Just a couple of weeks ago, EU decision-makers reached an agreement setting into law the objective of a climate-neutral EU by 2050 and a collective, net greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least 55 per cent by 2030.
The European Commission is currently preparing a set of legislative proposals that will help to drive the transition. As energy represents around 75 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions, policies concerning the transformation of our current energy system are among the key contributors to the Fit for 55 package.
The obvious question is what is the role of gas in the energy transition, which has been at the centre of debates from the start. This was the main question of the virtual conference organised by EURACTIV where experts discussed the role of gas and gas infrastructure in Europe’s future energy mix and the transition to zero-carbon of Europe’s power sector.
As explained by Ditte Juul Jørgensen, Director General of DG ENER at the European Commission, in the current European energy system, fossil gas plays an important role and it’s a necessary part of the energy mix today – for some European member states more than others.
Due to the lower carbon intensity of natural gas – which produces half the emissions of coal when burned in power plants – it can also support the coal phase-out. As Mrs Jørgensen said, it has to be considered on a case by case basis – in some situation it makes sense, in others, it’s a risk in investment that can quickly become a stranded asset and stand in a way of the shift.
“If we are looking at the energy transition ahead of us, especially until 2030, gas will have an important role in this transition but with time it should be replaced with RES and low carbon gases,” she added.
The emergence of new technologies such as hydrogen is setting gas apart from other fossil fuels in the clean energy transition but infrastructure investments must also comply with our future needs.
Careful policy design and economic incentives will be crucial. The Commission will spend 20 per cent of the EU’s 7-year budget and 37 per cent of the Next Generation EU recovery fund on climate-related investment. Private investments regulated by the EU taxonomy will also play an important role in the climate-proof transformation of our energy system.
GE presented its whitepaper in this context arguing that a partnership between renewables and gas is not only possible but also desirable to deliver the quickest and deepest emission reduction and achieve the EU’s objective of climate neutrality by 2050 while producing the lowest possible cumulative emissions over the transition period.
“We see this as a decade of action and our whitepaper begins to lay out the many areas, not just gas power, where GE can accelerate massively the decarbonisation of energy production,” said Martin O’Neill, Vice President of Product Management of GE Gas Power who presented GE’s ambitions to take the lead in driving the transition to low-to-zero carbon gas technologies in the future.
As Mr O’Neill pointed out gas has made a significant contribution to decarbonisation in the past decades.
“Renewables supported by flexible gas turbine technology will deliver the quickest, deepest and most-cost-efficient emission reduction while keeping the energy system reliable,” highlighted Mr O’Neill.
He also underlined that some countries, particularly in South-Eastern Europe have a higher CO2 intensity in power generation which can be decarbonised rapidly by replacing coal with gas.
“Besides being a bridging fuel, gas turbine technology with its clear pathway to net-zero or zero-carbon operations is a destination technology,” said the Vice President of GE adding that transparent and predictable policies will determine success.
GE is betting on hydrogen and Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) as crucial elements of the decarbonisation of not only the power sector but of the integrated energy system. Developing both these technologies in industrial clusters, leveraging economies of scale, will be a viable path until cost reductions allow their wider deployment across Europe according to the whitepaper.
“In any hydrogen future, the EU will be probably a net importer of hydrogen but we are often caught up in colours of hydrogen while we should focus on GHG emissions which means we need low carbon hydrogen,” highlighted Mr O’Neill adding that this points in the direction pf carbon capture and sequestration as a certainty.
GE also sees a key role for CCUS as an available technology that can be used to decarbonise power plants almost fully, but as Mr O’Neill pointed out economic incentives and policy design will be clearly needed to accelerate CCSU.
“We have been extracting carbon from the planet for centuries and putting them back there is a safe and proven way to contain CO2 emissions,” he concluded.