Wind and gas lobbyists scuffle over green claims

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This article is part of our special report Wind Energy.

The head of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) has blown cold air on gas lobby claims that Europe could save €900 billion and still hit its 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets if it built more gas plants fitted with controversial carbon capture and storage technology.

"Anybody who claims that Europe could save billions by investing in energy technologies based on gas that nobody knows the future price of is either a clairvoyant or will inevitably be proven wrong by history," Christian Kjaer, the CEO of EWEA, told EURACTIV.

Gas companies have often championed what they say are the environmental benefits of gas. The latest assertions were made in an unpublished study by US management consultancy McKinsey, obtained by the Guardian newspaper.

The report was compiled for the European Gas Advocacy Forum (EGAF), an umbrella group for companies including Centrica, ENI, E.On, Gazprom, GDF Suez, Shell and Statoil.

It appears to contradict European Commission predictions that thousands of new wind farms and extensive smart grid networks will need to be built to meet the EU's goal of an 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

However, the McKinsey study concluded that the same cuts could be achieved by a tripling of gas generation. The paper's findings were based on an assumption that by 2030, most gas plants would be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

But scientists say that to prevent more than two degrees of global warming this century, carbon emissions will need to have peaked by 2020 – ten years before the technology is expected to have become commercially viable on a wide scale.

"Carbon capture and storage will reduce CO2 emissions but will not eliminate them," Kjaer said. "If Europe is to reduce its emissions by 80-95% by 2050 it will need a carbon-free power sector in order to allow for emissions in transport and agriculture."

The McKinsey report also advised that shale gas deposits could be used to meet Europe's energy needs for the next 30 years, based on current demand.

The European Commission declined to comment on the McKinsey report.

As a relatively abundant, cheap and clean source of energy, natural gas is becoming an increasingly essential part of Europe's energy mix, attracting support for a variety of uses ranging from power generation, household heating and transport to fertilisers, plastics and other manufacturing products.

In addition, unconventional gas technologies are being developed as a domestic source of gas that can help end the EU's dependence on foreign imports.

Shale gas, produced from layers of sedimentary rock that are difficult to tap into with conventional technology, was recently developed in the USA and made the country self-sufficient in gas, even bringing down world prices.

Some specialists see strategic importance in developing shale gas in Europe as a means of reducing the continent's dependence on Russian imports.

Shale gas is just one of three unconventional gas technologies. Coal-bed methane, or CBM, is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds, while tight gas comes from sandstone.

  • European Wind Energy AssociationEWEA

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