‘No future’ for fossil gas in Europe, Greens insist

“So-called 'near-zero carbon gases' or 'sustainable gases' are not well defined and too often used as a pretext to continue financing gas infrastructure that will perpetuate the carbon lock-in,” said Florent Marcellesi, a Green Member of the European Parliament. [© European Union 2018 - Source : EP]

Natural gas of fossil origin has “no future” in Europe, Greens have warned as EU energy ministers prepared to sign a declaration on Tuesday (2 April) supporting “smart gas infrastructure” as part of a low-carbon energy mix for 2050.

The EU’s 28 energy ministers are expected to endorse a political declaration on “Sustainable and Smart Gas Infrastructure for Europe” during an informal meeting in Bucharest on Tuesday (2 April).

Gas industry groups signed the declaration a day before, welcoming Europe’s recognition of the future role of gas in a low-carbon energy system.

“This declaration is a signal that gas will be part of the solution that Europe seeks to meet its energy challenges,” said James Watson, secretary general of Eurogas, an industry association.

But the Greens have denounced those plans, saying they come in “frontal contradiction” with Europe’s climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement.

In a paper published today, they warn that industry pledges to decarbonise gas and promote low-carbon alternatives such as biomethane and hydrogen are an excuse to continue fossil fuel operations.

As part of their policy recommendations, they called on the European Commission to stop using terms such as “green gas” or “decarbonised gas”, saying the term is too vague.

“So-called ‘near-zero carbon gases’ or ‘sustainable gases’ are not well defined and too often used as a pretext to continue financing gas infrastructure that will perpetuate the carbon lock-in,” said Florent Marcellesi, a Green Member of the European Parliament.

EU support “should be limited to renewable, efficient and sustainable forms of gas,” Greens argue, pointing out that renewable gases have different efficiencies and lifecycle impacts, which “need to be classified and measured”.

2020 gas package

The European Commission has started reflecting on the future role of gas in a low-carbon energy system and is preparing a new package of gas legislation in 2020 to encourage the production of low-carbon gases such as biomethane and hydrogen.

The decarbonisation of gas “is going to be one of the main drivers of energy policy” for the next Commission after the May European elections, EU officials have said.

EU wary about one-size-fits-all target for ‘clean gas’

Setting a target for low-carbon gases such as hydrogen or biomethane is going to be tricky even though the idea is supported by industry, a senior EU official has said, warning against a one-size-fits-all approach.

Although they acknowledge that renewables gases will play a role in Europe’s future energy mix, the Greens insist they will only act as “a complement” to electricity, for example in industrial processes such as steelmaking and cement, which require high-temperature heat.

The Greens also point out that the Commission and the gas sector “have a history of overestimating gas demand” in their scenarios, a situation denounced by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) in a 2015 report, which questioned the Commission’s “credibility” in drawing up scenarios.

They warned the Commission against repeating the same mistake when evaluating future volumes of renewable gases. “The potential of truly sustainable and renewable gases in Europe is still largely unknown and it is doubtful that sufficient volumes will be available to cover the entire fossil gas consumption,” Marcellesi said.

Gas system operators have accepted the EU’s decarbonisation goals, saying they are currently working on network development plans for 2050, which are based on a carbon budget and include zero-emission scenarios. Those plans are being drawn together with electricity grid operators in order to draw synergies between gas and electricity systems

“And that automatically means there will be no fossil gas in the mix by then,” said Jan Ingwersen, general manager of ENTSOG, the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas.

Gas has a lot to offer, ENTSOG argues – especially for long-term storage of energy, which cannot be handled by electricity on a large scale. Big transmission pipelines can store gas up to two days while caverns can handle much bigger volumes that can last for the whole winter, Ingwersen pointed out, saying current capacity stands at around 1,200TWh.

The question for policymakers is how to ensure this network can be used as a lever to accelerate the decarbonisation of the energy system at the lowest cost, he said.

“We would like to see the decarbonisation happen in the most cost-efficient way. And someone with insights needs to figure out how this is possible,” Ingwersen told EURACTIV in a recent interview.

Gas network chief: ‘By 2050, we assume CO2 emissions from energy will be zero’

Europe’s electricity and gas operators are currently working on a joint network plan based on a carbon budget which includes zero-emission scenarios for 2050. “And that automatically means there will be no fossil gas in the mix by then,” Jan Ingwersen told EURACTIV in an interview.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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