Europe needs a mix of energy carriers to achieve carbon neutrality and to kickstart the hydrogen economy as soon as is feasible

A pathway to 2050: the role of gas

James Watson - 3 June 2021

Eurogas, which represents more than 50 companies and industry groups from 24 countries in the European gas wholesale, retail and distribution sectors, supports the long-term vision on climate neutrality proposed by the European Commission.

About the author

Mr James Watson
James Watson is Secretary General of Eurogas, which represents the European gas wholesale, retail and distribution sectors. He holds a Ph.D in International Trade and Environmental Law from the University of Leeds, and is currently a Visiting Professor at the Free University of Brussels
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Achieving climate neutrality by 2050, with a target of at least 55 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, will rely on a host of new initiatives to enable Europe, supported by the gas industry, to shift its economy in a sustainable, and cost-effective manner. 

To determine how the EU can deliver on its climate ambitions, Eurogas undertook a study with DNV GL – an independent consultancy. The study assesses a pathway to a carbon-neutral future, comparing it to the European Commission’s 1.5TECH scenario, outlined in the 2050 long-term decarbonisation strategy. The study’s findings show that the EU could achieve its climate goals at significantly lower costs than the European Commission estimates, by rolling out gasbased solutions across all sectors and using existing infrastructure. 

Europe needs a mix of energy carriers to achieve carbon neutrality and to kickstart the hydrogen economy as soon as is feasible. Eurogas considers that both hydrogen from renewable sources and hydrogen produced from methane reforming and methane pyrolysis coupled with Carbon Capture and Storage have to be urgently scaled up. Our study confirms that Europe needs to deploy all options to reduce emissions fast enough in line with its carbon budget. 

Indeed, our study, like others from the IPCC, IEA, the European Commission and UKCCC, shows that CCS is necessary to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050. A positive, stable regulatory environment is needed for gaseous solutions to play their part in achieving the EU’s climate-neutrality ambition. Furthermore, the use of biomass and biomethane in power alongside CCS creates net negative CO2 emissions, offsetting more than 100 percent of emissions in the Eurogas scenario and around 95 percent of emissions in the aforementioned 1.5TECH scenario.

This is very positive for the economy as other sectors such as (residential) buildings remain extremely difficult to decarbonise by 2050. For this sector, we will need biomethane and hydrogen to decarbonise our energy supply in the most cost-effective way. The Eurogas-study decarbonises buildings while saving over EUR10 million, compared to the 1.5TECH scenario, simply by relying on a mix of renewable and decarbonised gas, as well as renewable electricity. This type of sector integration will be crucial to delivering a zero-carbon building stock in the EU. Blending hydrogen into the existing gas grid will also play an important role. Almost half of Europe’s heating is provided by natural gas today1. In future, a greater percentage of biomethane and hydrogen can be blended into the gas network and used for heating systems. Already, hydrogen can be blended at the distribution grid to very large percentages today; up to 20 to 30 percent without the need for changes in the infrastructure or the domestic boilers. 

As also shown by the Eurogas study, hydrogen will become the dominant gaseous energy carrier in transport towards 2050. For instance, if the maritime sector decarbonises by using hydrogen, the latter could result in becoming 31 percent of the total maritime energy demand. 

The Eurogas-path uses existing assets, limiting subsidy schemes and leaving market fundamentals in place. Ultimately, both decarbonised and renewable molecules together with renewable electricity will help the EU reach its 2050 climate-neutrality ambition in a more cost-effective manner than a pathway focussed only on high levels of electrification. 

1 Source or statistic for the Gas Fact Annex. BP Outlook or Commission statistic: further research.

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