Technological solutions for replacing natural gas with renewable gases are already in place. It is a known fact that renewable gases like hydrogen and biogas have a great potential to replace the natural gas consumption in the EU.
However, different types of renewable and decarbonized gases require different infrastructures and have different climate impacts as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions vary between technologies.
Especially hydrogen. It poses the least GHG impact when produced from renewable electricity, but in contrast to biomethane, hydrogen requires significant changes in natural gas pipeline infrastructure.
For renewable gas to valuably complement renewable electricity and other renewable energy sources, a swift policy adjustments to bring in the clarity in the regulatory and policy framework is needed for creating a sound market.
The revised EU gas directive for the Hydrogen and Gas market Decarbonization package needs to address an array of key questions:
The current EU policies are inconsistent: subsidies for fossil fuels continue alongside tighter regulations against GHG emissions. Redirecting fossil fuel subsidies towards cleaner and renewable gases could instigate a rapid roll out.
Consumer choice and renewable and low-carbon gases
The Gas Directive needs to be modified regarding the consumer focus of a sustainable and clean gas supply system. Provisions to manage energy poverty risks through a nominal connection price for small households should be added.
A smart metering system, a detailed cost, and source breakdown (i.e., fossil, renewable, low carbon) should be provided. In addition to the energy mix information and the energy used in previous months, the energy consumption behavior curve and recommended curve to save energy should be included.
This can help to empower consumers to control their consumption according to ability of consumers to pay and protect against consumer disconnections.
Creating a market
Competitiveness of hydrogen and biogas needs to be addressed. In the current scenario these alternatives are, for most sources costly, and a market must be created.
To reap the full benefits of future hydrogen infrastructure investment, there must be a smooth functioning cross-border hydrogen trade.
The main regulatory barriers to this are: the guarantees of origin, quality standards, absence of standardization and technical regulation bodies across jurisdictions. In addition, the Gas Tariffs Network Code may need to be revised.
To foster the establishment of a well-functioning and competitive hydrogen market and hydrogen infrastructure, competition in the market needs to be promoted internationally and within the EU.
Hydrogen produced from natural gas is already commonly used in many industrial processes such as petroleum refinery, ammonia production, methanol and other chemicals and the iron and steel industry. Hydrogen produced from a renewable resource is a scalable and sustainable alternative to natural gas. One of the most important challenges is the scale-up of green hydrogen production. Once large-scale green hydrogen production is available to compete with conventional grey hydrogen (from natural gas), it will be easy to integrate into the above-mentioned industrial processes. When it is commercially available at competitive prices to natural gas, it may become the fuel of choice for transportation and decentralize heating. Hydrogen can also play an important role during the transition to carbon neutrality as it can be blended into the natural gas network to attain a certain level of gas-grid decarbonization.
Another sustainable alternative to natural gas is biogas, which refers to gas produced by making use of biomass, such as manure, waste and other products or landfill and silt gas. This type of gas is also referred to as renewable gas. Biogas has historically been used in electricity production, heating and cooking and more recently as a replacement for natural gas. In order to be injected into the natural gas system, biogas must be purified and upgraded to natural gas quality – referred to as biomethane. Biomethane as a substitute for natural gas could contribute to the security of supply in the EU and play a role in energy transitions. However, there are still constraints to be addressed, such as policy barriers to supply through trade of non-EU sources, cost-competitiveness of certain sources and technological barriers for safe injection into the natural gas system at scale.