The global economy is in the midst of a major energy transition toward lower carbon fuels in an effort to combat climate change. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are a big part of that transition.

However, due to intermittency issues and the need for advancements in battery storage technology, the world will continue to rely on natural gas for years to come. That bodes well for leading natural gas infrastructure companies Kinder Morgan (KMI 0.15%) and Williams (WMB 0.73%).

The bull case for natural gas

John Ketchum, the CEO of leading utility and renewable energy developer NextEra Energy (NEE 1.74%), believes natural gas will play an essential role in the energy transition. He discussed its importance at a recent energy industry conference. He noted that the current battery storage technology used on grid applications can only be drawn down at full capacity for about four hours before being largely depleted. These installations can store solar- and wind-generated power for later use at times when those sources aren't producing energy. However, meaningful advancements in cost-effective battery technology will have to be made to turn them into more stable power sources for the grid. And those advancements are at least several years down the road.

Because of that, natural gas power plants will continue filling in the gap. "I mean, it's just putting your head in the sand to believe that the energy transition that this country is embarking on will work without natural gas power generation," Ketchum said.

A slide showing the importance of natural gas to help offset the intermittency of renewables.

Image source: Williams Companies Investor Relations Presentation.

As the slide above shows, the flexibility of natural gas enables it to meet the grid's peak energy needs when renewable production is lower.

Because of that, the U.S. economy will continue to rely on natural gas to meet electricity demand. Meanwhile, it's becoming an even more vital global energy source. That's driving rapidly growing demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG), especially in Asia and Europe. These factors have U.S. natural gas demand on track to increase from 106 billion cubic feet per day last year to 125 billion cubic feet per day by 2030.

Kinder Morgan: Capitalizing on the natural gas opportunity

Kinder Morgan has the largest natural gas transmission network in the country. Its 70,000-mile pipeline network moves more than 40% of all the natural gas produced in the U.S. each day. Meanwhile, it owns 700 billion cubic feet of storage capacity, 15% of the country's total.

The company's extensive infrastructure gives it lots of flexibility, which will be crucial in the future. CEO Steve Kean stated in the fourth-quarter earnings release that the need for "flexible deliverability services will continue to grow in the face of extreme weather events and as intermittent renewable energy resources continue to expand their share in the power sector."

In addition, it's in a great position to capitalize on growing LNG demand.

"With a large portion of our existing network in Texas and Louisiana -- where nearly all of that LNG demand growth is expected to occur -- we expect to largely serve that growth with highly capital-efficient expansions on our existing network," Kean noted. These catalysts should enable the company to grow its cash flow and high-yielding dividend in the future.

Williams: Expanding an already-massive footprint

Williams, too, has an extensive natural gas infrastructure position. Its pipeline network handles one-third of all the natural gas produced in the U.S. each day. It also has a large natural gas gathering and processing business and a growing storage operation.

The company is investing heavily to expand its infrastructure footprint. It completed three acquisitions last year to advance its strategy. It's also investing in a large pipeline of natural gas infrastructure projects.

In the company's fourth-quarter earnings press release, CEO Alan Armstrong commented on what's driving these investments. "Natural gas is one of the most important tools available to reduce emissions on a global scale, and the build out of electrification and renewables will require our infrastructure and deep expertise in reliable energy delivery, resulting in continued earnings growth for Williams and long-term value creation for our shareholders," he said. That should enable Williams to continue growing its high-yielding dividend.

Plenty of fuel to power more growth

The energy transition to renewables can only happen with the support of natural gas. Because of that, demand for the lower carbon fuel should continue growing. That should benefit leading natural gas infrastructure companies like Kinder Morgan and Williams, enabling them to expand their systems and increase their cash flows and dividends. It makes them great energy stocks to own amid the energy transition since they should thrive for many years.