Reshaping our energy system – the decade for action is now – EURACTIV.com
Martin O’Neill is Vice President of Strategy for GE Gas Power
The decade of action is now
Over the past two weeks, COP26 in Glasgow has clearly demonstrated the enormous effort required for rapid and effective decarbonization to tackle climate change. As more and more governments commit to more ambitious goals, the strong and late engagement of the private sector is most striking. All the terms of the debate have shifted in favor of action and the necessary technologies available to ensure the path to a near zero carbon future. But the challenges of a global “just transition” still await us.
The energy price crisis, by exerting continued pressure on citizens, industries and governments, has revealed the need for Europe to reshape the existing energy system to make it more resilient, affordable and ready to decarbonise . Denying this reality risks locking our system into old energy paradigms and potentially increasing Europe’s energy dependence, thus undermining its position as a global climate leader.
GE Gas Power believes the next ten years should become the decade of action. The EU has set itself an ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 55% by 2030. The international commitment on methane, launched by the EU and the United States during of COP26 and already supported by more than 100 countries, aims for a necessary reduction of a powerful GHG, offering nations the possibility of further reducing their impact on GHGs. However, that will not buy us the ticket to climate neutrality.
Europe must develop a strong and favorable regulatory framework to support the best available technologies in order to ensure a smooth but efficient sustainable transition, to improve the resilience of the system and to protect the global competitiveness of the whole bloc, while ensuring that no one is left behind. The latter encompasses vulnerable citizens as well as businesses of all sizes, particularly in so-called hard-to-reduce sectors of our economy.
Technology at the service of gas decarbonisation
The production and use of energy accounts for over 75% of GHG emissions in Europe, which means that the lion’s share of our decarbonization efforts will be aimed at making the energy system greener. To achieve this goal, the EU is pursuing higher and faster penetration of renewables into the system through the large-scale deployment of wind and solar PV installations. Renewable energy has already overtaken fossil fuels as a major source of energy, leading to significant emission reductions, according to the Commission’s State of the Energy Union report.
However, a successful transition to a more electrified and decentralized system will require strong mechanisms and vectors of flexibility, such as natural gas, hydrogen and storage, combined with an effective application of energy efficiency. The complementary nature of renewable energy sources and gas offers enormous potential to help reduce carbon emissions at the speed and scale required by Europe.
Gas-fired power generation technology builds on decades of experience in providing reliable and cost-effective electricity and offers the prospect of switching to low-carbon gases. In addition to providing the necessary flexibility at the system level, GE Gas Power technologies further reduce emissions through the operationalization of Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCUS) technologies. We believe that CCUS will play a key role in decarbonizing not only power generation, but also sectors that are difficult to reduce. Harnessing the potential of these technologies is particularly important as the availability and affordability of low-carbon fuels on a large scale may take many years before us.
Technology accessible to all and ready to transform
Europe’s motto – “united in diversity” – has never been truer than with regard to national energy bouquets. The divergence between major energy sources has become particularly evident during the current energy price crisis and is expected to last as countries adopt climate policies. Recognizing that member states start their decarbonization journey from very different places, GE Gas Power aims to ensure that climate change solutions are developed quickly and have the optimal impact for each specific state or region.
For some countries in central and eastern Europe, reducing emissions will first and foremost mean phasing out coal and finding more sustainable alternatives. Therefore, for these states, gas-fired power generation technology may be decisive. Combined cycle power plants produce up to 60% less emissions than coal-fired plants, allowing them to reduce emissions quickly. In addition, an even higher number can be gradually achieved by using low carbon intensity fuels such as syngas and hydrogen. This will facilitate a rapid energy transition of hard-to-scale sectors in countries currently struggling to meet ambitious EU climate targets, while avoiding a carbon lock-in.
The decade of action is already here
Europe has eight years left to achieve the world’s fastest and largest GHG reduction – from 21% to 55% of 1990 levels. This is an unprecedented challenge, and the “Fit for 55” legislative package demonstrates the ambition and determination of EU policy makers to empower Europe to lead the global energy transition. Yet we need and can offer more.
As Europe embarks on the Decade of Action, variable renewables will be essential, but we must not neglect readily available solutions and technologies to achieve decarbonization goals. Gas technology represents an available and proven system-level solution that can effectively support the flexibility needed for the future energy mix.