[GGP] Germany Backs Small-scale LNG Import Terminals Despite Opposition
The German government has decided in favor of building small-scale liquid natural gas (LNG) import terminals and infrastructure. In March, Mrs. Merkel’s CDU/CSU-SPD coalition, in its founding pact, pledged to “Make Germany the site for LNG infrastructure.” The first facility to win approval is planned for the North Sea port of Brunsbüttel, near Hamburg.
This policy change is notable, as in Germany there has been wide opposition to LNG imports and use – opposition based on a raft of commercial, geopolitical, environmental or populist convictions beyond anything found elsewhere in Europe. Although the policy change had been advancing through the federal bureaucracy for over a year, top government officials had not made any particular effort to bring the issue to public attention or to drum up support. Unsurprisingly then, media and public understanding of government motivations have been less than ideal.
Two matters stand out. First, based on examination of the project(s) thus far approved, the aim of the new policy is to address long-stalled environmental and competitiveness problems in marine and heavy road transport. Second, and regardless of the first, this embrace of LNG has been attributed to Chancellor Merkel and GroKo ministers’ purported alarm at the country’s increasing dependence on Russian gas due to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project as Moscow persists in worrisome behavior.
The Brunsbüttel project
The first LNG terminal to win approval from both Brussels (July 2017) and then the federal government is “German LNG Terminal GmbH,” to be located in Brunsbüttel harbor near Hamburg, with partners N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie (Gasunie), Oiltanking GmbH and Royal Vopak N.V. (Vopak). The plan is for a 500 million euro facility with construction starting in 2019 and to be operational Q4 2022. Open season for expressions of interest (EOI) by firms willing to contract for long term deliveries began 17 January and closed April 30, with positive reports of offtake interest. The terminal would receive LNG equivalent to 5 billion cubic meters of gas per year (bcm), with facilities to transfer, store and redistribute the liquid for use as maritime-bunker and road-transport fuel, and various industrial applications. This direct use of LNG as fuel, without regasification, is known as “small-scale” LNG.
The initial focus on Brunsbüttel for this is logical. From here, LNG can be shipped up the Elbe River as an inland-shipping and road-transport fuel. In addition, there is access to the Kiel Canal, the world’s busiest artificial waterway, where LNG can be used or delivered into Scandinavia and the Baltic region.
The global container-ship industry has an interest in converting engines to LNG fuel and the port of Hamburg handled almost 9 million cargo containers in 2017, the third highest number in Europe behind Rotterdam and Antwerp , Earlier this year, LNG tanker trucks and bunkering ships carrying fuel from Rotterdam or other distant terminals have already transferred LNG to fuel ships (i.e., bunkering) near Brunsbüttel.
However, the facility plan also includes an onshore regasification unit and connections to the existing gas-distribution network for conventional gas applications – heating, electrical generation, etc. Experts tell me they see this as giving the enterprise added resilience beyond a purely liquid-transfer facility, especially as it is expected to take time for road-transport infrastructure in Germany and for demand to develop. Experts also surmised that, as this facility is not too distant from the older, low-calorific (L gas as versus H gas) pipeline system, which comes from the soon-to-be-closed Groningen gas field in the Netherlands , it could perhaps substitute for some of this decreasing supply as the system (comprising 30% of all German customers) is converted to standard high-calorific gas. Nevertheless, the size of this facility, and its functionality, while it could be expanded later, remains “small-scale”.
A caveat is in order here. At present (2018), Germany receives gas from Russia (31%), Norway (24%), Netherlands (23%), Germany (11%) and from Denmark, UK and others (11%). Total annual volume was 80.5 bcm (2016). While the plan to double gas flow from Russia with the NS2 pipeline has rightfully received much attention for the potential for hyper-dependency on Russia, another major conundrum is the fact that, within about ten years, it is likely that essentially all present pipeline sources besides Norway and Russia will be very low or non-existent. This would bring about a “duopoly” of these suppliers with considerable price leverage. At present there is no apparent willingness by any investors to build a (perhaps five-times-more-expensive than Brunsbüttel) large-scale LNG terminal in Germany. In addition, I am told by federal officials that there is at present no willingness to subsidize such a facility, as those presently installed at Rotterdam and Zeebrugge are now underused; and the new pro-LNG policy which is being supported is purely for small-scale introduction. However, as a Merkel Energy GmbH consultancy report indicates, there is nevertheless a likely “first mover” advantage to a facility such as that planned now for Brunsbüttel, in being well positioned for a big expansion at some future date when Germany undoubtedly will need major LNG imports. This will especially be the case, I would add, as its nuclear plants will be closed and coal is expected to be largely offline by then, while the complexities of high-percentage renewable integration present considerable grid and storage challenges. However, again, all present plans are within the scope of small-scale LNG, intended for especially maritime and heavy road transport.
Motivations: Stalled transport cleanup and the German economy
Germany is a country with 46.1% of its GDP (2016) dependent on exports as versus 26.9% for OECD states overall and just 11.9% for the USA. This imbues German competitiveness in maritime and internal heavy-road transport with special importance. Yet, in spite of having pinned the nation’s commercial future on the success of the Energiewende, its domestic energy transition with ambitious goals, actors from government, industry, political parties and climate/environmental institutions have remained embarrassingly stalled on actually beginning the cleanup of both air-pollution and carbon emissions in transport, a so-called Verkehrwende (transport transition). The continuing diesel scandal is but one aspect of this, involving passenger vehicles. However, maritime and heavy-trucking are other areas, where a sort of paralysis (related to the previously mentioned raft of objections or conditions so many actors have had towards LNG), has caused the country to fall disconcertingly behind many other European states and the USA.
For example, in California, after already some 15 years of efforts, in 2015 fully 60% of all buses were running on compressed natural gas (CNG), as were 17% of all buses in the USA. This means their engines were emitting about 90% less air pollution and 15-20% less CO2 than diesel powered buses ubiquitous in Berlin and most German cities.
However, in especially the past few years, LNG, a low-temperature cryogenic fluid, has begun to take off in especially the USA, China and parts of Europe for maritime and heavy-transport fuel, and for other high-utilization vehicles. In the USA, the Energy Information Agency expects a transformation similar to that of steam-to-diesel for locomotives in the 1950’s to take place from diesel-to-LNG which is both environmentally positive and cost-reducing.
With 600-times less volume as a low-temperature liquid than natural gas at ambient temperature, LNG has a similar energy density to diesel, yet has the emissions reductions noted for CNG, and is broadly cheaper than diesel. Its direct use as a liquid fuel, known as “small-scale LNG”, is distinct from “large-scale LNG” involving much-higher volumes, which are re-gasified in huge facilities and injected into the gas grid, especially for largescale electrical generation.
A summary of a study by the industry group Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE) indicates: “As of end 2017, 75% of operational small-scale LNG infrastructures were in countries that have large-scale regasification terminals1, mainly in Western Europe,” “France, Italy, Spain and the UK have been driving the growth in small-scale LNG infrastructure, increasing … their operational facilities by 133% over 2016-2017, … in Western Europe …: 65% of under construction or planned projects are in countries with large-scale import terminals.”
However, in Germany, there are no small- or large-scale LNG import terminals. In 2008 the German firm E.ON dropped plans for large-scale LNG regasification facilities at Wilhelmshaven for lack of interest, as did RWE in 2011 with a similar attempt. However, this is finally poised to change, with Brunsbüttel and later another expected at Wilhelmshaven and another yet to be decided North Sea port.
Alternative fuel for German transport sector
While transport is widely seen as not only Germany’s but the EU’s most neglected area in meeting climate goals, progress is being mandated. In maritime shipping, clean-fuel regulations were adopted for the first time this April by the UN’s International Maritime Organization. These require maritime shipping to cut carbon emissions by half by 2050. This is widely understood to “require the shipping industry to completely redesign their fleets around new fuels.” Accordingly, the German maritime sector has pressed the federal government to facilitate LNG infrastructure, lest it fall behind in global competitiveness. So too, for the trucking industry, Brussels is expected “to propose the EU’s first carbon emissions targets in May.” Here too, German business has pushed Berlin to foster infrastructure and policies needed to facilitate moving to new fuels such as LNG. Given the country’s high export-dependent profile, it is supremely important it does not become an LNG “desert” among other EU neighbors who have already begun to move to meet Brussels’ mandates for LNG fueling stations, complicating the uninterrupted movement of road or waterway freight via Germany.
In response, the federal government and Brussels have both very recently begun providing subsidies for LNG adaptation in Germany. Last August 31, the Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure began a stimulus program for German ocean-going shipbuilders to either build new LNG powered ships or to convert diesels to LNG. So too, the EU Commission’s Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) gave a 3.3 million euro grant to a Berlin firm Liquind 24/7 this April, towards the cost of building ten LNG fueling stations along important trucking corridors in Germany. Germany had till very recently not established EC-mandated LNG stations and infrastructure, in contrast to neighboring countries.
To be clear, the GroKo government support for small-scale LNG is eminently rational and long overdue. Elsewhere in Europe and in the USA so-called “small-scale” LNG transfer facilities have already begun to provide a relatively simple environmentally beneficial substitute for bunker oil and for diesel fuel. In 2015, the German Energy Agency (DENA) already noted that “LNG is successfully used as road fuel in North America, parts of Europe and China. …, more than 50,000 trucks and 1,300 filling stations are in operation.”
There is no controversy that this use of LNG results in greatly reduced air pollution as versus diesel. Data from a Belgium provider Fluxys, consistent with many other sources, finds for air pollution, 99% less particulates, 99% less SO2 , 70% less NOx and about 50% less noise pollution than diesel trucks (or locomotives). It also finds 12% less CO2 emissions. This is consistent with engine manufacturers’ engine spec sheets. For example, Rolls Royce, which has many German facilities, in comparing its own diesel engines to its gas or LNG engines, finds similar air-pollution reductions but 22% less greenhouse gas emissions even including engine leakages of methane.
And, there is much less special infrastructure needed than many other alternative fuels. BMW, for example, reported conducting experiments in 2017 using two LNG-fueled heavy trucks to transport engines 530 km. from its plant in Steyr, Austria to its plant in Regensburgh, Germany. Officials commented that electric trucks would have required multiple recharging stops, while compressed natural gas (CNG) would have required tanks three-times as large as the LNG tanks used. In contrast, the LNG trucks made roundtrips without refueling, comparable to the range of diesels. This meant also significantly less new infrastructure investment and maintenance than electric or CNG would have required, needing only refueling capacity at the start location.
On the down side, LNG is not carbon free, and is likely to be only a ‘bridging fuel’ to other technology. A much discussed prospect is “power to gas” whereby especially remote, “stranded” or excess electrical production from renewable electricity by wind or solar could be used to produce “renewable methane” (i.e., natural gas) or hydrogen that could be incorporated into gaseous and LNG facilities being established today for natural, fossil-fuel methane. However, this option, as well as heavy electric trucks and maritime ships are not yet feasible at scale, requiring further tech breakthroughs and price reductions.
So, in the interim, what has been the basis for so much opposition to import and use of LNG in Germany? The opposition has come, broadly speaking, from two camps.
Two streams of opposition
If we speak of large-scale LNG imports, intended to provide significant electrical generation, building heating and such, a pragmatic opposition is based on commercial calculations about Russian pipeline gas simply being cheaper in Germany. Some in this camp do, and many do not, worry about high levels of Russian-gas dependence. Most of the latter pointedly assert that, regardless of other countries’ experiences, Russian gas has been “historically reliable” for Germany and building large-scale LNG import terminals would be an “expensive” and “unnecessary” energy security policy.
This dovetails with a widespread conviction among German business and political elites that only via mutual German-Russian interdependence, especially in the energy business, can Germany ameliorate ambient geostrategic tensions. While this is a familiar tenent of Germany’s Cold War-era Ostpolitik towards Russia, many in this camp will add they see this as also a well-proven commercial and security logic with roots going back to the medieval Hansiatic League, and appropriate for what will remain a country not disposed to military might. Accordingly, in these circles, repeated bad behavior by Moscow does not shake this conviction, on the contrary its necessity is felt even more so in this circumstance.
The further reality one finds in these mainly business and political circles, is a growing aversion to Transatlanticism such that, across broad business and political circles, one of the most widely effective critiques is a populist-nationalist dismissal of present sanctions on Russian energy firms as simply an “American strategy” to “promote its own LNG export business” in Europe at Germany’s and Russia’s expense.
Meanwhile, as is correctly pointed out, two large-scale import terminals already exist– at Zeebrugge in Belgium and at Rotterdam in the Netherlands, sufficiently nearby and with still-low utilizations that could be drawn upon in the event of a major interruption of Russian, or for that matter Norwegian pipeline supplies. In any case, the new GroKo endorsement of LNG is not about this sort of large-scale LNG imports to provide a major addition to Germany’s electrical generation.
However, seemingly even more broadly, a second camp finds LNG use on any level, large- or small-scale, as antithetical to the renewable-energy goals of the Energiewende. Here, natural gas and LNG are often dismissed out-of-hand as “simply another fossil fuel,” largely “produced in the USA” by “environmentally dangerous” fracking that is “banned in Germany,” so it would be “hypocritical” and/or “counter-productive” to import it.
In this camp, many additionally insist that extraction and transport of natural gas in any form, but especially via fracking, allows so much global-warming methane (natural gas) to escape as to negate any reduction in CO2 emissions gained from using natural gas as a fuel in place of coal.
I should mention that scientific assessments by the International Energy Agency (IEA) , present serious challenges or refutation to many of the popular environmentally-motivated ideas cited above against LNG use, especially when the Agency reviewed all available studies of “methane leakage” conducted in recent years, concluding that indeed natural gas is superior to coal, and can and is being made better by better regulating leakages in its production and supply chain.
In a number of discussions in academic, institute or political events earlier this year in Germany, I found the idea of distributing LNG in liquid form, without re-gasifying it, in order to provide a maritime or heavy-trucking fuel, or for city busses and etc. in place of diesel (i.e., “small-scale” LNG) to be strongly opposed.
Further, in response to my inquiries, representatives of major international energy companies in the past year described frustration in finding any interest in Germany for LNG. Unlike in other EU countries, they said they could see no prospects in the German market. They expressed amazement at the German insistence they found that LNG is not needed to help displace coal or diesel.
The line of argument one finds is that, given the goals of the Energiewende, “we will be zero carbon in transport” in a couple decades. This means “expenditures on this infrastructure will be wasted investments” and will only “have to be abandoned when we are all-electric.”
Considering the present dismal record in greening transport, including Germany’s stubborn diesel scandal, the hubris of this “technological optimism” appears rather large. However, it is notable that not all environmental or political-party activists reject natural gas or LNG as a bridge fuel in transport.
GroKo’s LNG support does not aim to cut dependence on Russian Gas
A media analysis that was widely reprinted by other online services, appeared some days after the GroKo document was approved and declared, quite incorrectly: “Merkel Looks to LNG to Cut Germany’s Dependence on Russian Gas” (Bloomberg, 19 March ). The explanation offered was that “Angela Merkel’s government is seeking to build a liquefied natural gas industry in Germany basically from scratch to reduce the nation’s dependence on supplies arriving by pipeline from Russia and Norway. “ And, further, “Germany is becoming increasingly reliant on Russia for its energy needs at a time when political tensions are mounting with Vladimir Putin’s government in Moscow. That’s prompting Merkel to think again about LNG …”
This explanation of the reasons for the government decision are incorrect and are very counterproductive – counterproductive both vis-à-vis ongoing debates about NS2, as well as for building public support and confidence in the introduction of LNG as a step forward in a lower emissions and commercially competitive maritime and truck transport sectors.
While the gas-import dependency on Russia, as well as Moscow’s penchant for persistent troublesome behavior that are noted in this article are accurate - and indeed of concern to many critics of the planned Nord Stream 2 - nevertheless, there is simply no evidence that the GroKo decision in favor of small-scale LNG is aimed to diminish growing dependence on Russian pipeline gas imports to Germany.. In fact, the terminals being approved are of a type and volume-capacity that simply will not and cannot provide any significant reduction in Germany’s massive, growing dependence on Russian pipeline supplies.
However, unfortunately, this misleading story line was soon amplified by others in the certain parts of the media. For example, one headline read: “Germany’s Pivot from Russian Gas Will Be Costly” (OilPrice.com ) and another: “Other Than Russia? Germany Reportedly Mulls Finding New Gas Suppliers! (Russia, Sputnik).
These headlines repeat an incorrect claim that German government officials have de facto allowed to flourish by not speaking up publically to defend their new small-scale LNG policy and by not explaining their real motivations. Soon, even Der Spiegel, a respectable mainstream German paper took up this incorrect interpretation and repeated it without any supporting quotes or references (See: Der Spiegel, 5/2018, p. 63). And, unfortunately, I have heard many otherwise-well-informed Germans repeat these incorrect ideas.
Requests to Bloomberg about the basis for its story were unanswered. An earlier Bloomberg article, on November 27, had made a similar claim: “Plans underway to subdue Russian pipeline gas with German LNG” .) Notably, an article refuting this chain of incorrect news reports did appear in the EuObserver: “Is Germany more hawkish on Russia?”
To be clear, a small-scale facility provides no counterweight to Germany’s Gazprom imports, which will rise from 55 at present to 110 billion cubic meters of gas per year when NS2 is complete, or about 60% of total German gas imports. This would require multiple large-scale LNG regasification terminals capable of fueling a major portion of the country’s electricity generation, heating load and similar. While some NS2 critics indeed advocate that Germany build large-scale re-gasification terminals for such a purpose, what is endorsed is small-scale LNG.
It seems prudent to conclude that although maritime and heavy-transport policy is finally moving in a more positive environmental and competitive direction in consequence of the recent change in federal LNG policies, the lack of forthright addressing of extensive contrary viewpoints across civil society and engagement as to whether this is a necessary and beneficial ‘bridging fuel” by leading officials risks backlashes especially if the new policies stumble in their implementation.
Dr. Thomas O'Donnell teaches at The Hertie School of Governance, Berlin and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the newsletter of the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security, www.eucers.eu A short opinion piece based on this longer, fully referenced study had appeared in the Berlin Policy Journal of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).
The statements, opinions and data contained in the content published in Global Gas Perspectives are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of the publisher and the editor(s) of Natural Gas World.
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