From the editor: Falling on deaf ears [Gas in Transition]
The European Commission (EC) unveiled its much-anticipated Fit for Package legislative proposal on July 14, seeking to overhaul EU regulation so that it aligns with the bloc’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.
The impact these changes will have on gas production and demand is discussed in more depth in the article 'European gas producers face higher carbon costs'. The sector will bear greater carbon costs, but there are some positives. Proposed adjustments to the EU emissions trading system will make coal-fired energy even less competitive, creating opportunities for gas-based power to displace it in some markets. The inclusion of shipping in the carbon market is a clear boon for LNG, as the super-cooled gas is the only low-carbon fuel demonstrated as commercially viable.
In road transport, though, the EC has proposed rules that could effectively bar natural gas and biogas from having any meaningful role in decarbonisation.
The sector, along with construction, will be governed by a separate but adjacent ETS due to go live in 2025. But this system only considers tailpipe emissions, rather than emissions across the value chain. When emissions across the chain are considered, using biogas can be carbon neutral or even carbon negative. But at the tailpipe, it obviously falls short of electric vehicles.
What is more, the system fails to consider how the power used in electric vehicles is produced. In Norway, where over half of cars are now electric, power is generated almost completely at hydroelectric dams. But few nations boast such low-carbon credentials. In Poland, where the number of electric vehicles is also bizarrely on the rise, 80% of national power comes from burning coal, and so driving these cars leads to more emissions.
In the EU as a whole, renewables only accounted for 38% of power generation last year, while the rest was sourced from gas, coal, and other sources that emit CO2.
There are also emissions from the manufacture of an electric car to consider, including from the energy-intensive process of extracting lithium for their batteries. And then there is the added environmental cost from having to carefully dismantle those batteries and dispose of their materials after they are worn out. Worse still, EU policy could encourage motorists to buy new electric vehicles even when they could produce less emissions by keeping their existing, conventional models for many more years.
From well to wheel, Natural Gas Vehicle Association (NGVA) Europe estimates that passenger vehicles that run on a mix of biomethane and natural gas produce similar amounts of emissions as electric cars. And when only bio-methane is used, they outperform electric cars when both well-to-wheel and manufacturing emissions are factored in.
Furthermore, while natural and biogas-fuelled vehicles can utilise already well-established infrastructure, much of Europe will have to develop a network for electric vehicles almost from scratch. Electricity also fails to meet the requirements for long-distance, heavy-duty road transport.
NGVA describes Brussels’ policy as “a forced EU-wide switch to electromobility” and “a de-facto technology ban” on the internal combustion engine.”
“The elimination of logical competition between ecologically equivalent solutions will lead to new dependencies, be they on resources, companies, markets and tax subsidies, which will be the case for financial weaker EU countries, provided that the subsequent approval process does not involve any changes,” NGVA’s secretary general, Jens Andersen, commented on the EC’s proposal.
The association calls for the commission to draw up a support mechanism for biogas and other renewable fuels, potentially in the form of a voluntary crediting system.
NGVA is not alone in this view. In an open letter to the EC earlier this year, some 170 scientists complained that Brussels was pursuing “an exaggerated one-sided promotion of electromobility.”
“The CO2 fleet regulation counts electromobility as having zero CO2 emissions, while renewable fuels are not taken into account at all,” they said in the letter. “On the one hand, this is a serious violation of the principle of technology neutrality and prevents fair competition between different solutions, each measured in terms of the actual greenhouse gas reduction. “Secondly, it disregards the law of nature because the climate only reacts to real physical greenhouse gas quantities, not to factors arbitrarily set by politicians for the accounting of measures.”
Electromobility over the next critical decade will fail to lead to any significant reductions in emissions, the scientists warned. “The greatly increased CO2 emissions from the construction of battery electric vehicles, the high share of fossil fuels in electricity production that will still exist for a long time, the enormous expense of building new infrastructure for charging stations, and the fact that electromobility does not bring any new renewable energy into the system, but rather ties up renewable potential of the electricity sector in the transport sector that is then lacking elsewhere, such as in industry, must be taken into account,” the scientists state.
So far though, these calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears. The Fit for 55 package will undergo further changes when it is debated by EU member states and the European Parliament. But these changes could go in either direction. NGOs like Greenpeace and the European Environmental Bureau have roundly criticised the EC’s proposal as “unfit” for addressing climate change. It overestimates the potential of biomass and hydrogen, and enables gas to remain a key part of the continent’s energy mix for too long, they complain.