Participants of this year’s ”Russian Gas” forum, which was held online, questioned the European Commission’s plans to significantly reduce the consumption of natural gas by the EU energy complex. Brussels considers giving up this resource as a vital necessity in the light of the fight for carbon neutrality.
James Watson, Secretary General of the Eurogas Association noted that the volume of natural gas consumption in the Old World over the next 30 years is one of the most debated issues. The most radical forecasts suggest a significant reduction in its share in the energy balance of Europe through the further construction of wind turbines and solar panels, as well as the use of hydrogen. However, the practical implementation of such initiatives is perceived by the expert community with distrust, so no consensus has yet been found.
“There are different ways to achieve carbon neutrality. For example, the European Commission believes that by 2050 the demand for natural gas will fall by 70% of its current level. But this is not the only scenario. We, for example, believe that in 2030 it will remain at the same level as today, and by the middle of the century it will decline only slightly,” said Mr. Watson.
The head of the association, which represents the wholesale, retail and distribution sectors, also stressed that it is not yet clear who will pay for the energy transition and how much the cost of electricity and, consequently, of goods produced in the the European Union will increase.
“It is not only the fact of achievement of natural neutrality by 2050 that is of great importance, but also the answer to the question of how it will be achieved,” summarized Mr. Watson.
Pavel Zavalny, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Energy and President of the Russian Geological Society, attributed the Eurogas scenario as much more objective than the European Commission forecasts. After all, no one has calculated so far how much European consumers will pay for the refusal of supplies of natural gas from Russia. Whatever figure it ends up being, we are talking about trillions of dollars. Does it make sense to get ahead of the game and try, at any cost, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050? Especially so, since natural gas has long been recognized as the most optimal solution to strike a balance between the environmental and economic interests of society.
“The conclusions of the European Commission are always very heavily politicized. I remember when in 2005 it decided to reduce dependence on Russian gas. At that time our share was 26% of total imports. Fifteen years later, it went up to 40%. That happened because Russian gas is the most accessible, both in terms of economy and in terms of reliability and security of supply,” said Mr. Zavalny.
Rector of St. Petersburg Mining University and a leading expert on the fuel and energy complex Vladimir Litvinenko warned the EU against “adventurous proposals concerning the development of the energy complex.” And he asked a question: what will happen if the opinion about the ability of the European Union to achieve complete carbon neutrality, including by reducing imports of natural gas, turns out to be wrong? And how long would it take Brussels to restore the stability of the energy systems? Months or years?
“Soon there will be no fertile land left in Europe, because you need about a hectare and a half for one wind turbine. But even if we close our eyes to this, we should not forget that the productivity of renewable energy sources depends on the weather. What resource will be used instead of natural gas if the wind dies down and the sun goes behind a cloud? Or during rush hours, when people came home from work and all turned on the electricity at the same time? We are told: hydrogen. But it’s explosive, and no one but Europeans should remember that. There have been disasters in Germany, France, and many other countries, all of which were fueled by hydrogen. The problem has not been solved yet, while we, having read a lot of Jules Verne, want to use the first element in the Mendeleyev Table in the global energy industry already tomorrow," shared his opinion on the prospects of H2 implementation, Mr. Litvinenko.
He assured those present that hydrogen will be able to occupy any significant niche in the fuel and energy complex no earlier than in 80 or even 100 years. And only if humanity manages to acquire new knowledge and create more advanced technologies for the production, transportation and storage of nature’s lightest gas, including its extraction from the bowels of the Earth.
“Politicians love to flirt with society and promise that a glass of water can give us both heat and electricity (by extracting hydrogen from it - ed.). Such a future would be wonderful, but it is the prerogative of science-fiction writers to dream about it. And the professional community needs to be guided by common sense. For example, as part of the International Center of Competence in Mining Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO, we gathered a pool of experts from Britain, the United States, and other countries, who are ready to share their independent opinions, including on the prospects of global energy. But not many people listen to us now. And such serious decisions as giving up one energy source in favor of another should be made not by politicians, but by people who have a clear and unbiased idea of the tools that ensure the stability of the fuel and energy complex," said the rector of Mining University.
The saddest thing about this situation is that Europe does not actually have a clear energy strategy; in other words, it does not know how much and what kind of energy resources it will need in the medium term. Accordingly, the exporting countries do not understand how much natural gas they will need to produce in order to supply the EU. This situation is disadvantageous for all market participants. It threatens some with lost profits and others with a succession of blackouts.