More Windgas, Fewer Climate Troubles

Tangermann
Sönke Tangermann, © Enver Hirsch

Scientific studies have shown that if we want to succeed in transforming the energy market, our priority needs to be long-term storage solutions and an integration of relevant sectors. One technology with much promise for the future is Windgas. But although P2G remains crucial to Germany’s success in meeting the COP21 targets agreed to in Paris, the federal government all but ignores it. The most recent example of the lack of awareness among policy-makers is the 2017 amendment to the EEG, Germany’s renewable energy law, from which gas produced by wind and solar is virtually absent.

Limit global warming until 2050 to 1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels – that was the groundbreaking as well as ambitious target set during the Paris Climate Conference last December. The federal government did sign the internationally binding agreement. A laudable step in the right direction. But now, deeds must follow words.

If Chancellor Merkel, economic minister Gabriel and environment minister Hendricks intend to take the global climate deal seriously, the government needs to drastically increase the speed at which to transform the energy sector. We can no longer wait until 2050 for an emission-free economy, as shown in the “Sector Integration Study” published by HTW University of Applied Sciences, Berlin, in June 2016. We can no longer limit ourselves to an 80 to 95 percent reduction in GHG emissions, especially CO2, as intended by the federal government. Quite the opposite: The emission targets set in Paris mean we must achieve a full decarburization of all parts of our economy by 2040, based on an analysis by HTW professor Volker Quaschning.

The needed change will be met with much resistance. But the transformation is possible if we draw the right conclusions from the Paris summit – and quickly. Greatly improved energy use at home and in business are only two things that the HTW researchers suggest. They have additionally identified three key requirements for effecting a successful transformation of the sector:

1) Phase out coal by 2030. But the federal government – and here, especially the chancellor’s office led by the Christian Democrats and economy minister Gabriel from the Social Democrats – has just been kicking the can further down the road.

2) Grow wind and solar at a rate three times faster than planned by the government and implement comprehensive measures to improve energy efficiency. This could make it possible to meet an annual renewable energy demand of 1,320 terawatt-hours, a doubling of today’s power consumption (including coal and nuclear energy), by 2040. The jump in demand will be a result of the necessary switch from fossil fuels to renewable electricity in the transportation, heat and industrial sector. At the present rate of decarburization, the suggested terawatt-hour target could only be met by around 2150 – which would be entirely irresponsible of us.

Greenpeace3) Add large storage capacities for renewable energy. After all, the principal requirement of an industrialized country like Germany is reliable energy supply, even if the national grid receives its electricity from renewable sources only. And if the wind does not blow or the sun hides behind the clouds – maybe even over longer periods of time – those additional capacities will prove essential.

Minimum: 80 GW of electrolysis capacity

The only technology that will be able to meet potential storage requirements is “power to gas.” It is used to create hydrogen and methane from (ideally, excess) wind and solar energy. The amount …

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Additionally, Windgas can be used to balance energy supply and demand anytime and anywhere. It would counter the oft-employed argument by critics of the energy transformation that a renewable power grid could not offer supply security.

Windgas to save billions

But that message does not seem to have gotten through to politicians. The federal government is apparently afraid that the outstanding 20 percent of renewable plant capacity will prompt a dramatic cost increase in transforming the sector.

The opposite is true, says a February 2015 analysis by Berlin-based Energy Brainpool: Starting maybe below, but certainly at a renewable share of around 75 percent (which Germany will likely achieve between 2025 and 2030, Quaschning says), a power grid using power to gas will be less expensive than one that doesn’t. From that point on, the technology will save the economy billions and billions more each year thereafter, despite – or rather thanks to – fully renewable-sourced electricity supply. Conversely, a grid without power to gas would have a maximum renewable share of 86 percent, regardless of how many wind turbines or solar collectors are added to the mix. These weather-sensitive volatile sources make gaps in power production unavoidable and such gaps will have to be bridged by fossil fuels – which, in turn, produce CO2 emissions.

A plea for political leadership

To establish the needed production capacities for Windgas, politicians and industry stakeholders need to act now. So far, unfairly designed regulations have stifled technological innovations. They have allowed the creation of only a few suppliers, such as our cooperative Greenpeace Energy, which have developed viable business models and, through the addition of hydrogen to natural gas, have been able to offer their customers a future-proof and environmentally friendly product that will help popularize the technology.

Meanwhile, the potential of Windgas has also attracted utilities, technology companies and energy corporations, and the German Energy Agency dena has established a power-to-gas platform to offer networking opportunities to market actors and recommendations to politicians. Slowly, the technology is entering the mainstream. The only people who will still have to wake up to the benefits are the ones working in the economy ministry and the chancellor’s office – those who can remove the roadblocks for Windgas and pave the way for successful sector integration.

This would also make sense economically. Technology deployment may not need any subsidies in the future, considering the expected efficiency jump of electrolyzers and other transformation technologies as well as falling module prices and the ramp-up of mass production. The relevant ministries must merely remove regulatory barriers and create a balanced market environment. For example, operators of power-to-gas systems still pay above-market prices for excess power. Although they could contribute to balancing grid supply and demand, they continue to be at a disadvantage under current rules. The renewable energy heating law does not term the ecologically greatly important Windgas “renewable,” and it is not on par with electric-only transportation either …

Decarburizing the entire economy – as announced with great fanfare by chancellor Angela Merkel during the G7 Summit at Elmau castle – is a task long overdue, and we cannot afford any more delays in the implementation of the binding targets Germany agreed to in Paris. The objectives are clear, the funds available. Now, the federal government needs to show it is committed to turning Germany into a renewable-only nation – through actions, not words.

References

Greenpeace Energy, …

Quaschning, V.; Sektorkopplung …

Author: Sönke Tangermann, CEO Greenpeace Energy eG, Hamburg

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