Gas May Be Renewables’ Greatest Ally



Essential for meeting growing energy demand and for tackling climate change, solar and wind energy are expected to account for 4% of the worldwide energy mix in 2035, according to the International Energy Agency. But if these two energies are to be developed on a large scale, the challenges associated with their variability must be addressed. The availability of solar and wind energy varies greatly depending on the weather and the time of day and does not always match demand, which itself fluctuates. Storage is seen as one solution and Total is pursuing projects of this type with various start-ups. However, gas is also a key ally in adding flexibility to changing electricity markets. It could take over for renewables when generation of these energies is insufficient to meet demand. “Gas fits nicely with variable renewable energies in two ways,” says Arnaud Chaperon, Senior Vice President, Prospective Analysis, Institutional Relations & Communication in Total New Energies. “First, they fit in terms of use since, unlike solar and wind energy, gas is flexible and can be stored until it is needed. Second, they fit in terms of cost. Once installation is completed, solar and wind energy produce electricity at a set price, unlike gas, whose price fluctuates with the market. Thus, one evens out the variability of the other.”

Gas also has the advantage of being the least polluting fossil energy, since it emits only half the amount of greenhouse gases as coal, which is still widely used to generate power, and two-thirds less than fuel oil. As part of European electricity market reforms, GasNaturally, which brings together a number of gas industry organizations, is working on recommendations to encourage more widespread use of gas and renewables. “The gas industry must actively advocate for gas-plus-renewables, which is the solution for the power generation industry,” says GasNaturally’s Chairman, François-Régis Mouton. “Especially now that the E.U. is allowing a de facto increase in the share of coal, with negative consequences not only in terms of CO2 emissions, but also human health  (NOx, SOx and particulates).” Currently distorted because of an excess of allowances issued, the ETS market no longer penalizes energies that emit high levels of greenhouse gases since the price of CO2 per metric ton now stands at around €6, compared to €36 in 2008. Gas-fired power plants in Europe have trouble competing with coal-fired power plants, which have become much more competitive because of the abundance of this resource and low carbon prices. Another focus is the need to radically overhaul markets in order to send a strong price signal to energies — gas and hydropower — that add flexibility to the system, to ensure a continuing balance between electricity supply and demand.

So the fit between gas and renewable energies is very real. Gas now needs to gain ground to effectively address climate and energy challenges. 

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