29.06.22 There will still be a German gas network in 2045 Interview with Dr. Timm Kehler, Chairman of “Zukunft Gas” • Reading time: 4 min.

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Summary

Green hydrogen and climate-neutral ammonia could replace natural gas. For Dr. Timm Kehler, Chairman of “Zukunft Gas,” Germany’s leading gas advocacy group, gaseous fuels will continue to play a key role in the future. He expects the first supplies of LNG to arrive at the new terminals during the coming winter.

Dr. Timm Kehler, Chairman of “Zukunft Gas”

Timm Kehler, your organization is called “Zukunft Gas” or “The Future of Gas.” What future is there for gas now that Russia is at war with Ukraine?

The thing that many people overlook in the debate about natural gas is that hydrogen is also a gas. We will still need the gas system in the future, not for natural gas, but for climate-neutral gases, by which I mean hydrogen, together with biomethane and synthetic methane. The German gas infrastructure will still be required to transport and store these gases in the future.

Politicians have recently proposed that this infrastructure should be dismantled by 2045. What do you have to say to this?

Anyone who suggests something like this is disregarding 80 percent of our energy consumption. Four fifths of the energy used in Germany is supplied not by electrons, but by molecules, including gas. For precisely this reason, Brussels and Berlin have drawn up future hydrogen strategies. How can we supply millions of domestic and industrial customers with hydrogen if we have no gas network? Those people who want to dismantle the gas network will be robbing countless companies, in particular SMEs, of their future prospects. I can only assume that this proposal is a deliberate provocation intended to initiate a debate. It certainly isn’t helpful. However, I am certain that there will still be a German gas network in 2045 and we will be grateful to have it.

What role will gas play in the future in the context of the German energy supply?

The proportion of electricity is likely to increase from around 20 percent as things currently stand to approximately one third in the future. This will be caused by the shift to electric vehicles and to heat pumps for heating buildings. However, this also means that in the future it will not be possible to supply 60 to 70 percent of our energy needs with green electricity. That is precisely why we need green hydrogen or other climate-neutral gases, which can easily be transported and stored in the existing gas network.

It will be many years before we are using hydrogen and other climate-neutral gases on a large scale. How quickly will we be able to replace Russian gas with liquefied natural gas in the meanwhile?

For 15 years, we have been fighting to build an LNG terminal in Germany. That is the only reason why the plans were so advanced that we could construct the new infrastructure very quickly. I am expecting the first facilities to be completed by the end of the year. The first liquefied gas should be fed into the gas network in Wilhelmshaven in the middle of next winter. If we can really do all this within six months, it will be an impressive achievement. This is something that we in the industry could not have dreamed of just a few months ago. It has only been made possible because the German government and the gas sector have worked so closely together.

Liquefied gas is not available in unlimited quantities and, in addition, many of the producers have long-term contracts with other customers. Can we really replace all of the Russian natural gas with LNG?

Recently Russia has been exporting around 150 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe every year. That corresponds to around one third of the global LNG market. It will be a huge task to replace Russian gas with liquefied gas. Also the additional demand from Europe will definitely lead to an increase in the price of LNG. But in the current situation, it is a blessing that we have LNG available as an alternative. It is already helping to reduce the price spikes caused by the deliberate restriction of Russian gas supplies.

Critics are saying that the new LNG terminals represent the development of a fossil-fuel infrastructure, despite the fact that we want to phase out fossil energy sources. Are they right?

No and I would like to counter this claim very strongly. This is not a “fossil-fuel infrastructure,” because the facilities are designed to be used in the future for climate-neutral energy sources. This is true of the LNG terminals, for example. After we stop using liquefied gas, tankers will be able to supply them with green hydrogen in the form of ammonia or climate-neutral methane, for example.

The changeover to liquefied gas is going ahead at record speed. What lessons can we learn from this that can be applied to other areas of the energy transition?

We are several years behind schedule with the expansion of our electricity grid, for example. That is also true of the development of onshore and offshore wind, which has now almost come to a standstill. These projects are often failing to make progress because of the approval processes. For this reason, I can imagine that the new LNG Act will give rise to massive acceleration in other areas too. This could mean that things will really start to get moving in Germany.

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