Even in a "Gas Country"
In a panel entitled "Leadership Perspectives" at the European Gas Conference in Vienna, Austria, Gasunie CEO Paul van Gelder said he had a nice story to tell after having cheered himself up from hearing some of the European natural gas industry's uncertainties.
Regarding the various scenarios regarding the use of natural gas, he said, "We've studied them, and it's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. Via changes on the global scale, the energy situation in Europe is changing very rapidly; the only fact is, there are no facts, only emotions which are steering policy developments in Europe."
To illustrate that, he noted that, while the situation in Germany was bad for the industry, things were even worse in the Netherlands: three coal-fired power plants were being built in what Mr. van Gelder termed a "gas country."
"This is a situation with which we are highly concerned," he remarked. "What's going on?"
He continued, "The fact is, we will never meet the climate change targets that the European Commission has set out for 2020. The reason is that there's a very strong focus on the renewables target - 20% renewables in the energy mix - and no one cares about CO2 emissions anymore, at least this is how it seems."
Mr. van Gelder concluded that the energy policy within the EU was getting stronger national focus instead of moving toward one integrated European energy market with one single European energy policy. "We don't see that happening; we see changes everywhere. There is a divergence of energy policies within the European region.
"Should we be too pessimistic? I don't think so. There's a very strong case for natural gas," he continued, explaining that the place of natural gas was to complement to renewables. "That is how we should position ourselves as an industry."
That sentiment was shared by Francois-Regis Mouton, Chairman, GasNaturally, an industry initiative launched two years ago which represents the entire natural gas chain by uniting seven organizations.
Mr. Mouton said GasNaturally was a rich, united voice for natural gas in Europe.
"Our mission is to feed the policy debate towards using factual data and information to underline the role of gas," he said, offering that one of the group's focus objectives was to show how natural gas can help the EU meet both its energy and climate objectives.
"Our motto is 'to make a clean future real' because I think we're lacking a lot of realism in Europe for the last 5-10 years, and to help policymakers formulate this clear vision and to do that with a clear policy framework to deliver this vision," he explained.
Gas was helping the EU's energy pillars - security of supply, sustainability, competitiveness - according to Mr. Mouton.
He recalled: "In the last four years in Europe around 40% of the total energy capacity has been invested in renewables; in 2011 it was over 30%. We need to deal with high investments in renewables - that's not going to change. We need to find a way to collaborate very effectively, creatively and positively with the renewables industry," he suggested.
Mouton noted that while Europe may have reached its goal of investing in renewables, it had failed on reducing emissions, one of the EU's most crucial objectives.
"From 2006-11 the US reduced its coal consumption while the EU increased its coal consumption and the US reduced its CO2 emissions much more than we did, although we are very proud that we are leading the world in terms of climate policies. It's not anymore," he explained. "America is doing much better than we are doing."
An illustration presented to delegates showed an empty graph of the minimal usage of a German Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) from July 2009 to 2011. He commented: "There is a need to re shuffle the power sector in Europe, no question about it, because this kind of CCGT can not be sustained without running."
Mr. Mouton continued: "The solution for us is a partnership between natural gas and renewables in a true and balanced way, where natural gas will bring cleaner and more flexible backup, also offering the possibility of electricity storage via 'power-to-gas' when there is an excess of renewable energy."
Renewables, he noted, needed balancing capacity, a place where natural gas could help. But the costs of being there needed to be borne.
"Gas must replace coal in the EU by using this clear vision," he said, adding that GasNaturally would be discussing the issue with the European Commission, which would publish its post 2020 framework later this year.
He concluded: "Our vision is that, from now until 2030-2035 gas should be the fuel of reason, as it is in the US. We need to replace coal in power generation, and to deploy this gas and renewables partnership. We need to push for gas for heating, not only in gas and power, but in other sectors too, like hot water and transportation."
Renewables, he said, should be deployed where they were needed, not where people wanted to put them.