Energy solutions for a green future – some key takeaways to chew over

Katrina Sichel reports on Liquid Gas Europe’s recent event.
Source: Liquid Gas Europe

By Katrina Sichel

Katrina Sichel is a professional moderator, TV producer and event presenter.

18 Jan 2021

One of the pleasures of moderating events for a smorgasbord of sectors and industries is that you get to taste the wares of different worlds. While the inhabitants of these must focus consistently on laying out their stall defending their position in the busy Brussels bubble, the moderator gets to savour the issues on the table at one step removed, and see the common threads that link all actors.

These range from: there is no one silver bullet; the citizen/consumer has a vital role to play; we need broad stakeholder cross-sectoral collaboration; and focus on the low-hanging fruit, to: cooperation at all levels is essential; we need a technology neutral approach; communication is key; and, the all-important, ‘We can only achieve more together’.

At no time, perhaps, should we translate these messages more swiftly into action than during a global pandemic that is triggering economic recession and exacerbating social change worldwide. And nowhere, perhaps, should we apply them more urgently than within the context of the European Green Deal and its ambitious environmental targets.

So it was fitting to hear them feature, among a handful of valuable touchstones, at a recent Liquid Gas Europe event: What energy solutions for a Green Future? As General Manager Samuel Maubanc said in his introduction: “COVID has brought to the fore the question of what is essential and what is not. And energy is essential”.

“Liquefied Petrolum Gas (LPG) produces significantly fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) and pollutant emissions than competing liquid and solid fuels in the home, industry, agriculture and automotive sectors”

The lowdown

Liquefied Petrolum Gas (LPG) produces significantly fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) and pollutant emissions than competing liquid and solid fuels in the home, industry, agriculture and automotive sectors. It is accessible everywhere, even in remote areas, as it does not need a gas pipeline for transportation. Its renewable equivalent, bioLPG, emits 80 percent less GHG emissions, and is increasingly entering the market in Europe as a sustainable drop-in solution. The industry’s stated ambition is to fully transition to bioLPG by 2050.

So how can LPG’s various assets contribute to bringing about those ‘quick wins’ in two of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise – heating in rural areas and transport? I chewed over the topic with eight panellists representing a mix of interested stakeholders. Their views – as opposed to this moderator’s as neutral participant – are distilled here.

Sustainable heating solutions beyond the gas grid

Fact: Around 27 percent of EU carbon emissions are generated by the heating and cooling sector in Europe – and three quarters of European heating demand for single-family homes is consumed in rural areas. What is less understood is that rural areas face specific challenges in their own pathway to reducing carbon and air pollutant emissions - contrary to perception, these areas can be more polluted than some urban ones.

Firstly, the building stock in rural areas tends to be old and energy inefficient. Secondly, these areas are typically not connected to the gas grid, meaning homes, businesses and industries have to rely upon high-polluting energy sources, such as heating oil and coal. Thirdly, inhabitants are more at risk of poverty than in urban areas, and limited means equals limited choice of flexible and affordable energy sources. Heat pumps might be seen as the ‘coolest’ option, but they can be expensive and are not always ‘property fit’.

Against the backdrop of the Commission’s recently published Renovation Wave strategy, switching from high-carbon fuels to LPG/bioLPG stands out as the low-hanging fruit for decarbonisation in rural areas. It can offer cleaner, more affordable and customised solutions (technologically ‘hybrid’ ones, too, such as a bioLPG boiler coupled with a solar thermal system) to help drive the sustainable – and just – transition of rural areas, while having a positive impact on air quality.

So far, so good. But how can the EU and interested parties ensure this? Suggestions ranged from supporting a mixed technology approach to heating, properly planned replacement of heating systems, and incentives to make the switch to low-carbon solutions more easily, to the willingness of local authorities to inform citizens about the best alternative for their needs. Without these elements, the voice of off-grid areas and smaller players risks being lost.

To achieve emissions neutrality the energy transition process must welcome a mix of complementary technologies”

Alternative fuels in a post-COVID world

Transport. A notoriously difficult sector to decarbonise, not least given its dependence on carbon-intensive fuels. Currently generating a quarter of Europe’s GHG emissions, the demand for immediate and affordable solutions is constantly increasing.

96 percent of car sales in 2019 had internal combustion engines (ICEs) – and these cars will stay on the road throughout the next decade. Clearly, the legacy fleet issue is not to be sniffed at.

If the current choice would seem to pitch conventional fuels against EVs, might it not be leaving less space in the discussion for alternative fuels that are cleaner, affordable and readily available with existing infrastructure?

Autogas – LPG is the most widely-used alternative fuel in Europe, with almost 15 million vehicles running on it. It provides an easy pathway to decarbonisation, generating fewer CO2 emissions in a Well-to-Wheel perspective than its petrol and diesel run equivalents. ICE vehicles can be easily retrofitted to LPG, offering consumers more choice, saving costs, accelerating decarbonisation, and improving air quality.

Among myriad challenges, ideas and solutions, what I picked up in terms of a consensus among all parties – that is, Member States, fuel and energy providers, automotive industry, and consumer organisations – is that to achieve emissions neutrality the energy transition process must welcome a mix of complementary technologies.

How to support this? Each actor around the table broadly agreed that the EU should protect the existing infrastructure of LPG, so as not to lessen its impact on reducing emissions, and work towards a stable and technology neutral policy framework which will allow bioLPG and LPG-hybrid powertrains to flourish. All emphasised the importance of maintaining the definition of LPG as an alternative fuel in the revised Directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure in Europe (DAFI) – not least to send a clear market signal to Member States.

“We can achieve more together” – one of the messages this moderator frequently hears. In terms of energy, as one speaker summed up: ‘the 2050 target is so ambitious we need to push in all directions’. And as the LPG industry itself expressed: ‘Different technologies need to exist and work together, and gaseous alternative and renewable fuels will still be needed as part of the energy mix on the journey to carbon neutrality’. With 2050 a heartbeat away, that journey continues to be a compelling one for industry, government and citizens alike.

'Please note: This article reflects the views of stakeholder panellists at the event'.

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Energy & Climate
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