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Can We Skip Straight to Renewable Energy Without Natural Gas? Not Yet.

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A protest this weekend at the site of a proposed natural gas power generator on the Cape Cod Canal highlights the controversy surrounding the rise of natural gas. Some say it’s an improvement over other fossil fuels, and a necessary bridge to a more renewable energy system. Others say it’s still a fossil fuel, and we should be investing in solar instead.

The director of research at MIT’s Energy Initiative, Francis O’Sullivan, says neither side is completely right – or wrong. In a 2011 report on the Future of Natural Gas, O’Sullivan and colleagues predicted that natural gas would play an increasing role in energy generation and could provide deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to coal. Then, in a 2015 report on the Future of Solar Energy, the same group called for a massive scale-up of solar power.

O’Sullivan doesn’t see a conflict there. Rather, he says, what we’re seeing right now is the two technologies “coming together sensibly,” with natural gas providing cleaner power than coal, and buying time for the development of the technologies and economic systems necessary to eventually transition to a renewable-based energy system.

Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.