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Strategy for Energy System Integration welcome but not all biomethane applications considered – EBA

The European Biogas Association (EBA) welcomes the European Commission proposal on the Strategy for Energy System Integration which lays out a vision of a circular, decentralized energy system supported by high shares of electrification, coupled with the further deployment of renewable and low-carbon gas and other fuels. While it takes the EU a step towards the recognition of the role of biogas and biomethane as enablers of system integration, not all applications and benefits are considered.

A farm-based AD plant in Italy complete with a waste-heat-to-power Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) unit that uses cattle manure to produce biogas for power supply to the grid.

The European Biogas Association (EBA) says it welcomes the European Commission proposal on the Strategy for Energy System Integration released on July 8, 2020, which lays out a vision of a circular, decentralized energy system supported by high shares of electrification, coupled with the further deployment of renewable and low-carbon gas and other fuels.

While the strategy takes the EU a step forward towards the recognition of the role of biogas and biomethane as enablers of system integration, the measures proposed are not considering all applications and benefits of renewable methane to pick up the pace towards decarbonisation and shape the energy systems of the future.

Instead of focusing merely on technologies and energy carriers that are available in the future, the EU should start the decarbonisation measures right away by promoting stronger those technologies, such as anaerobic digestion (AD), that provide emissions savings as of today, the EBA says.

Green gas can do more than the current proposal recognizes

The initiative will support the Green Deal in achieving higher emissions reductions by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050, both targets that the biogas and biomethane industries fully endorse. Biomethane is already providing clean energy for buildings, mobility, and the industrial sector while making the power sector more flexible.

Biogas plays a key role in developing a more circular energy system by creating links with several sectors, including agriculture or waste management. The full deployment of renewable gases to ensure fast decarbonisation and higher sector integration should not go astray in this transition.

The strategy is aimed at developing a more circular system with the energy-efficiency-first principle at its core. Energy efficiency through system integration can only be achieved by respecting a technology-neutrality principle.

The “Tuvan” municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in Skellefteå, Sweden has also a co-located dedicated food waste biogas plant. The shared facilities, all post-digestion, include biogas storage, upgrading, compression, and flare.

The current proposal recognises the role of biogas in the transformation of organic waste into a resource, as well as in the promotion of rural circular energy communities. However, according to the EBA, the proposal could support more strongly the role of biomethane as a flexible and reliable renewable energy carrier, enabler of significant carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reductions and carbon removals.

The new proposal promotes greater electrification and encourages the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels where direct heating and electrification are not possible. The EBA points out that electricity, like gas, must also be further decarbonized – most European electricity supply is still fossil or nuclear-based.

Additionally, batteries are mostly produced outside Europe, creating new security of supply risk in Europe due to the limited availability of materials like lithium. The complete lifecycle of batteries, especially in the end-of-life phase, should be considered when assessing their environmental impact.

Renewable energy sources readily available, such as biogas and biomethane, should be further supported and scaled up right away, as they offer an immediate opportunity for decarbonization, together with electrification. A truly integrated energy environment should couple the advantages of electricity and gas in a level playing field to reach a hybrid and cost-efficient energy system.

In this sense, EBA welcomes the Commission proposal to assess the need for additional measures to support renewable and low-carbon fuels, including minimum shares or quotas in specific end-use sectors.

Smart combination cheapest

A smart combination of renewable electricity and gas is the cheapest and most efficient way to achieve a climate-neutral energy system. An integrated energy system will facilitate the production and integration of a high rate of renewable energy both electric and gaseous, taking benefits from their specific advantages: low costs of production for the electric intermittent renewables and low costs of long-term storage and transportation for the renewable gases.

Renewable gas can be used, when needed, to balance and stabilize the electric grid, by means of electric generation, cogeneration, or replacement of electric heat generation by gas heat generation in hybrid systems. This will also avoid the massive costs of electricity grid reinforcement.

In a context of economic distress due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, renewable gases bring along innovation and jobs to Europe. ICEs for compressed natural gas (CNG) powered cars and heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) t are built in Europe and the biggest technology providers and producers of renewable methane, combined with numerous research institutes within EU borders.

Showroom launch of Volvo's premium (bio)methane fuelled V90 Bi Fuel.

Showroom launch of Volvo’s premium (bio)methane fuelled V90 Bi Fuel.

As electricity, renewable gases should primarily be used where they bring the highest socio-economic and environmental benefits. Biomethane does not need excessive investments in new infrastructure, as it profits from the existing fossil gas grid, gas boilers, and heat pumps or CNG powered vehicles. Therefore, gaseous and liquified forms of biomethane have great potential to substitute natural gas use in industry, heating, and all transport sectors.

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