When you think of peanut butter, you think of jelly. If you see Batman, Robin is close behind. And when talking about renewable resources, of course natural gas comes to mind…right? Well it should! This pair may not be as famous as Bonnie and Clyde, but the positive impact they have together is something that should not go unnoticed.
Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are both modern marvels. In the United States alone, there are over 52,000 operating utility-scale wind turbines and nearly 1.6 million solar installations. As abundant as they have become, it’s not always possible to install them and leave them alone to let them do their work, especially when you are dealing in large volumes. There are still days when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.
That’s where natural gas helps. Combined cycle gas plants can ramp up quickly, providing electricity during times that solar and wind aren’t available. As more wind turbines and solar panels are developed, manufacturers are finding innovative ways to use gas plants and renewables together. In France, General Electric has opened the first combined-cycle plant allowing full power in less than 30 minutes.
Additionally, the technology behind solar panels and wind turbines is the definition of innovation. Just like almost everything we use daily, the materials that make those panels and turbines are made possible by natural gas. Most wind turbines consist of blades mounted to a tower made from steel. Within the last five years, these steel manufacturers have made the switch from coal to less carbon-intensive natural gas as energy utilized in the melting and forming process. Similarly, most photovoltaic solar panels, which use an electrochemical reaction to produce electricity, have a sheet of tempered glass covering the solar modules. More than just providing structure, the qualities of the glass contribute to the efficiency of the panel. The glass industry, an important partner therefore in the production of efficient solar panels, relies heavily on natural gas during the energy-intensive melting and refining process.
Together, renewables and natural gas create a modern marvel. Rain or shine, windy or calm, we can rest easy knowing the dynamic duo is always hard at work generating America’s energy. For more information, be sure to watch our newest video on the partnership between renewables and natural gas.
Correction (1/26/2018): A paragraph in this post previously referred to the manufacturing process for solar panels that use solar thermal techonlogy, which makes up a small fraction of solar production. The article has been updated to reflect natural gas' role in the manufacturing of photovoltaic solar modules.