Big rig: Workers drill for shale gas in Pennsylvania. The emergence of access to shale gas in the U.S.—and the low natural gas prices that followed—has created an extra hurdle for renewables.


What Mattered in Energy Innovation This Year

Notable advances in renewable energy pale compared to the impact of shale gas.

By Kevin Bullis on December 29, 2012

Although renewable energy made impressive advances this year, its impact has been dwarfed by the changes caused by the surplus of cheap, abundant natural gas made possible by hydrofracturing—fracking—of shale deposits. It will also be hard for renewables to equal the impact of shale gas in the coming years.

As utilities shift electricity production from coal plants to natural gas ones, carbon dioxide emissions have dropped to levels not seen for 20 years. In China, the government has set ambitious goals to scale up fracking and shale gas production there as well.

Similar drilling technology has led to a surge of oil production in the United States that could have it rivaling the production of oil in Saudi Arabia. It’s led to credible estimates that within a couple of decades—with the help of rigorous fuel economy standards—North America could produce as much energy as it consumes.

Read more: The Top Energy Technologies of 2012 | MIT Technology Review.

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