This weeks Economist highlights the environmental draw-backs of substituting gas for coal in power generation globally:
“For global warming, though, gas is a mixed blessing. It produces less carbon dioxide for a unit of energy than coal or oil, so the climate will benefit to the degree that gas replaces either of those: it will mostly substitute for coal, though some oil too, especially if gas-powered trucking becomes widespread. But if gas is plentiful and cheap enough to replace carbon-rich coal, it will also be in a position to replace carbon-free nuclear and renewables, and in doing so more carbon dioxide will be emitted than would otherwise be the case. At the same time, the availability of a cheap and relatively green fuel may push up global energy consumption. A recently published scenario from the International Energy Agency projects that by 2035 the overall increase in energy use and the reduced use of nuclear and renewables in a gas-happy world would almost perfectly balance out the gains made by burning gas instead of coal.”
The Economist, Aug 6th 2011, Title: “Cleaner, Not Cooler”
The takeaway for proponents of energy efficiency is that reducing energy use remains the most available and most effective means of lowering carbon emissions and is driven by individual organisations – not utility companies.