Gas glut 2023

Global gas power expansion continues to thwart energy transition.

Oil and gas have had a big year, according to a new report by Global Energy Monitor (GEM). Oil- and gas-fired power plants in development—projects that have been announced or are in the pre-construction and construction phases—increased 13% in the last year to 783 gigawatts (GW), mainly driven by increases in capacity of projects in the pre-construction and construction phases. 

If built, says GEM, these projects would grow the global oil and gas fleet by a third at an estimated cost of US$611 billion in capital expenditure, creating a lifetime emissions potential equivalent to more than six and half years of the United States’ emissions. 

Driven by concerns over energy security and promises of a durable transition fuel to decarbonize economies, countries around the world are developing oil and gas, most notably in Asia and the United States. Russia’s war in Ukraine has changed the calculus for Europe in terms of its energy supply choices, while in places with extensive renewables potential and comparatively smaller fossil fuels sectors like Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, plans for oil and gas plants are gaining a foothold. 

Reputational matters 

“Gas continues to grow even with its reputation unravelling as a cheaper, cleaner and reliable transition fuel,” says Jenny Martos, project manager for the Global Oil & Gas Plant Tracker at Global Energy Monitor.

“Price volatility has led many countries to turn their backs on gas plans. The severity of gas’ impact on the climate is better understood every day because it leaks the potent greenhouse gas methane. And extreme weather events are causing fossil fuel power plants to fail. Still, the transition away from oil and gas is not happening anywhere near fast enough.”

Weather events

But it has also been a big year for extreme weather events, adds GEM.  During these critical moments when energy has been needed the most, fossil fuel generation has at times failed. From fatal power outages in the US during the winter Arctic blasts to rising temperatures across the Middle East buckling gas turbines, variable weather patterns brought on by a changing climate have upended notions of fossil fuel’s reliability. 

At the same time, gas’ reputation as a cleaner transition fuel continues to unravel, as its significant contribution to climate change due to methane leakages at extraction and transportation becomes better understood. 

By some estimates, methane leakage as low as 0.2% puts gas’ climate impact on par with coal, and the actual leakage rates range from 3.7% to 9% or higher. It’s no surprise then that 150 countries, representing nearly half of global methane emissions, have signed the Global Methane Pledge, endorsing its goal of reducing methane emissions 30% by 2030. 

Against this backdrop, the call from the international scientific community to stop any new construction on fossil fuel infrastructure in order to limit planetary warming to 1.5°C becomes more urgent. 

Expanding oil and gas capacity represents a costly stranded asset risk while also diverting resources away from the energy transition, which by some estimates calls for tripling installed renewable power capacity by 2050. Coupled with the rapidly declining cost of renewables and battery storage, as well as the increased volatility of gas prices, a move away from gas toward clean energy has never been more attractive. 

KEY POINTS:

  • Five countries—China, Brazil, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and the United States—constitute 45% of all new global gas-fired capacity in development, and the top 20 countries make up 79%. 
  • Approximately 207 GW is in the construction phase, a 23% increase compared to last year, and 295 GW is in the pre-construction phase, a 32% increase. 
  • If built, the 783 GW of gas plants in development would add a total of 41,239 million tonnes of CO2, 
  • The boom of oil and gas plants in development dwarfs the 12 GW of gas-fired capacity that was retired in the last year. 
  • About two-thirds of the world’s oil and gas plant capacity in development is located in Asia. East and Southeast Asia are dominated by plans to import LNG or expand domestic production, while Western Asia remains committed to gas- fired power generation to meet its energy needs. 
  • Almost three-quarters of the world’s oil and gas plant capacity in construction is located in Asia, with a third located in East Asia, mainly concentrated in China. Southern and Western Asia together account for nearly 30% of the world’s oil and gas plant capacity in construction. 
  • Globally, China leads in the development of new gas capacity, with 21% of the world’s total gas-fired capacity in development, and the largest increase compared to last year.
  • Despite announced clean energy goals, the United States leads the globe in existing oil- and gas-fired capacity, with 26% of the world’s total, and still generates a significant amount of its power from fossil fuels. 

Five countries—China, Brazil, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and the United States—constitute 45% of all new global gas-fired capacity in development, and the top 20 countries make up 79%.

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