Decarbonising goes beyond electrifying

4 December, 2019

Let’s think of a completely electrified world. A world in which we all travel on electric bicycles, cars, trains, aeroplanes and even electric vessels. A world in which entire cities run on solar panels and all electrical infrastructure runs from smart grids and giant batteries.

We might think that this is an ideal scenario for achieving emissions neutrality between 2050-2100. But it may not be such a pipe dream.

Electrification is and is going to be important, but the world is not going to be 100% electric by 2050

Today, globally, electricity represents an average of 20% of final energy. In 30 years, forecasts estimate that we will reach 50% electrification. Technical and economic factors mean that it is practically impossible to go beyond that.

So, for a gradual transition towards the decarbonisation of our energy model, “in the long term, renewable solutions will be needed for the decarbonisation of the non-electricity matrix, which today represents three quarters of our energy needs and will continue to be at least half of our future carbon-neutral supply”, based on the scenarios proposed by the European Commission for the development of a decarbonised energy system by 2050.

The energy system of the future

Although electricity plays an important role in a CO2-free world, it is important to distinguish between decarbonising and electrifying. They are not the same.

The key to the future energy system will be the integration of the electricity, gas, heating/cooling and mobility systems and markets. In this sense, a study runned by Gas for Climate says that “the most efficient form of decarbonisation is to combine electricity with renewable gases such as hydrogen and biomethane”.

Gas for Climate is an European group set up in 2017 whose members are leading European gas transmission operators and associations in the renewable gas sector. Its objective is to raise awareness and analyse the role of renewable and low-carbon gas in the future energy system, in full compliance with the objective of the Paris Agreement.

This report also shows that “to decarbonise Europe at the lowest possible cost, 2,900 TWh of biomethane and green hydrogen are needed” and that the use of this gas in the current gas infrastructure “would mean an annual saving of 217 billion euros in 2050, compared to an energy system with a minimal gas presence”.

The current gas network in Spain is capable of transporting and storing renewable gases without the need for major investments, which is vital for the energy transition to be implemented at the lowest possible cost.

A combination of renewable electricity and renewable gas will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the most cost-effective way”, concludes Gas for Climate

Now, let’s think of a future in which the energy system is 100% renewable. There will be those who think that this is a utopia but… who thought 30 years ago that today we could practically manage anything -from reading to making economic transactions- just by connecting to Internet from a 5-inch screen? If the present is technological, imagine what the future will be like. Innovation, communication and commitment between governments and industry will be the key to achieving this goal.