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Energy crisis: a striking reminder of gas infrastructure’s vital role

While winter is just a few months away, Europe is preparing to face possible gas disruptions after reaching an agreement to reduce natural gas demand by 15 per cent and to fill storage facilities to 80 per cent of capacity by November this year. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen has also welcomed several initiatives taken by the Member States to save energy and ease their dependency on Russian fuels as per the REPowerEU plan presented in March.

At the same time, Europe must also be on track for the energy transition and its infrastructure must adapt to the various changes that are going to happen, first and foremost the advent of the hydrogen economy.

Boyana Achovski, Secretary General of Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE), identified several geopolitical trends that are affecting the current energy market and that could affect the future hydrogen one.

“COVID-19, gas prices crisis, followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Europe must get used to operating in a state of permacrisis,” she said in an interview with CDI LABs. “The decision-making process must be fastened with the setup of new instruments and mechanisms for effective responses.”

Moreover, she underlined that strengthening the security of supply should not be at the expense of climate objectives.

gas infrastructure
BoyanaAchovski. Courtesy of GIE.

“Decarbonisation remains pivotal. In fact, the European gas infrastructure solutions offer an opportunity to couple energy resilience with climate neutrality. Our infrastructure can become the entry door for imported renewable energy” she reminded us. “Today, our infrastructure mainly operates with natural gas. But that could be the case with renewable and low-carbon molecules: biomethane today, hydrogen tomorrow. Multiple innovative projects are blooming all around the continent.”

One thing is clear for Ms Achovski: the current crisis reminded all of us of the vital role of gas infrastructure in ensuring economic stability. And to unlock the full potential of the gas infrastructure, it is crucial to adapt the regulatory framework.

“Diversification is fundamental in terms of supplies and volumes,” she said. “If we talk about diversification of the gas supply, one of the options could be to increase the existing pipeline imports from suppliers other than Russia. For domestic production, as I mentioned before, we could boost biomethane production up to 35 billion cubic metres (bcm) by 2030, as also the REPowerEU plan requires. On the other hand, the LNG imports to change in gas flows require some infrastructure projects and additional interconnectivity in the gas grid within the EU to make use of the existing LNG terminal capacities.”

Infrastructure, including the hydrogen one, will be key in the near future. The full picture for Ms Achovski consists of pipelines to connect the demand and the supply, storages to respond to short-term and seasonal flexibility needs and terminals not only to rely on hydrogen imports but also on its derivatives like ammonia, synthetic gas and LOHC.

In Ms Achovski’s words, GIE shares the European Commission’s objectives of improving the gas market regulatory framework and decarbonising the gas system. And she believes that Europe can be really well positioned as a leader when we talk about clean hydrogen technologies.

One of the projects mentioned by Boyana Achovski is Aquamarine, led by the Hungarian Gas Storage, which includes an electrolysis system of 2,5 megawatts (MW) total performance and the corresponding hydrogen gas preparatory technology at the Kardoskut Underground Gas Storage site.

“The infrastructure will enable the production of green hydrogen by the decomposition of water and the use of the surplus of renewable electricity from the system ” she explained. “Besides the green transition in the gas industry, the effect of the project will also give ground to the widespread use of hydrogen utilisation/-based technology. In this way, the project drives smart sector integration and plays an active role in the decarbonisation processes in Central and Eastern Europe. And there are many others that show how Europe can be able to build several advanced solutions to reach the decarbonisation goals.”

For Ms Achovski, it is all a matter of time. “The timeframes are very short: we need to act fast. We understood that and it made sense that the European Commission came up with this set of ambitious targets. However, even with the best intentions, time will be needed to deliver on those targets and carry on with the projects we are developing,” she concluded.

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