Gas fuels Europe


A conference suggests pursuing a European research program on gas innovation and sustainability

Gerald Linke and Catrinus Jepma at the conference Gas Fuels Europe in Brussels on 28 November 2013 (Photo: EDGaR/J.-F. Auger) Gerald Linke and Catrinus Jepma at the conference Gas Fuels Europe in Brussels on 28 November 2013 (Photo: EDGaR/J.-F. Auger)

In Brussels on 28–29 November, several speakers at the conference Gas Fuels Europe have expressed arguments for a European research program on gas innovation and sustainability. The Deutscher Verein des Gas- und Wasserfaches (DVGW) and the Energy Delta Gas Research (EDGaR) have organized this international conference to widen up their ongoing dialogue on the topic.

A European research program on gas and sustainability would “ensure the security and reliability of the gas system with the introduction of renewable gas,” said in an opening speech DVGW President Walter Thielen. Speakers of six European countries had come with their interpretations of the situation. Representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission and Eurogas followed them.

National perspectives

Europe has to reduce the burden of fossil fuels, being less dependent on oil and gas imports while increasing its share of renewable energy. The introduction of renewable energy, whose supply is intermittent, creates a business case for gas, argued Catrinus Jepma scientific director of EDGaR in the Netherlands.

Said otherwise, fluctuations in energy prices have become strongly linked to weather conditions. “In the future, energy system gas and renewable will have to tango,” Mr Jepma said. “If, however, renewable do so well that they crowd out gas, the tango may become a dance macabre.”

Power-to-gas has been originally conceived to balance the intermittent production of electricity out of renewables. With its manifold applications, it makes the energy system flexible and creates business opportunities, said Gerald Linke, Senior Vice-President of Gas Technology and Energy Systems Competence Center at E.On New Build and Technology in Germany. 

Mr Linke gave examples of business opportunities such as the management of excess of energy, production of fuel for mobility and the production of methane. Power-to-gas can “even improve the carbon-footprint,” he said. Current researches concern hydrogen concentration, field trials of hydrogen injection, optimization of small-scale methanation and biological methanation processes.

In France, GDF SUEZ has answered several key-questions as part of the ongoing debate on energy transition. Gas research has to be positioned in the framework of this energy transition, said Marc Florette, Senior Vice-President Research and Innovation at GDF SUEZ. We have to “develop renewable energies while giving gas a major place,” he said.

Mr Florette thinks that the challenges are to “develop the biogas sector,” “master the intermittency” of renewable energies and “enhance demand-response and valorize flexibility.” To reduce oil dependence in transport, the challenges are to “develop alternatives fuels and infrastructures,” which can be biogas or liquefied natural gas, he continued. Mr Florette concluded, “A clear energy research program at EU level, on mid–long term basis” is needed. 

With the Energy Strategy Austria, the government’s plan consists of introducing more renewable energy in the country’s portfolio. “The Austrian research initiative aim at carrying scientific researches on gas in relation with the energy transition,” said Alexander Schwanzer, representative European Affairs Gas of the Österreichischen Vereinigung für das Gas- und Wasserfach.

The Association delivers accurate information to a broad public, in an accessible and clear communication style. It links gas technology development in the broad context of achieving European Union's 20-20-20 goals. Mr Schwanzer proposed a clear message to a broad public: “Gas is a partner of wind, water and the sun.”

European perspective

“We must keep our leadership in research and innovation,” stated Member of European Parliament Axel Voss. The European Union has established ambitious goals to achieve with respect to energy in the future. “We need to save more energy,” Mr Voss said. “We cannot continue the current fragmentation of the energy market.”

Considering that Europe has world’s largest energy market, the two main challenges are “to diversify the sources of energy production” and to “decrease the dependency of imports,” Mr Voss said.

“How do we deal with the integration of renewables?” asked Mark van Stiphout, Member of the Cabinet of the Commissioner for Energy of the European Commission. Mr van Stiphout thinks that gas can play a role as a way to facilitate the integration of renewable into the electricity grid. “Look across borders,” he said. Europe can be more interconnected to allow the balancing of energy production from one region to another.

The Directorate for Energy of the European Commission will fund research on energy as part of the program Horizon 2020. This program will be technology neutral, in the sense that it will not prescribe which technological choices have to be developed. The European Commission prefers to maintain a system perspective and “to finance research on gaps in the energy system,” Mr Stiphout said.

Eurogas President Beate Raabe said that “promising technologies should be supported.” People think mainly about renewable energy and not about the potential that gas offers, that is what we need to change. Ms Raabe is in favor of the EC’s technological neutrality. Horizon 2020 offers a good opportunity to support European research on gas and sustainability.

By Jean-François Auger