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Gas and energy transition

Gas and Energy Transition

Globally increasing prosperity, worldwide growth and the achievement of climate protection targets are not mutually exclusive: the climate protection triune consisting of the fuel switch, content switch and modal switch enables secure, affordable and climate-neutral energy supply worldwide.

Gas and energy transition; © Open Grid Europe GmbH

Staying within the global carbon budget

The COP21 resolutions require the world to make fast and extensive investments in climate-friendly technologies

If coal and petroleum products continue to be used so intensely, climate protection targets for 2050 will not be met. However, the global climate protection triune of Fuel Switch, Content Switch and Modal Switch will enable the COP21 targets to be met in all regions and countries of the world.

At the end of 2015, participants at the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris signed a multilateral agreement by which the international community undertook to reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially and thereby limitthe increase in global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees but if possible no more than 1.5 degrees by the year 2050.

Within a few months, this agreement was ratified by a large majority of UN member states, i.e. the emitters of greenhouse gases, and therefore formally came into force. More and more countries recognise the necessity of implementing ambitious and effective climate protection measures and are directing their efforts towards achieving this aim.

The current distribution of greenhouse gas emissions shows clearly that the COP 21 targets can only be achieved by means of extensive transformation processes in the energy systems of numerous countries around the globe.

In order to be able to meet the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets to which the international community aspires, it will in some cases be necessary to substantially re-adapt worldwide energy and climate protection policy and the associated investments in the use of energy sources and infrastructure as pursued in recent years. Within the short term, all countries must continuously decarbonise their energy generation and supply and continue to pursue this path consistently.

Gas is the key to sucess for the energy transition! Within the framework of the energy policy system defined by climate protection, security of supplies and economics, gas can play a key role in reshaping energy supplies in Germany – and worldwide.

Gerald Linke, Managing Director of the DVGW

The compelling strategy

In 2017, the German Gas and Water Association (DVGW) has developed a strategy on how to stay within the national carbon budget by utilising more and more natural gas and renewable gases and by bringing power grids and gas grids to convergence: a coupling of both sectors.

Since then, this strategy has been verified by various scientific studies and findings from first demonstration projects. It consists of three steps and it is applicable to all relevant segments: Power generation, heat generation and transport.

The first stage, the so-called Fuel Switch, involves the emissions-intensive energy sources of coal and oil to be replaced by natural gas and the establishment and expansion of gas infrastructures in all sectors of energy generation and consumption. This will make achievement of the 2050 climate protection targets possible while at the same time enabling the ongoing expansion of renewable energies. The Fuel Switch enables the cost of the transformation processes necessary in national economies to be limited, thereby underpinning acceptance of extensive climate-neutrality in as many countries in the world as possible.

The consistent implementation of this Fuel Switch would significantly increase the intensity and speed of greenhouse gas reduction worldwide, and numerous countries would be able to catch up on the greenhouse gas reduction roadmap as agreed on in Kyoto in 1997. This would put the Paris global climate protection and greenhouse gas targets well within reach.

The aim is to largely stop the use of coal and petroleum products as energy sources in the medium term and to initiate more widespread use of a combination of renewable energies and gas-based technologies. At the same time, countries with a fast-increasing demand for energy and power due to dynamic economic growth should refrain from investing in new coal-firedpower stations and expanding transportation infrastructure geared towards the use of oil and petroleum products: instead they should invest directly in establishing a climate-friendly energy system based on natural gas, green gases and renewable energies.

The Fuel Switch provides the necessary foundation for effective climate protection in the coming decades in all sectors and for a virtually climate-neutral global economy by 2050. But the Fuel Switch is just one of three central measures in the worldwide climate protection triune that will enable COP21 targets to be met.

The Content Switch is a process which starts parallel to the Fuel Switch and involves a continuous increase in the share of gases from renewable energy sources in the gas infrastructures.
This process of increasing the share of green gases produced from renewable sources will mean that, in the long term, the gases flowing through the natural gas grids will become increasingly
climate-neutral – and this will then also apply to the sectors in which gases are used. In addition to the absolutely imperative Fuel Switch, this process is the second substantial component of
the climate protection triune required by the international community in order to meet climate protection targets by 2050.

According to the current state of technology, there are four renewable gas types or green gases that can be produced:

  • Biogas is generated by fermenting biomass from agriculture, commercial waste, food waste or other organic material.
  • Biomethane can be produced by means of biomass gasification via synthesis gas. Here biogas is enhanced to “natural gas quality” in the compound with carbon dioxide and its fuel value is adapted to that of natural gas.
  • Green hydrogen is produced by means of renewable electricity in powerto-gas facilities. Here, electrolysers split water into its components hydrogen and oxygen.
  • Synthetic methane is produced from green hydrogen by means of the socalled methanisation process. In order to create methane, hydrogen has to bond with carbon. It is possible to recycle the CO2 required for this process from emissions sources such as power plants or industry so as to establish a closed CO2 cycle and avoid greenhouse gas emissions.

 

In this way, green gases from renewable sources can be produced in substantial quantities using known, market-ready and tested technologies and put to decentralised use or transported via the gas grid infrastructures.

In order to be able to use a growing volume of green gases from renewable sources, energy system infrastructures have to be interlinked. Climate protection targets and the transformation of energy systems is most effectively planned and implemented by interlinking infrastructures – especially by making use of the gas grid and gas infrastructures.

By way of this Modal Switch, therefore, gas infrastructures are used as a link and platform for enabling extensive sectoral interconnection of largely climateneutral energy sources across all sectors.

The Modal Switch is the third element in the climate protection triune, enabling ever larger quantities of renewably produced gases to be used as energy sources that can flow freely across sectoral boundaries, with the capacity for seasonal and longterm storage and for deployment in the areas of electric power, heat, mobility and industry. Power-to-gas technology will have a hugely important global role to play when it comes to making renewable energies available to all energy consumption sectors via gas infrastructures. Power-togas refers to the conversion of renewable power to hydrogen by means of electrolysis or its further processing to create synthetic methane.

This allows surplus power from renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar energy to be saved and transported in large quantities. In the foreseeable future it will be possible to use renewable power to generate green hydrogen, either at a low cost or – in the case of negative electricity rates – even free of charge. The production costs of green hydrogen will drop as electrolysis technology evelops further, economies of scale will increase due to the continuous addition of plants and capacity utilisation of power-to-gas facilities will grow.

For the power sector, the combination of renewable energies, gas infrastructures and sectoral linkage elements in all regions of the world will lead to lowcost, comprehensive supply reliability.

  • After all, gas power plants are the ideal partners for renewable energies in terms of providing assured capacity,
  • Thereby perfectly supplementing and securing fluctuating power generation from wind and solar energy.
  • What is more, gas power plants are able to provide large quantities of power so as to meet the growing demand in dynamically developing economic regions in a climate-friendly and flexible manner.
  • Natural gas and renewably produced gases are also energy sources that can be stored on a seasonal and long-term basis,
  • Retrieved as required at any time and used flexibly in the power, heat and mobility sectors as a base or raw material for industrial applications.
  • The use of power-to-gas technologies and gases in all technologies also enables the cost of expanding power grids to be reduced since additional expansion is often no longer necessary.
Sustainable world
Sustainable world © iStock.com/lukbar

Implementing the global climate protection triune consisting of the Fuel Switch, Content Switch and Modal Switch enables COP21 targets to be met: Fuel, Content and Modal Switch results in affordable climate protection and lasting economic growth in all national economies.

The three transformation stages and processes of the Fuel, Content and Modal Switch enable efficient climate protection in all sectors in addition to lasting economic growth – regardless of the individual state of development of the national economy or the current structure of the national energy system.

The economies of further developed countries in particular will require extensive transformation of their energy systems and their energy sources if they are to meet the COP21 targets securely and within the stipulated period. They must initiate the Fuel Switch without delay and push ahead with the Content and Modal Switch in the medium term.

Those national economies with energy systems that are still not fully established or are undergoing further expansion must avoid any additional lock-in effects due to investment in non-climate-friendly energy sources such as coal and oil in all sectors while at the same time implementing the Fuel Switch and the Content Switch.

National economies with increased energy needs and growing transportation due to intense economic momentum should meet their energy demand in the various sectors not by increasing their use of non-climate-friendly coal or petroleum products but by investing directly in the combination of renewable energies, natural gas and green gases, thereby enabling the Content and Modal Switch right away; in other words, they must promote more intense use of gas mobility in the transportation sector, for
example.

The Fuel, Content and Modal Switch offer enormous climate protection potential, enabling the large GHG emitters in particular to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term.