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Gas infrastructure is the key to Europe’s emissions reduction

The independent gas infrastructure consortium Green Gas Initiative (GGI) presented a study together with NET4GAS, the Czech gas Transmission System Operator (TSO), focusing on the value of gas infrastructure as an enabler of cross-sectorial emission reductions.

The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to limit the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this objective, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will need to be reduced substantially. According to the study, it is clear that efforts targeting a reduction in energy sector emissions alone are not sufficient and a concerted cross-sector emissions reduction strategy, referred to as sector coupling, will be required to achieve the Paris Agreement aspirations.

“In this new energy world, complementarity between electricity and gas systems will play a key role,” commented Thierry Trouvé, CEO of French natural gas transmission system operator GRTgaz Gas and currently chairing GGI. “Spurred by research and development, new energy solutions and technologies are evolving rapidly, driving down costs. Policymakers should keep as many options open as possible to allow for intense competition of technologies and innovative concepts that will make the energy transition happen in a cost-efficient manner, for the benefit of EU citizens, industry and EU competitiveness.”

The transition to a climate-neutral economy based on renewable energy sources comes with significant challenges in terms of generation, storage and transportation of energy. But, existing gas infrastructure is extensive and already helps address many of the challenges.

In fact, the gas storage capacity currently available in the eight countries analysed (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland) is sufficient to cover today’s average gas demand in these countries for more than three months. In comparison, today’s total electricity storage of less than 0.6T Terawatt-hour (TWh) suffices only to meet the average electricity demand for less than four hours.

Secondly, gas infrastructure has historically been designed to bridge long distances between points of production and consumption at low cost and with minimal energy losses. As a result, there is a well-established Europe-wide gas transportation system, with gas transmission capacity, largely exceeding electricity transmission capacity, not only nationally but also across borders.

In particular, the Czech gas infrastructure has a lot to offer to contribute to decarbonisation alongside electrification, as gas supplies around 23 per cent of the final energy demand and the gas network covers most parts of the country. Being a major gas transit country, gas import capacity is enormous, exceeding electricity import capacity by factor 18.

While the Czech Republic has not set a binding unilateral decarbonisation goal for 2050 yet, it is clear that a substantial reduction of emissions will be necessary to comply with European Union targets. Although the State energy policy, currently only spanning the period until 2040, does not foresee a definite phase-out of fossil fuels, it does plan to lower GHG emissions by a partial fuel switch from coal to gas, amongst other measures. Domestic gas storage capacity in the Czech Republic is sufficient to store 35 TWh of energy (which is 6,000 times the energy storage volume of existing electricity storage), with further access to large gas storage in neighbouring countries, providing the basis to bridge the gap between energy supply and seasonal heat demand.

The continued use of gas networks would avoid substantial investments related to electrifying end-user appliances and expanding electricity networks. Calculations show that the eight countries analysed together can save between 30 and 50 billion euros per year in 2050 through the continued use of gas networks.

Indeed, there are various renewable and low-carbon gases available which can be transported via the gas grid and contribute to decarbonisation efforts. These gases include biomethane, green hydrogen and synthetic (green) methane from electrolysis (power-to-gas) and blue hydrogen. Such gases could serve as a reliable fuel for electricity generation and thus serve as back-up to balance the intermittency of renewable supply, cover seasonal heating demand, contribute towards decarbonising the transport sector (particularly heavy-duty) and provide a low-carbon solution for high-temperature heat and feedstock needs in the industry.

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