“But when prices drop to a level where the demand is low enough to justify an increase in natural-gas power plants and the supply is very low enough that it is cheaper to operate them than it is to reduce its price, then the cost will fall, and that is the kind of decline that will drive natural gas costs down.”
The researchers, led by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, used the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Energy Outlook 2050, a baseline of energy supply that includes new technologies and infrastructure.
The report found that the IEA assumes the IAEA’s projection of energy demand will rise from 2.3 percent of global output in 2050 to 3.2 percent in 2055.
That would mean that by 2055, the cost of natural gas-fired power plants would fall by 25 percent, and the cost would fall even more if demand increases from the IEM’s scenario of 1.6 percent of world output.
Weisber and his colleagues looked at the cost and energy use of all the plants that the researchers had identified, from the most expensive to the least.
Their data shows that even with the most-expensive natural gas plants, the costs for the energy they generate will be about $1.50 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2050, compared with $2.00 per kWh in 2054.
In addition, natural gas generation will consume about $2,000 per ton of CO2 emissions in 2050 compared with a projected $1,500 per ton in 2056.
“This means that natural gas will continue its steady rise in costs as its price declines,” Weisberger said.
“It’s only natural for the cost to go down as we move from our fossil-fuel scenario to an energy scenario where natural gas is used much less.”
But the researchers say that if prices don’t fall too far below the IEC’s projection, the price will likely rise as demand grows.
“In our view, the real question for natural gas in the future is whether we can afford to keep the prices at these levels,” Weigerman said.