21 November 2016
It is acknowledged that 80-95% decarbonisation will require a bold, integrated approach to building a new sort of energy system. The Energy Union recognises that in order that this transformation is delivered in a secure and affordable way to Europe’s citizens, we need a bold and innovative approach to make it a reality.
The move towards a future incorporating increasingly large amounts of renewable energy will help us achieve the goals of decarbonisation. However, making best use of the renewable resources available to us and integrating them into our energy system, requires us to look at how we can adapt what we have today to continue ensuring maximum security, reliability and cost-effectiveness in the future. Trying to achieve deep levels of decarbonisation through electrification alone may prove to be challenging from a technical perspective, increasingly expensive and ultimately unsustainable.
In this context, the gas industry is embracing a paradigm shift concerning what its infrastructure can and will contribute for a future energy system. Unlike many forms of renewable energy, gaseous energy (i.e. gas in its ‘natural’ and renewable forms e.g. biogas/methane, synthetic gas) is dispatchable and storable. Moreover, gas networks can provide adaptable, responsive, efficient and reliable energy, readily accommodating rapid shifts in demand which often greatly exceed the entire capacity of national electricity transmission systems. Increasingly the gas networks can be, and indeed some already are, transporting renewable gas.
As more variable renewable energy is deployed in line with the EU’s ambitious targets, innovation will lead to improvements in energy efficiency, demand side response measures and improvements in batteries and other technologies for electricity storage. These are important developments, but alone will not achieve the extent of system flexibility we need to integrate variable renewables and achieve 80-95% CO2 reductions.
The amount of flexible, daily, and seasonal storage needed to cost effectively integrate more and more intermittent renewable generation will require an energy vector that can reconcile large swings in demand with swings in electricity production from variable renewable sources. Natural gas and its transmission and distribution networks are already providing such a vector. Additionally, substituting coal with gas in power generation can help in reducing CO2 emissions and will have a substantially positive impact on air quality and consequently on human health, especially in urban areas. In the longer term, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) could play an important role in a low-emission energy system, further reducing emissions from gas-fired power plants, is currently being tested in other parts of the world. Excess renewable electricity beyond grid capacity, which is increasingly being wasted, can be turned into renewable gas. Moreover, innovative addition of renewably-derived gaseous energy to an integrated gas network with vast storage capacity can put a stop to this wasteful curtailment of excess electricity production. This unlocks the gates that are currently limiting the deployment of intermittent renewable energy production, while at the same time providing the electricity grid the flexibility to operate effectively within its storage constraints. This is the concept of power to gas, which is gaining increasing attention across the energy world.
This week is Gas Week in Strasbourg. This year, GasNaturally will hold a number of events focusing on innovation from gas, in partnership with renewables, in power generation, heating and transportation, and the role of gas in improving air quality. The gas industry will showcase what it already does and what it’s capable of delivering in the future through the use of gas as a renewable energy vector to shape the European energy system. From their side, EU policy makers can contribute by ensuring the right framework conditions.
A resilient Energy Union will only be successful in the long run if the fifth innovation pillar is successful. Indeed, the other four pillars depend on it. Without innovation in a way that provides the needed support to the other pillars, we cannot succeed. Innovation with gas can help us decarbonise faster and at a lower cost than electricity alone. The gas industry is ready to play its part in the EU energy transition. See you in Strasbourg!
By Robert Judd, Secretary General of GERG and Kyriakos Gialoglou, Vice-Chairman of GasNaturally