Gas - An energy renaissance that Europe shouldn’t ignore

Green Gas has a key role to play in Europe’s decarbonisation and future energy mix.
Published: Wed 04 May 2016

Gas hasn’t always been as widely available as electricity as an energy source, but the potential of power to gas from renewables, the growing use of biogas and the availability of natural gas are fast changing this. Gas is predicted to play an increasingly important role in our energy system of the future. [Gas Entering A Golden Age.]

This is especially true for green gas.

A new report, “A sustainable Europe: Green Gas, Green Grids, Green Future” [April 2016], launched on behalf of the European Networks Association (ENA) and GEODE, an association made up of European independent distribution companies of gas and electricity, highlights the mammoth potential for “green gas” generated from renewable sources.

It highlights the fact that green gas should be considered as a ‘key ingredient’ when looking for solutions to the challenges that policymakers face including security of supply, sustainability and consumer needs.

Green gas –powering a cleaner future

Gas is redefining itself as a renewable energy source-it is no longer considered a predominantly fossil fuel based energy source.

Green gas, produced by sewage, manure, food waste, and fuel crops, as well as by-products from chemical processes, is found to be cleaner than fossil fuels. The carbon dioxide generated by burning green gas does not elevate carbon emissions levels because, unlike fossil fuel energy, the carbon source of green gas was previously in circulation above ground, and is therefore already a part of the natural carbon cycle.

Green gas even has a number of advantages over other clean energy sources such as solar and wind. For instance, green gas does not have an intermittent nature unlike solar and wind-it can be produced without interruption. It can also be easily stored. These benefits alone make it a good choice for a strong renewable energy mix.

Interest in biomethane grows

The most promising type of green gas is biomethane—specifically the methane produced from the anaerobic digestion of organic matter (animal excrement). This can be used as vehicle fuel or injected into the gas grid. In fact, 10 European countries are already using biomethane for their energy needs. The good news about the production of biomethane is that it is virtually free of harmful emissions and it has the potential to generate a lot of electricity. For instance, excrement from five cows or 30 pigs can heat an average home in Denmark for one year.  

Biogas can also be produced from waste organic materials, including biomass from, for instance, forestry waste. The report emphasises that it is not advocating that land be set aside to grow crops for biofuels, but that the focus should be on re-mobilising agricultural waste like straw or husks.

The report notes, for instance, that one lorry full of household-produced organic waste is enough to heat about 30 typical homes in Denmark for a month.

A 2015 report by the International Gas Union concluded that 1TWh of biogas can be produced for every million people. With 500 million people in the EU, that gives a potential of 500TWh.

That means that biogas could theoretically account for over 10% of non-fossil fuelled transport in Europe, according to IGU which concludes that this could be achieved by 2020 with the right policies.

This has major implications for the rapidly expanding electric vehicle market, where biomethane could eventually replace  traditional petrol to create zero-emission driving.

Sweden is already leading the way in the technology. The proportion of biomethane in natural gas fuel sales for gas-run vehicles in the country is now 73%.

Making green gas a major part of the mix

Recognising that green gas has a large part to play in Europe’s energy mix, the report lists a number of recommendations for policymakers:

  • The European Commission (EC) should set an EU-wide target for sustainable gases, in TWh, or percentage of total energy consumption

  • European policymakers and member states should take a holistic approach to the promotion of green gas, recognising the corollary benefits (like local jobs and rural regeneration) beyond the creation of an environmentally sustainable energy source

  • The EC should recommend member states to include the development of green gas as part of their security of supply strategy, recognising the role that an indigenous source can play in both mitigating supply shocks and creating domestic energy production

  • Member states and National Regulatory Authorities should incentivise the development of innovative gas vehicle technologies by recognising them separately in their tax regimes to allow the market to develop, acknowledging the lower carbon footprint of gas (and especially green gas) and its potential to help reach decarbonisation targets, by speeding up the introduction of biogas for transport

  • The EC and European Parliament should require member states to set out how they plan to recover energy via green gas from otherwise non-recyclable waste

  • Member states should set targets for the production of green gas, its use for transport and injection into the grid

  • The EC and European Parliament should create clearly defined, easy to use and long-term support  schemes that will encourage investment and allow green gas to reach its potential

  • Any support scheme for renewables introduced by the EC or member states should recognise and reward green gases’ flexibility and storage capacity, to allow it to complement renewable electricity (as a means to use and store excess electricity)

  • A European-wide green gas registry should be established and appropriate steps should be taken to create a cross-border green gas market within the European gas grid.     

 

Green gas –providing the right support infrastructure

At the launch of the report, Paul Brannen MEP, said: “The environmental benefits of green gas are becoming increasingly obvious, as are the range of other benefits offered in terms of security of supply and affordability. With the right support in the coming years, green gas could not only help us to meet our energy objectives, but we can also develop an industry which could create high quality jobs and provide economic opportunities across the EU.”

Tony Glover, Director of Policy at ENA and Co-Chair of the GEODE Future of Gas Group said: “Our gas and electricity networks will be vital facilitators of Europe’s transition to a low carbon economy, and green gas is one area where we can make great use of existing infrastructure to meet the needs of customers in an affordable, secure and sustainable way.”

Further reading

GEODE-GEODE Green Gas Report “A sustainable Europe: Green Gas, Green Grids, Green Future” April 2016 International Gas Union-Biogas -from refuse to energy 2015 [pdf]