The European Commission is not willing to accept the use of natural gas as a long-term bridge technology on the route to net zero emissions by 2050, executive vice-president Frans Timmermans has told the gas industry.
In a dramatic speech to the Eurogas annual meeting late last week, the politician, who is in charge of the EU's Green Deal plans, said “fossil fuels have no viable future”, and that Europe should instead massively boost its renewable energy capacity.
To reach net zero emissions by mid-century, the EU will need ten times more solar and onshore wind power, and boost its offshore wind capacity from 12GW to 300GW.
“Where, and as long as, clean energy cannot yet be deployed on the scale needed, fossil gas may still play a role in the transition from coal to zero emission electricity,” Timmermans declared.
“But I want to be crystal clear with you — fossil fuels have no viable future. That also goes for fossil gas, in the longer run.”
Timmermans made it clear that EU would go all out to reach a carbon-free future and meet its Paris Agreement commitments. And that meant not investing money into “economic structures that have very little future”.
He also underlined the capital investment needed for a green hydrogen (produced with renewable energy) infrastructure should not be wasted for a parallel infrastructure to carry even more gas into Europe – from Norway or Russia, or as LNG liquefied natural gas – only to transform it into hydrogen in a second step.
“We are very clear on this point. Europe doesn’t need to invest in any new infrastructure for carrying fossil gas. Instead, we should be thinking about retrofitting existing pipelines to transport hydrogen,” he said.
“Our EU energy system still relies heavily on fossil fuels for 75% of its energy needs,” he said. “We already know now that by 2050 our energy system will have to change completely, fundamentally. At the end of that road, there will be no more space for coal, very little room for oil and only a marginal role for fossil gas. This is not only because science tells us, it is also because the market shows us.”
He added: “If we get this wrong, our children will be fighting wars over water and over food.”
Timmermans conceded that for some EU member states, where there are no other affordable options, gas will have to play a transitional role, but only for a limited period of time.
“I was discussing this also yesterday with the Polish government. Because Poland will be one of those countries where this will be necessary,” he said.
“During our transition away from fossil fuels, we also have to make sure that fossil gas doesn’t move us further away from our climate ambition. That is why we will also propose in December new rules to reduce methane emissions in the oil, gas and coal sectors.”
Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 80-times more aggressive in trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 20-year period.
“The future is in carbon free electricity and a decarbonised gas sector, which embraces hydrogen as the new energy carrier and green hydrogen as the final destination,” Timmermans emphasised.
Timmermans’ aversion to the EU using gas for a longer period than absolutely necessary was echoed by a Claudia Kemfert, a climate expert from the influential German Institute for Economic Research.
The institute, commonly known as DIW Berlin, predicts that gas demand will plummet as climate targets are being fulfilled, arguing that Germany, Europe’s largest economy, should stop spending any money on expensive new gas pipelines – such as the controversial NordStream 2 – and instead commit to phasing out gas by 2038 – in parallel to coal.
“Gas is a bridge into nothing. Instead of bridge technologies, we need technologies for the future, meaning renewable energies,” she recently told the Deutsche Welle broadcaster.