Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Breaking ground in energy transformation: interview with Anna Slavkovská, GIE Board Member

2024 is a year of political changes: more than half the world’s population will go to the polls. Even though energy resilience and decarbonisation are expected to remain top priorities for EU decision-makers, this shift represents a potential turning point in the energy and environmental future of the EU. We spoke with Anna Slavkovská, leading regulatory lawyer at Slovakia’s storage system operator NAFTA, managing director of the German branch of NAFTA Speicher Inzenham and the latest Gas Infrastructure Europe’s (GIE) board member, about the gas infrastructure’s role and the importance of acknowledging the different national starting points between EU Member States.

Anna Slavkovská joined the GIE Board last September when the association of Europe’s gas infrastructure operators was enlarged following this enhancement of its responsibility at the European level, including the diversification of routes and sources of supply in the context of REPowerEU.

As we dive into our conversation with Mrs Slavkovská, it becomes evident that her passion for shaping the energy markets definitely aligns with GIE’s mission.

“Our goal at GIE is to pioneer solutions that fortify the energy supply and align with the EU’s ambitious decarbonisation objectives,” she explains. “It is exciting to contribute to shaping the energy markets.”

“Differences between regions, countries and individuals are what makes Europe unique. However, it’s essential that the different starting points are considered when designing the regulatory framework. It’s the only way to ensure a successful energy transition all over Europe.”

Addressing the complexities arising from diverse energy mixes across Member States, Mrs Slavkovská emphasises the need for flexible legislation. “Creating something new requires a nuanced approach,” she notes. “If we don’t keep the different specifics in mind when we decide it, countries will not be able to get there. It is not always the best way to have derogations, but it is very challenging to define what “the best way” is. It is a compromise as the decarbonisation will take a different pace and time scale in all the Member States.”

For instance, she sheds light on the challenges faced in Slovakia, particularly regarding citizen and industry buy-in. She highlights the importance of considering not just energy mix variations but also budget constraints and the financial capacity of citizens.

“In our region, gas remains a vital aspect of the energy mix. It also faces unique geological availability regarding storage, including the capacity to store hydrogen, a key player in the future energy landscape. In general, there are different types of storages including salt caverns, depleted gas fields and acquifers and there are differences between them regarding hydrogen storage.”

“Storage of hydrogen in depleted gas fields is more technically challenging than in salt caverns and it requires still research across different fields” she continues”. “Nevertheless, it is important to mention, that in Europe, only around 20 per cent of the total storage capacity comes from salt caverns, and on top of that the gross calorific value of hydrogen is only one-third of the one of natural gas, so we need more storage.”

Underscoring the pivotal role of underground gas storage, Mrs Slavkovská points out its significance as both a seasonal storage solution and in a crisis situation when more is needed. She reflects on the EU’s strategic focus on storage, evident in the gas storage regulation of June 2022, which set a binding target of 90 per cent filling storage facilities by 1 November each year. GIE, with its transparency initiatives, serves as a key player in providing essential data to global stakeholders, regulators and policymakers.

“The EU institutions acknowledged the importance of gas infrastructure when tackling the supply crisis. The importance of storage was, for instance, reflected through the gas storage regulation of June 2022, which set a binding EU target of 90 per cent filling storage facilities by 1 November each year,” she recalls. “In December 2022, another EU regulation was introduced to enhance solidarity with the new obligation for storage operators and LNG operators to publish transparency data through European transparency platforms. The GIE AGSI and ALSI platforms are fulfilling this role, as an industry-led platform, widely recognised by global stakeholders, including regulators, politicians, traders and so on.”

“But we also understand that the future of the EU is a decarbonised economy, so an important role will be played by decarbonised gases like biomethane and hydrogen,” she continues, highlighting that biomethane can play a more important role already in the short-term strengthening of the security of supply while hydrogen will play a role more in the mid-, long-term.

“Creating a hydrogen market requires collaboration across the entire value chain, involving end users, producers, transport and storage solutions. It’s a collective effort to shape the future energy landscape.”

GIE and Frontier Economics recently released a study* on the challenges and solutions of how to maintain the security of gas supply while decarbonising our infrastructure with renewable and low-carbon gases, emphasising the necessity of coordination, highlights Mrs Slavkovská.

She breaks down the often-underestimated importance of hydrogen storage as it can accelerate hydrogen uptake in industrial applications and fill the gap between the electricity produced by renewables and its demand.

“In the longer term, hydrogen storage will play more of an ‘insurance role’ like natural gas storage is today.”

In January 2023, GIE published a study** in cooperation with Artelys showcasing the pathways and values of underground hydrogen storages. The study explains the values hydrogen storages will provide to the system in the short-, mid- and well as long-term. These are the following:

  1. Environmental value – hydrogen storages will be able to help avoid electric redispatch and RES curtailment;
  2. Kick-start value – hydrogen storages will thus enable optimally sized investments in RES capacity;
  3. Insurance value – hydrogen storages will be able to ensure sufficient volumes and injection rates are available to end uses subject to uncertain demand levels e.g. H2 turbines and H2 heating technologies;
  4. System value – helps to avoid overinvestments in other infrastructure elements, across the entire energy sector, to ensure the energy demand can be met in a secure and efficient way;
  5. Arbitrage value – to make better use of the cheapest hydrogen sources in competitive markets, reducing the consumers’ exposition to the volatility of prices.

The HENRI project, spearheaded by NAFTA, which has the status of an IPCEI project (Important project of Common European Interest), stands out as an initiative aiming to identify suitable locations for storing pure hydrogen or mixed with natural gas in porous geological structures across Slovakia. The project’s comprehensive timeline, including a pilot test by 2026-2029, positions it as a cornerstone in shaping a resilient and sustainable energy future.

“The first phase will focus on seeking an appropriate location for storing pure hydrogen or mixed with natural gas, across Slovakia” she explains. “The second phase will be the pilot test of storage of hydrogen (in defined percentage – a result of the first phase), including hydrogen production through water electrolysis. The whole project will be ready by 2029.”

*GIE & Frontier Economics: Maintaining security of supply while decarbonising gas infrastructure

**GIE & Artelys ‘Showcasing the pathways and values of underground hydrogen storages

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