A Cold Climate Advantage?

At a recent energy-industry conference, British Columbia’s deputy minister for natural gas development stated that his province’s cold weather offers LNG producers and customers a significant competitive advantage.

Cool temperatures on B.C.’s north coast would result in a 25 percent energy savings over plants located in warmer-weather regions such as Australia, Qatar or the southern United States, the government said.

While that sounds like an impressive number, the reality is that ambient outside temperatures won’t meaningfully impact government and industry’s effort to bring the LNG sector’s overall carbon footprint down to globally leading levels.

The government did its math using an engineering rule-of-thumb that states that every degree of Celsius temperature reduction results in a 1.7 percent energy efficiency gain (Morgan, 2012). The ambient temperatures at British Columbia’s proposed LNG facilities will be on average 15.5 degrees Celsius cooler than those in Australia and southern United States—resulting in the government’s 25 percent figure.

What does this mean for the industry’s carbon pollution footprint? Using the same potential efficiency gains cited by the province, our analysis finds that British Columbia’s cooler climes will reduce the sector’s greenhouse gas footprint by 0.06 tonnes of equivalent CO2 per tonne of LNG produced—as compared to that produced in warmer regions. This is equivalent to the City of Vancouver’s 2012 carbon emissions, assuming the two most likely proposed LNG projects—LNG Canada and Petronas LNG—move ahead (Macquarie 2012).

While this is helpful, it barely makes a dent in the quest for the “cleanest LNG.” Even after factoring in the cold climate advantage, government and industry will still need to find 0.61 tonnes worth of carbon-pollution savings to credibly claim world-leading status.