The world is currently experiencing a period of dramatic innovation in its energy systems. How energy is supplied and consumed shows significant potential to be disrupted in the coming decades. Indeed, it is essential that such disruption does occur for the world to fulfill the commitment of the Paris Accord and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Cleantech solutions in power generation and electrification of energy consumption are often the focus of discussion on the theme of energy innovation. However, as recent research from the International Gas Union demonstrates, clean technology development and innovation in natural gas value chains are of equal significance and offer the potential for similar transformative impact. While gas technologies are already mature in many instances, ongoing advances show potential to reduce the costs of gas combustion by 30% or more, cut the capital investment required to access gas by half, and dramatically improve the flexibility of gas power generation.
Even more significant innovation is occurring in low carbon gas technologies, including renewable gas, low carbon hydrogen, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). While the costs of these technologies are high today and deployment is limited, a combination of fundamental technology breakthroughs as well and scale and experience driven impacts indicate the potential to cut these costs in less than half over the next one to two decades.
As a result of the ongoing and newly emerging developments in gas technologies, the potential market for natural gas can be much greater than it is today. Factoring in these improvements along with the value that gas provides from reducing greenhouse gas emissions and localized pollution relative to other fuels, the IGU and its partners have found that the global market for gas could be 2.5 times its current size today at its maximum economic potential in 2040.
Achieving the maximum economic potential for the adoption of gas technologies would in turn offer substantial environmental and social benefits. Under such a scenario, gas technologies could mitigate up to one third of global energy sector greenhouse gas emissions, reduce emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxide by up to 30%, and enable access to clean cooking fuels to 1 billion more people by 2040. And when considering the relative costs of other technologies, gas technologies provide the lowest cost means of reducing emissions in many instances, particularly in the buildings, industry, and transport sectors.
Such an outcome is far from assured, however. Lessons from the development and adoption of gas technologies in the past, as well as other cleantech solutions, indicate that three drivers are essential for the further development and deployment of gas technologies:
- First, government policy support is essential for promoting sustained R&D in gas technologies while ensuring their environmental and social value are reflected, for example through the implementation of carbon
- Second, substantial investment is required to enable access to gas, deploy technologies for gas consumption, and scale up the supply of low carbon gas; achieving the maximum economic potential for gas and the associated benefits would require $400-800 billion of annual
- Third, innovation by the gas industry is required, particularly through investment in R&D and early stage deployment while also developing new business models and new applications of technologies to reduce deployment barriers and speed
Transforming the global energy system to simultaneously enable action on climate change, promote sustainable cities and communities, and provide access to affordable and clean energy will require sustained innovation across the breadth of energy applications around the world. As the IGU and its partners demonstrate, innovation in gas technologies are already enabling these outcomes and offer substantial incremental potential to do so in the coming decades.
 The research was conducted by IGU, Snam, BP, and the Boston Consulting Group