Combining gas and renewables can deliver ‘energy miracle’

A lot is happening in the world of natural gas. Just recently, the European Commission published its gas strategy and the United States exported its first Liquefied Natural Gas. It is a clear sign of the role that gas plays and will have to play in Europe’s energy mix.

All of this is good news: And it is happening just a few months after the success of the COP21 Paris Climate conference. The political momentum created in Paris will trigger serious action, which will potentially revolutionise the way we think about energy. The present mix of clean technologies and costs however, is still not able to match that political will – nor, for that matter, to meet the energy thirst of a growing world population by itself.

In short, as Bill Gates recently said, “we need an energy miracle”.

We are not there yet. But we can start laying the ground for future progress. Natural gas has already delivered improvements in emissions and air quality. Admittedly, the US would have been in a much more difficult position in Paris, were it not for the emission reductions achieved thanks to more gas (and less coal) in producing electricity.

According to the International Energy Agency’s two degrees scenario, we will have to use more natural gas in 2040 than we did in 2013, to cover 22% of the world’s primary energy demand. The solution to the climate problem is not getting rid of gas, but using it intelligently – for example in partnership with renewables.

If the EU wants to play the leading role in global CO2 reductions it has always been seeking, it must make the right choices today.  Too many continue to support coal, relying on renewables to offset its huge CO2 harm – wasting most, if not all, the great benefits of hydro, wind and solar. The recent EU communication on ‘The Road from Paris’ would have been a good opportunity to show the way on this point.

The EU needs to make the most of the post-COP21 momentum and ensure it doesn’t lag behind by supporting outdated energies.

First of all, it should be clear about phasing out coal: gas emits half the CO2 and much less harmful particles in power production. More importantly, it brings the flexibility needed to integrate renewables – which are by definition variable – in the power market. To encourage that partnership, the EU should design a power system that facilitates the combination of gas and renewables.

Second: the EU needs to get its approach to gas right. Private investments will be needed, for example, to keep improving the gas network. To commit big money, companies will need clear signals that their products will continue to have a market. Again, a clear move from coal to gas would send that signal, while also encouraging new uses for gas, such as in shipping and heavy duty vehicles.

Finally, we should continue to pursue a long-term vision by investing now in new technologies that will make that “energy miracle” happen. Our industry is committed to playing its part by developing innovations like biogas, power to gas and, for the longer term, carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Innovation will foster even more the partnership between gas and renewables that are already building the right steps toward that energy miracle, as numbers are starting to show. According to the IEA, global greenhouse gas emissions were flat in 2015, the second year in a row, even though the global economy grew.

This is the year of delivery for the Energy Union. Let’s make sure we keep going in the right direction.

By François-Régis Mouton, originally published in Euractiv.