As North America – like most around the globe – strives to reduce its carbon footprint and combat climate change, renewable natural gas (RNG) has become a key player in that battle.
The importance of harnessing renewable energy sources to tackle environmental challenges can not be understated. Renewable natural gas represents one of the most sustainable alternatives in the market and the growth of that market in North America is vital for unlocking its full potential.
In this article, we explore the significance of renewable natural gas in North America and how it could revolutionise the energy landscape overall.
What is renewable natural gas?
Renewable natural gas – also known as biomethane – is produced from organic waste materials such as agricultural residues, landfill waste and waste water treatment plants.
By capturing and processing this organic waste correctly, RNG production can provide a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels whilst preventing the release of harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
The integration of RNG into our energy utilisation can significantly reduce our carbon emissions and ultimately, help us achieve our ambitious climate goals.
Renewable natural gas promotes energy independence and security
Renewable natural gas offers so much potential for North America because it fosters energy independence and security whilst allowing the country to diversify its energy portfolio. RNG can be easily produced locally, utilising the abundant organic waste streams across the country’s enormous landscape.
Aside from the obvious benefit this offers in terms of sustainability, decentralised production means that communities can tap into their own resources. This creates a resilient, local energy market and completely removes the dependence on foreign oil imports.
Moreover, RNG complements other renewable energy sources and, as a constant energy supply, can easily sit alongside intermittent sources such as wind and solar power.
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How has renewable natural gas created jobs?
The expansion of RNG so far has created a ripple effect of economic opportunity and job creation across North America.
Oil and gas companies made roughly 160,000 workers redundant in 2020 at the height of the global pandemic, limited by the tight budgets that came with a more cautious stance from the industry as a whole. Once the initial shock of the pandemic faded, however, renewable energy businesses expanded quickly. As renewable companies quickly snapped up top talent from the likes of Chevron and Exxon, we saw a huge boost in the number of energy professionals entering fields such as wind, solar and RNG.
Between 2016 and 2021, employment in renewable energy grew by 20%. Unsurprisingly, employment across traditional fields fell by a similar amount.
On a practical level, RNG projects brings with them investment into infrastructure, research and development, as well as the need for a skilled workforce. This encourages the creation of green jobs across both rural and urban areas, as well as revitalising local economies by providing additional revenue streams for farmers and waste management facilities.
Who are the leaders in renewable energy jobs?
So we know that renewable energy as a sector has capitalised on the back of the pandemic, but where are the jobs and which industries do they comprise?
In the immediate aftermath of 2020, the fastest growing energy sectors were electric vehicles (+7.8%), hybrid electric vehicles (+5.6%), wind energy (+1.8%) and battery storage (+1.3%), all of whom registered a gain in jobs as oil, gas and coal fell. This has largely continued into 2023, with solar power and renewable natural gas increasing more recently.
For North America particularly, several states across the US have stood out as leaders in renewable energies. California is home to the largest amount of solar power jobs per population, while North Dakota employs the largest number of roles in wind power generation. Both California and Georgia lead in the production of energy through biomass, while South Dakota is the overall leader in producing renewable energies across a range of sectors.
As the country continues to transition into sustainability, it’s imperative that states largely focused on petroleum and gas extraction look to move into other fields.
Bringing sustainability to the transportation sector
One of the most impactful, immediate applications of RNG is in the transportation sector. RNG can be seamlessly integrated into the existing natural gas infrastructure and be used as a clean fuel for vehicles such as buses and heavy-duty trucks.
Since North America is so focused on decarbonising the transportation sector, RNG can offer an immediate and viable win.
As a low-carbon alternative to diesel fuel, it significantly reduces the emission of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter – not only improving air quality but accelerating our transition towards a greener transport sector.
Ultimately, the growth of RNG in North America holds immense significance in addressing climate change, diversifying the energy mix, and promoting sustainable economic growth. By harnessing organic waste and transforming it into a renewable energy source, RNG offers a practical and scalable solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance energy security, create jobs, and foster environmental stewardship. Governments, industries, and communities must continue to support and invest in RNG initiatives, unlocking its full potential for a greener and more sustainable future in North America and beyond.