The EU is fully immersed in an energy transition to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase the use of clean energy sources, which includes phasing out coal and aging nuclear plants. While the share of renewable electricity is increasing, the European Commission finds that the bloc is still 90 percent dependent on imported fossil gas with not enough gas to heat homes and supply industries in the post-pandemic recovery, and refill stocks before the winter.
According to the European Biogas Association (EBA), the EU should seize this opportunity to push for the deployment of higher shares of already available renewable gas produced within EU borders, such as biomethane (aka renewable natural gas – RNG).
Citing Bloomberg News, the EBA notes that European gas prices have surged by almost 500 percent in the past year. This is due to an increase in global gas demand and unsecured supply from third-party countries.
The EU has already committed to reducing GHG emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. However, the current situation may even undermine efforts by governments to hit ambitious green goals if they are obliged to turn to coal in order to face demand shortages in their countries.
At the same time, this is resulting in ever-higher energy bills for citizens and industries across the continent, already economically hard hit by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Although a fossil source, EBA points out that natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as coal when burned.
We need to make sure that the energy transition will leave no consumers behind. The European Commission is preparing an official communication to help member states palliate the crisis and protect consumers. The measures and proposals that the EU Executive will soon layout to address the energy crunch should push for targeted support for renewable gas production, demand, and infrastructure to boost reliance on clean and locally produced energy sources, the EBA statement said.
The Commission has urged governments to coordinate their national measures to lower energy prices avoiding contradictions with EU climate goals. However, the EBA stresses that the energy mix across the bloc varies significantly, with some Member States enjoying advanced renewable systems while others are still highly dependent on fossil fuels, the majority of which come from non-EU exporters.
Within the mix of renewable gases, biomethane is scalable already today and its role in the short and long run should be better assessed in the framework of the European Green Deal. Denmark, for instance, is close to reaching 25 percent of biomethane injected into the natural gas grid and an additional 5 percent consumed directly.
EBA highlights that studies from the International Energy Agency (IEA), Gas for Climate, Eurogas, Cerre, or CE Delft evaluating the potential of biomethane, suggest that renewable gas could cover 30-40 percent of the gas demand in Europe by 2050.
Currently, the sector is producing 18 billion Nm3 (bcm) of energy, which is mostly allocated to electricity production although sustainable biomethane production from biogas is growing within Europe.
By the end of this decade, the localized production of biomethane is expected to double and eventually reach 120 bcm by 2050, the EU’s deadline to reach climate neutrality.
The environmental performance of sustainable biomethane is also promising, as it can reduce GHG emissions below zero levels. Besides, as it is produced from organic residues, it helps reduce industrial and municipal waste.
Additionally, biomethane supports the development of agroecology by using sustainable farming feedstocks and promoting the use of digestate, a by-product of biomethane production, as a biofertilizer, contributing thereby to a circular bio-economy.
We need EU-wide action to ensure all consumers can afford their energy bills while increasing the share of renewable gas in our grids. This will lower our dependency on imported gas and strengthen environmental and local development, said Harmen Dekker, Director of the EBA.