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UTC Spotlight: Decarbonising the energy system; a European natural gas perspective

UTC Spotlight: Decarbonising the energy system; a European natural gas perspective

Keynote speaker Dr Timm Kehler brings a mainland Europe energy perspective to UTC2021. He’s Chairman of Zukunft Gas, a natural gas advocy representing more than 130 member companies across the full value chain, from upstream operators to heating suppliers. He’s no stranger to innovation, having worked on BMW’s hydrogen vehicle initiative in a former role. Dr Kehler says Europe will not meet its carbon neutrality targets with electrificaton alone. Gas, including imports, can support decarbonisation using existing infrastructure, but public perceptions and criticism of technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) in mainland Europe will need to be addressed.

Europe’s energy landscape is a complex and increasingly integrated mix of producers and exporters sharing everything from natural gas to nuclear power across land boarders and seas. It’s a landscape where there are extremes. Norway, for example, exports about 95% of it while Germany imported 94% of the gas it used in 2018* (and about a third of that was from Norway).

This means natural gas must play a significant role in the energy transition, says UTC keynote speaker Dr Timm Kehler, chairman of Zukunft Gas, a natural gas advocy which represents more than 130 member companies across the full value chain, from upstream operators, including Equinor, to heating suppliers.

“Right now natural gas stands for 27% of the energy mix, the final energy consumption in Germany, so we are one of the key pillars of the energy supply to Germany,” says Dr Kehler, who joins our Day 1 keynote session and leaders debate panel to provide the European gas perspective. “Together with renewables we are a growing part of the energy mix. With the coal phase out (another three coal plants will shut down by the end of this year) and with the phase out of heating oil and other effects, we clearly see that the market share of gas is rising driven by climate protection, so we are optimistic about our future. Coal phase out and decentralised power production means we have many opportunities.

“We also see a lot of growth potential in transport,” adds Kehler. “We see very strong growth for LNG in trucks for instance and that’s growing exponentially, also in the heating sector, we see that German companies are making great progress in promoting fuel cells for homes. Developments that we saw in Japan for a couple of decades are now pushed forward by companies like Bosch and that’s also created a lot of inspiration. In the longer term, we are also already starting to work towards a decarbonised gas system, with hydrogen, sythnethic methane and also biomethane with roles to play.”

Germany’s energy system reflects wider mainland Europe’s reliance on natural gas, which accounts for about a quarter of final energy demand. Energy independence was initially considered to be a key part of the energy transition. But, says Kehler, “It’s now obvious to all policy makers that this is something that cannot be accomplished with the resources that this country has and it wouldn’t be a very smart idea in terms of economic development. Economic growth depends on using the best any country can offer and the idea of importing energy is certainly one of the corner stones of German energy policy. Natural gas, of course, will play an important role.

“The message we have to our partners in the energy mix (i.e. natural gas suppliers) is of course the future will require that we need carbon neutral energy here in Germany and our suppliers need to adopt to these policies. And this pans out across Europe. The energy mix of Europe is similar to Germany.”

Electricity was just 24% of final energy consumption in Germany in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency (Germany 2020, Energy Policy Review), similar to Europe. “So we need to talk about the 80% of energy that households and cars and so on are using,” says Dr Kehler. “Electrification alone will not be the way forward for Europe. Without using natural gas, we will not reach our target of being the first carbon neutral continent, so the green deal will fail. We don’t have enough resources, with solar and offshore wind, but we have an extensive gas grid in place, with half a million kilometres connecting Germany, so why not use these assets without disrupting the system?”

There also needs to be technical solutions to avoid CO2 emissions, which is one of the reasons Zukunft Gas is promoting the idea of blue hydrogen, says Kehler. “Our research clearly shows that we have in most cases the ability to distribute 100% hydrogen to our homes using our existing natural agas grid, so why not tap into this asset we have and make use of it, including the use of natural gas as a feedstock for hydrogen production?”

It’s also inspired by the Longship carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in Norway. But CCS, which enables blue hydrogen and wider carbon capture and storage capability, for example towards heavy industry, isn’t a clear cut picture in Germany.

“It is something that’s being debated here in Germany, but there’s no unanimous support,” says Dr Kehler. “We have a very critical view in the general public of CCS, because there’s a lack of trust that this will work and that this might also prolong the lifetime of coal power plants and these types of things, so there’s a lot of advocacy work to be done to promote this idea, so it’s not an easy story.”

Dr Kehler is one of our many great speakers and presenters. Read the full program here and don’t forget to register! UTC2021 is live through June 16-17.

UTC is co-organised by the Underwater Technology Foundation (UTF) and GCE Ocean Technology, supported by the City of Bergen. To register, visit our registration page. https://www.utc.no/registration/

*Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR).