A nightmare scenario is making the rounds in the gas sector: All of Germany comes to rely on electric power alone, abandoning the pipeline system. It is a future that can easily be dismissed as an unlikely horror story but one that gas companies are trying to prevent at all costs. It is why an industry that has so far focused on traditional means of heat production is slowly warming to power-to-gas and energy systems integration and why the DVGW gave an update on the market by presenting a new study, including policy recommendations, last September.
Some years ago, members of the gas and water industries association DVGW started thinking of hydrogen as a cousin of natural gas, introducing it to both the pipelines and the organization. Now, a clear majority within the association is advocating for a shift in strategy from fossil fuel to green gas supply.
Renewable future instead of fossil past
The reason for this shift in attitude is simple. In Germany, there is no future for a fossil fuel such as natural gas, coal or oil. One factor is the agreement made at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris, where the aim was to keep global warming below 2 °C compared to preindustrial times. Meanwhile, the German government has confirmed national climate protection targets, with the intent to achieve an 80 or a 95 percent reduction in GHG emissions across all sectors by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.  But it has yet to choose which of the two will guide its actions till then. The chief executive of dena, Andreas Kuhlmann, recommended that it stick to the latter objective.
Whatever the outcome, however, the natural gas industry is under pressure. The members of the DVGW have earned most of their money with fossil fuel gas and some of them have made large investments in the relevant infrastructure. Now, they believe they have no choice but to look for alternatives.
Take Leipzig-based Ontras Gastransport, for example. The company operates pipelines in multiple regions, has 450 injection points and its entire network is around 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) long. But all of it would be useless if transporting gas were no longer an option. Now, the business is “going green,” as its tagline suggests, aiming to use more renewable sources of energy and gradually shift from natural to green gas (see box).
The existing infrastructure can be used for both natural gas and biogas or hydrogen, although the proportion of hydrogen to be injected would still need to be determined. The current limit is two percent by volume, as some consumers, such as glassworks, gas turbines, fuel tanks and LNG vehicles, only accept natural gas. According to Ina Adler, energy policy adviser at Ontras, the network consisted of high-pressure pipes primarily made of steel and could be adapted for use with hydrogen, as the town gas the pipes had transported at one point contained a relatively high percentage of it. To convert the system, one would need to do no more than to replace some fittings and shorten maintenance intervals. Adler likewise told H2-international that some companies had been conducting tests to see whether it could be economically viable to inject greater hydrogen quantities into grids that ran only throughout one region.
read more: January issue 2019