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Advantages of natural gas
Natural gas is abundant. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates there are enough recoverable natural gas resources to last around 230 years at current levels of consumption.
It is versatile. A gas-fired plant takes much less time to start and stop than a coal-fired plant. This flexibility also backs-up intermittent sources of energy, such as solar and wind.
Gas is the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon, producing around half the carbon dioxide and just one tenth of the air pollutants that coal does when burnt to generate electricity. There is enormous potential to reduce near term CO2 emissions and air pollution by using gas instead of coal.
Gas is now so widely available that it can also help countries deal with short-term supply disruptions. In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, for example, Japan relied on liquefied natural gas (LNG) to make up much of its lost electricity supply after its nuclear reactors shut down.
In some cases, the cost of producing gas is now cheaper than coal. IEA analysis, for example, states that the investment cost of the most efficient coal plant is $3,700 per kilowatt, compared with $1,100 for the most efficient gas-fired plant. Gas-fired power becomes even more competitive when the long-term costs associated with climate change and the impact of air pollution on both people and the environment are included.
Gas also has a growing number of uses. It has traditionally been used to heat and light homes and businesses, as well as to power industries. But other markets are opening up, including the use of LNG as an alternative to diesel and heavy fuel oil in transport.