A Bridge to a Low-Carbon Future? Modelling the Long-Term Global Potential of Natural Gas

12 Nov 2014

This project uses the global TIMES Integrated Assessment Model in UCL (‘TIAM-UCL’) to provide robust quantitative insights into the future of natural gas in the energy system and in particular whether or not gas has the potential to act as a ‘bridge’ to a low-carbon future on both a global and regional basis out to 2050.

This report first explores the dynamics of a scenario that disregards any need to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Such a scenario results in a large uptake in the production and consumption of all fossil fuels, with coal in particular dominating the electricity system. It is unconventional sources of gas production that account for much of the rise in natural gas production; with shale gas exceeding 1 Tcm after 2040. Gas consumption grows in all sectors apart from the electricity sector, and eventually becomes cost effective both as a marine fuel (as liquefied natural gas) and in medium goods vehicles (as compressed natural gas).

It next examines how different gas market structures affect natural gas production, consumption, and trade patterns. For the two different scenarios constructed, one continued current regionalised gas markets, which are characterised by very different prices in different regions with these prices often based on oil indexation, while the other allowed a global gas price to form based on gas supply-demand fundamentals. It finds only a small change in overall global gas production levels between these but a major difference in levels of gas trade and so conclude that if gas exporters choose to defend oil indexation in the short-term, they may end up destroying their export markets in longer term. A move towards pricing gas internationally, based on supply-demand dynamics, is thus shown to be crucial if the if they are to maintain their current levels of exports.

Nevertheless, it is also shown that, regardless of how gas is priced in the future, scenarios leading to a 2oC temperature rise generally have larger pipeline and LNG exports than scenarios that lead to a higher temperature increase. For pipeline trade, the adoption of any ambitious emissions reduction agreement results in little
loss of markets and could (if carbon capture and storage is available) actually lead to a much greater level of exports. For LNG trade, because of the significant role that gas can play in replacing future coal demand in the emerging economies in Asia, markets that are largely supplied by LNG at present, we demonstrate that export countries should actively pursue an ambitious global agreement on GHG emissions mitigation if they want to expand their exports. These results thus have important implications for  the negotiating positions of gas-exporting countries in the ongoing discussions on agreeing an ambitious global agreement on emissions reduction.