Eco-gas such as hydrogen or methane produced from renewable electricity is widely regarded as central to effective climate change policy. But if the latest predictions are any indication, Germany will need to import most of it. This doesn’t bode well for a shift in attitude, as much of the natural gas consumed in the country is shipped in from abroad as well. It is doubtful that continuing the practice with eco-friendlier imports will be a plus for sustainability or the image of renewable energies in general.
In mid-July, Gazprom began laying the first sections for the Nord Stream II pipeline project in the Baltic Sea. At around the same time, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, assured U.S. President Donald Trump, that to avoid an escalating trade war, the European Union would import additional quantities of natural gas extracted by fracking.
This is good news for the gas industry, which can play off one large supplier against another to cut prices. But cheap natural gas is a danger to the climate. This fossil fuel is seen as bridging the gap between available and future technologies to reduce carbon dioxide levels – temporarily. It does have half the GHG emissions of coal and one-third less than oil, though the substance from the depths of the earth is far from climate-neutral.
The medium-term objective is to decarburize the gas industry, too. And what systems could beat electrolyzers at producing mostly climate-neutral hydrogen, and later methane, from water and renewable electric power? Computer models that paint a picture of Germany in the greenest of all shades in 2040 and 2050 show scores of power-to-gas systems. They consume renewable gas for heating purposes, to create base compounds in the chemical industry and to store on-demand energy when neither the wind is blowing nor the sun is shining.
The gas industry is warming to the concept, since it will most likely be able to continue current business models without much interruption. Gas power plants would still be the ones to provide supply security, with the caveat that they would run on renewable instead of liquified natural gas, as advocacy group Zukunft Erdgas said in late June following its Triple G – Green Gas for Germany event in Berlin.
Hidden in the group’s press release was this passage: At least since German energy agency dena had published its new study had it been clear that the country could produce only half the quantity of renewable gas required in 2050. “The remainder will be covered by imports,” the chairman of Zukunft Erdgas, Timm Kehler, said.
Study sees imports climb to 900 terawatt-hours
That half of the renewable gas will need to come from abroad was not an estimate made by businesses in the industry, representatives confirmed. The figure had been taken from a dena study that was published in late May and describes scenarios for reducing Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent and 95 percent, either through a heavy reliance on electricity or a combination of energy technologies.
Written by Jörg Staude