French grid operator decarbonises with biomethane
France’s major high-pressure gas grid operator GRTgaz is moving ahead with its plans to decarbonise the grid by mingling natural gas with biomethane, but regulatory approvals are needed every step of the way, the company's director of strategy and regulation Phillipe Madiec told NGW in an August interview.
The process has two stages. First comes the regional development map, or zonage, where GRTgaz discusses with local distribution network operators (DNOs) and stakeholders the possible need for injection. Once that scheme becomes validated by energy regulator CRE, the plans are set for fine-tuning and further approvals.
The company now has regulatory approval for a total 32 active and possible reverse-flow biomethane projects. Having the same calorific value as natural gas, it may be injected into local gas networks. And at times of low gas demand such as in summer, it may be necessary to transport it from the low- to the high-pressure networks, the so-called reverse flow. This requires additional compression. All the costs, including the cost of the initial feasibility study, need CRE's approval.
The reverse-flow process is now two years old and five compression stations are operational – the fifth came on line at the end of July. Another 13 have been approved for works and 14 have regulatory approval for the feasibility study stage. Most of these projects are expected to come to fruition between 2022 and 2024, and they have a total cost estimate of €100mn, Madiec said.
The capacity of production sites connected to the network is already above 5 TWh/yr and 26 TWh/yr has been booked in the capacity registry. The state energy programme for 2019-2028 has set targets of 6 TWh in 2023 and between 14 and 22 TWh in 2028. The next review of the targets is due in 2023.
GRTgaz is also involved in the conversion downstream to high-calorie gas with the termination of production at Dutch gas field Groningen. Household boilers need adjusting, which is the function of the GRDF (the main gas distribution network operator in France). GRTgaz has to connect areas one by one to the high-calorie network as the conversion is done.
Although not operating in the continent’s biggest market, GRTgaz is Europe's largest gas infrastructure operator, after Italy’s Snam. GRTgaz plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by 20% compared to 2019, and to cut its methane emissions by a factor of five compared to 2016.
Concerning hydrogen, GRTgaz is also certain that changes to the existing gas network will allow for the development of a profitable hydrogen network. The company is working to develop a network specifically for the transmission of hydrogen in France.
This will mainly involve the conversion of existing pipelines while maintaining the transmission of natural gas, which will gradually be phased out in favour of biomethane. GRTgaz and Terega – which operates the grid in the southwest near the Pyrenees – launched a nationwide consultation on June 1 for all hydrogen market stakeholders as part of a joint effort to design tomorrow's transmission system.