Why the energy transition is (also) about gas
Natural gas is an essential energy source if we are ever to make the 100% renewables scenario a reality. Today, it is the best substitute for polluting energy sources and the necessary complement to renewables. Tomorrow, it will be the ‘green’ facilitator for achieving a 100% renewable energy mix by 2050. ENGIE CEO Isabelle Kocher explains why in her LinkedIn article published on September 19 this year.
Article published on September 19, 2017 on LinkedIn Influencers (extracts)
[…] There are many challenges for which the responses are still far from clear: how can we minimize the economic and social impacts of the energy transition? How can we avoid existing infrastructures or those constructed in the early years of transition from becoming stranded assets for local authorities and infrastructure managers, which would impose a significant cost on all of us? How do we compensate for the innate intermittency of renewables? And many more challenges besides.
Energy industry stakeholders are attempting to address each of these challenges with very different solutions.From where I stand, I am convinced that the viability of the energy transition also relies on a particular and essential source of energy: gas.
Natural gas today, and green gas tomorrow. This belief is strengthened and sustained by the scenarios prepared by experts on the energy transition and the changes of strategy now underway in the energy industry. As the Financial Times reminded us in its article entitled Big Oil bets on a dash for gas published at the beginning of September: “Companies that once treated gas as the poor relation to “black gold” are now gambling that the colourless commodity can help secure their future in a decarbonising world.”
This may seem surprising to some inasmuch as gas is still a fossil fuel. However, there are many persuasive arguments to suggest that natural gas should be considered as the keystone of the energy revolution.
The substitute for polluting energy sources
Let's take first the scenarios prepared by experts including the IEA, ADEME and NegaWatt for containing global warming to below 2°C: all rely largely on natural gas to decarbonize the energy system quickly.
These same experts estimate that, in the first instance, it will be necessary to replace coal with gas for power generation.
The fact is that gas-fired power plants produce much lower emissions (up to 80% less CO2 and nitrogen oxides (NOx)) than coal-fired plants, and virtually no fine particulates.
Gas is also likely to play a major role in decarbonizing the transportation industry, which is responsible for 23% of worldwide CO2 emissions. Although this sector still relies 95% on fuels derived from oil, there are mature alternative fuels that are much less polluting. […]
The essential ally of renewables
Natural gas also has another essential role to play in the energy transition: the increasingly widespread integration of renewables into the energy system, the majority of which are inherently intermittent.
So what do we mean precisely by intermittent energy? The term refers to energy sources whose level of generation fluctuates, is discontinuous and cannot be programed. They are dependent on external influences and are very often decorrelated from demand. This is true of both solar energy and wind power. For example, in the UK, the contribution made by solar power to the total amount of electricity generated in a single day can vary from 20% on a sunny summer’s day to virtually 0% on a dark winter’s day.
In an energy system that is increasingly reliant on intermittent renewables, the issue of balancing supply with demand becomes crucial.
The greening of gas
But then, will it not be the case that the energy system will never be 100% renewable, since it will always have to rely on gas as its backbone?
There is no doubt that it is absolutely possible to achieve a 100% renewables scenario. Gas is already partly green today, and could become totally green with zero CO2 emissions between now and the 2050s thanks to biogas and biomethane produced from organic waste or biomass.
Tests are now underway to produce green gas from microalgae. Thanks also to renewable hydrogen produced by water electrolysis using power generated from renewable sources: the process also known as Power to Gas.