The key role LNG can play in Europe's energy transition

Liquefied Natural Gas can be an enabler for a sustainable and swift transition to a climate-neutral Europe, argues Zdzisław Krasnodebski.
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Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is playing an increasingly important role on Europe’s energy landscape. Over the last two years, LNG imports to the European Union have doubled, while its share of total EU gas imports has increased from 12 percent in 2018 to more than 23 percent in 2019.

One of the regional leaders in this field is Poland, which, with its nascent LNG infrastructure, is recognised as crucial for not only the energy security of Central and South Eastern Europe but also - increasingly - for a successful and efficient transition to low-emission energy systems.

The extension of the President Lech Kaczynski LNG onshore terminal, in Swinoujscie on the Baltic coast, is co-funded by the EU - mostly due to its important regional dimension and its contribution to the goals of the European Energy Union. It is providing industry and households with access to secure, reliable and affordable energy.


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Currently, the regasification facilities of the Swinoujscie terminal have a capacity of 570,000 normal cubic metres per hour (Nm²/h): enough to supply more than 25 percent of Poland’s natural gas needs. This is set to increase to 984,000 Nm²/h by 2024. Natural gas-heated submerged combustion vaporisers then turn the LNG back into a gaseous state.

Expansion of the LNG terminal is viewed as an important element of the Polish government’s strategy of diversifying sources and directions of natural gas supplies. Another LNG project worth noting is a new floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU). This is planned to be built in the Gulf of Gdansk, one of Poland’s most industrialised areas.

The FSRU will become a significant logistics hub for LNG, supplying fuel stations, ships and off-grid facilities (i.e. places without access to the gas network). Moreover, it will serve as a back-up facility to the power generated by offshore wind farms, which will be installed in the Baltic Sea in the future.

"Natural gas, due to its low emissions compared to oil and coal, is considered as an energy source with the potential to contribute significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the medium and long-term"

This LNG installation of the FSRU, planned for the Port of Gdansk, is designated as a project of common interest (PCI) in the energy sector, in line with the EU criteria for key infrastructure projects aimed at improving the security of Europe’s energy market. These projects are also supposed to support the EU’s energy policy and address climate challenges.

Poland believes this new gas infrastructure, including its own strategic project known as the ‘Baltic Pipe’ (which will create an import route from Norway), can play a key role in Central and Eastern Europe’s transition to climate neutrality.

The net zero emission scenarios for 2050, which were set out in the European Commission’s “Clean Planet for All” Communication of 2018, acknowledge the role of gas as a bridge fuel and forecast that the gaseous fuels will continue to be an important energy source in the EU post- 2020.

A group comprising one-third of EU Member States recently published a joint paper defending the “role of natural gas in a climate-neutral Europe”, with gas infrastructure considered an enabler for a sustainable and swift transition to cleaner heat and electricity generation, transport, industrial processes and residential heating and cooling.

The signatories note that natural gas can curtail both greenhouse gas emissions (producing 60 percent less CO2 than coal) and dust and other pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide (producing up to 99 percent less than coal). Emission reductions resulting from the transition from coal and oil to gas will also have a positive cross border impact on air quality in neighbouring countries.

The role of natural gas in the energy transition is crucial, particularly in Poland, which is largely dependent on coal for power generation (77 percent), district heating (81 percent) and in direct use in buildings (26 percent). Additionally, natural gas can act as a substantial back-up and balancing source when developing the renewable energy and electricity system, enabling additional wind and solar generation.

"The European Commission’s “Clean Planet for All” Communication of 2018, acknowledge the role of gas as a bridge fuel and forecast that the gaseous fuels will continue to be an important energy source in the EU post-2020"

The nine Member States also argue that the EU needs to maintain its support and financial assistance for developing gas infrastructure through an enabling framework, structural funds and investment loans. It should also be remembered, in the discussions surrounding the post COVID-19 recovery plans, that investment in low-carbon technologies should be allowed.

Natural gas, given its low emissions compared to oil and coal, is considered an energy source with the potential to contribute significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the medium and long term.

Finally, it would also be interesting to assess the potential of using gas infrastructure for the future transport of renewable or decarbonised gases.

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Energy & Climate
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