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The key role of gaseous energy – interview with GIE’s Secretary General Boyana Achovski

The European Union internal energy market functioned very well and has been resilient to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, gas operators ensured the continuity of business operations and kept sight of next winter’s security of supply.

CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Boyana Achovski, Secretary General of Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE), the European association of gas transmission, gas storage and LNG regasification terminal operators, about the role gas will play in creating a sustainable low-carbon economy.

“Gas is the main energy source for the European industry and a key element in the sustainability transformation,” she says.

Thanks to its contributions to emissions reductions across sectors as well as the number of jobs that the industry provides in Europe and with a combination with its affordability and reliability, gaseous energy has a key role to play in sustainable recovery packages addressing the EU Green Deal objectives.

Concerning the COVID-19 outbreak, Mrs Achovski refers to the pressure on the energy sector but, at the same time, the gas value chain continued to deliver low emission energy to the European industries and millions of citizens on and off the grid. 

“Thanks to its affordability and security of supply, gas remains a crucial solution during the current crisis, but also provides solutions for a sustainable economic recovery,” she explains. 

And speaking about sustainable recovery, several governments, companies and associations are urging the EU to take into consideration also gaseous solutions that can relaunch the EU industry and at the same time delivering on the carbon neutrality goal.

In particular, countries from Central and Eastern Europe are underlying the importance to recognise the existence of national and regional differences and therefore allow tailored solutions. In this regard, natural gas and other gaseous fuels such as bio-methane and decarbonised gases could play a leading role. 

“An economy-wide decarbonisation in line with the Paris Agreement and the EU Green Deal will require more than just electrification based on renewable power generation,” Mrs Achovski says. “Using the virtues of both electricity and gas is the most efficient and fastest way to create a sustainable low-carbon economy. A credible deep greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy needs to offer solutions for all parts of the economy, including the hard-to-electrify and hard-to-decarbonise sectors – heating, industrial processes, agriculture, and passenger and heavy-duty transport, which together account for around three-quarters of Europe´s energy consumption. Gas is a fast and cost-efficient solution to reduce these emissions drastically, as of today.”

Additionally, she adds that gas provides the flexibility needed to harness an increasing share of variable renewable electricity. During seasonal demand variations, when there are too little wind and sun, modern gas-powered generation supplies the consumers with the electricity they need. 

Gas not only serves as an essential backup for variable renewable electricity, but the gas infrastructure also offers the possibility to store low-carbon energy on a large scale through technologies such as CCS and power-to-gas which converts surplus electricity into renewable gas.

“Such storage capacity is vital to meet the seasonal heating requirements of many of the EU’s citizens,” she underlines. “Thus, I do believe that gas will have a central role in the processes that will lead us to achieve the Green Deal objectives.”

When it comes to other gases, many countries including those in CEE, are showing the first signs of opening towards new technologies, like hydrogen-based ones.

“Hydrogen has emerged nowadays as the solution best suited to reduce CO2 emissions in sectors where electrification seems unfeasible or relatively inefficient,” commits Mrs Achovski. “It has recently emerged that the integration of variable renewable energy sources and increased electrification will increasingly challenge the electricity network. To facilitate the development of hydrogen-based technologies, gas infrastructures need some support in terms of adaptation of the gas infrastructures where the research, development and pilot projects about the injection of pure, blended hydrogen and synthetic methane into gas infrastructures and end-use applications should be better structured.”

We also believe that hydrogen and green gas needs to be treated in the same way renewable electricity is supported. As another important point, we think there shall be no limitations for gas infrastructure operators to own, develop, operate, and manage power to gas installations to provide the most cost-efficient conversion services to energy carriers in a non-discriminatory way.

She recalls that numerous studies have been made on the viability of using the existing gas infrastructure to transport and store gases that have low or no carbon content – biomethane, hydrogen and synthetic methane – and they all come up with similar results, that gases are need as well as electricity for a fair transition and that in different parts of Europe the needs of each sector are different. 

GIE has many times underlined that gas storage could play a special role in achieving Europe’s ambitious climate targets. In particular, underground gas storages are an immediate solution to the switch from more carbon-intensive energy carriers to low-carbon and renewable gases.

“The way we use Europe’s gas infrastructure will be very different in the future,” Mrs Achovski says. “The gases transported and stored will be very different and GIE members are working on innovative techniques to facilitate all kinds of gaseous energy carriers, from biomethane, sustainably produced within and outside our borders, via green hydrogen, produced from excess electricity from wind farms or PV installations to synthetic methane. Our members are committed to fulfilling the EU Green Deal objectives whilst guaranteeing the supply of affordable energy for all citizens. We believe that decarbonisation can only be achieved affordably by facilitating all lower carbon energy processes. Today`s gas infrastructure is efficient and available. And we need to use this asset efficiently. Our strategy is to better use existing infrastructure rather than to develop new solutions from scratch. So, using pipelines, storages and LNG infrastructure is part of our long-term vision. We trust in tailored solutions to achieve a sustainable energy system, with gas infrastructure central to an integrated, smart energy system.”

Recently GIE, together with other associations, published first common industry guidelines to help companies set methane emission reduction targets as a complement to mitigation strategies. The guidelines identify comprehensively the key elements of the process to establish a target and also address how to keep track of progress once a target is set. They also give an overview of the industry’s achievements so far in this field.

“The reducing methane emissions can contribute to decarbonising Europe’s energy system and to help Europe to achieve its objective of climate neutrality by 2050,” concludes Mrs Achovski. “Many of the European gas companies have targets in place, and some of those who don’t are willing to do so, which is a good signal. The goal is to achieve emission reduction by encouraging all gas value chain actors who are considering to establish methane emission reduction targets to use these technical guidelines to reduce the emissions.”

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