Pathways to a low-carbon future

Studies reveal pivotal role for natural gas in cutting emissions 80% by 2050.

New study: Pacific Northwest Pathways to Decarbonization

Oregon and Washington have set goals for steep greenhouse gas emissions reductions, as part of an economy-wide effort to combat climate change.

These kinds of goals are referred to as “deep decarbonization” and mean an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 from a 1990 emissions baseline – even after factoring in population growth. Is this possible? And if so, how?

A new report, Pacific Northwest Pathways to 2050, by Energy and Environmental Economics (E3), shows how the natural gas system can help the region get there.

Pacific Northwest Pathways to 2050 – Achieving an 80% reduction in economy-wide greenhouse gases by 2050

Press Release, 12/4/2018, “Study Shows Natural Gas Is Key to Reaching Northwest Emission Reduction Goals”

Download the Executive Summary

Download the Full Report



Recipes for reductions: Energy efficiency + Renewable energy + Sustainable biofuels + Electric vehicles

Three separately commissioned "deep decarbonization" studies in the Pacific Northwest have looked at this challenge from different perspectives to better understand the changes needed across all sectors of the economy—including energy—and the potential costs.

All three studies reached similar conclusions:

  • Cutting emissions by 80% will be a steep challenge requiring transformational change in all areas of the economy.
  • These recipes for reductions all require: aggressive energy efficiency, substantial renewable energy, rapid development of biofuels and comprehensive adoption of electric vehicles - and the strategic use of natural gas.
  • Differences in these studies come down to costs, risks, and how much gas is used in the direct heating of homes and businesses, or how much is used indirectly for generating electricity to meet peak winter demands.

Meeting energy needs while reducing emissions

E3’s study looks at four different alternative scenarios for society to meet the 80% reduction goal by 2050, with the key distinction being how homes and businesses are heated.

The study finds that by blending 25% renewable natural gas into the existing natural gas system, and delivering it directly to heat homes and businesses (versus using it to generate electricity), the region can achieve its economy-wide deep decarbonization goals. 

Turning Oregon’s waste into renewable natural gas

Renewable natural gas is produced by decomposing organic matter, typically from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and food and animal waste digesters. It’s called 'renewable' because it’s derived from waste that is continuously produced by present-day activities.

These waste sources naturally produce a potent greenhouse gas – methane – as they decompose, so renewable natural gas production captures methane that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere. When the gas is captured, it’s purified to remove components such as water, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide

A 2018 report released by the Oregon Department of Energy shows the potential amount of renewable natural gas available from the state’s waste streams would more than enough to meet the 25% goal in E3’s study.

Learn more about how renewable natural gas can help us meet the region’s climate goals while closing the loop on waste.