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Natural gas to still play a role even in a net-zero future

The European energy system will need similar amounts of natural gas in a feasible net-zero future as it does today, according to a study commissioned by the Hydrogen4EU consortium.

The scientists considered two scenarios of the EU energy system development. The first involves technology diversification and using a wide range of decarbonisation technologies. In this case, the share of gas in primary energy demand will reach 32 per cent by 2050 (today it is around 25 per cent).

The Renewable Push scenario means the purposeful development of renewables. It differs from the other pathway by a series of targets on the share of renewables in gross final energy consumption, which is more ambitious for 2030 compared to today’s policy (40 per cent versus 32 per cent in the Technology Diversification pathway) and includes binding targets for 2040 (at 60 per cent) and 2050 (at 80 per cent). However, even in this case, the gas demand in the EU remains unchanged. It will be around 26 per cent by 2050.

In this scenario, natural gas is defined as an element of continuity in the energy mix as it provides important flexibility as a complement to renewables. Natural gas offers the greatest benefits when coupled with CCUS. Much of its use is thus displaced from final energy consumption to transformation processes, for example for hydrogen production, where low-carbon hydrogen helps foster the growth of the hydrogen economy, or in power generation, where natural gas provides flexible power for load following and backup generation.

“A credible path to decarbonisation will require more than just electrification,” said Dawn Summers, President of GasNaturally and COO of Wintershall Dea at the presentation of the study. “Harnessing the power of both renewables and low-carbon gas will deliver the fastest.”

At the final consumption level, energy efficiency and electrification play their expected role in the transition to net-zero emissions. However, also hydrogen can play a major role. Low-carbon hydrogen, based on fossil fuels with low-emissions technologies like carbon capture and permanent storage (reformers with CCS) or pyrolysis, is considered among the promising technologies.

In light of the ambitious decarbonisation objectives, European hydrogen demand in the study’s pathways exceeds 30 million tons (Mt) by 2030, which is triple the current policy objective described in the EU hydrogen strategy.

“The momentum built over the last few years thus needs to be followed by concrete actions to implement the building blocks of the European energy transition and of the hydrogen policy framework,” reads the study. “The announced Fit for 55 policy package brings an opportunity to fundamentally reshape European energy policy. It is also the occasion to foster an optimal pathway to hydrogen deployment and emission reduction that complements the least-cost principle with other key policy considerations like energy security and social acceptance.”

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