Blanca Losada, Chief Executive Officer, Gas Natural Fenosa Engineering, Chief Technology and Engineering Officer, Gas Natural Fenosa
The challenges presented by climate change demand a targeted and coordinated response from all of the players who are actively involved in the energy sector, to enable us to address these challenges from many different angles in a complementary and simultaneous manner. A comprehensive approach to this universal problem will integrate, people, teams, their ideas and their innovation projects to maximize the impact of the new solutions that otherwise would have been developed in separate parallel paths without the benefit of cross coordination.
This is especially critical in a sector such as energy. Gas Natural Fenosa is one of the largest integrated natural gas and electricity companies in the world, operating in more than 30 countries with more than 23 million customers, mainly located in Europe and Latin America. This powerful platform provides us with a privileged position to push forward in the convergence of the two energy systems: electricity and gas. We are, therefore, at the forefront of the actions that benefit from the potential synergies integrating both systems, improving their efficiency and reducing their environmental impact.
The convergence of natural gas and electricity requires a new level of sophistication in energy management, a management that is performed in an arena referred to as “Smart Grids”. These networks have to modernise both their architecture and their operation, in order to permit new uses in both energy production and energy efficient consumption.
Smart grids, empowerment of the customer
Gas Natural Fenosa has been working on large-scale deployment of smart grids in Spain for over five years and more than 1.7 million customers have a smart meter already installed. The detailed and more complete information on the energy consumption, which can be supplied by the distribution company via the internet to any particular mobile application, provides a platform to enable the consumer to adapt their behaviour according to market indicators. The consumer stops being a passive client and can take control of their own energy management.
In addition, the deployment of smart grids enables the integration of new distributed generation elements, such as photovoltaic panels, small wind generators, micro-cogeneration etc. into the electrical system. This will also permit the large-scale incorporation of electric vehicles into the overall system, enabling the functionality of exporting energy to the grid from the batteries of these vehicles.
Gas Natural Fenosa has a smart grid laboratory (LINTER) located in Madrid that is devoted to the development of new technologies for deployment in smart grids. The company has participated in around 15 important Spanish and European innovation projects, many of which are still on-going, to make advances in the automation of the network and to develop the standards required to accompany this technology.
We are convinced that the development of smart grids improves the sustainability of the energy sector and creates value in itself. This opinion is quantified in the study made by the Boston Consulting Group for the Spanish association FUTURED. The study claims that the relationship between investment and return in smart grids is between 2 and 3.5 times and that the development of smart grids will result in an increase of between 0.2 and 0.35 per cent in the Spanish GDP, potentially creating 40,000 to 50,000 skilled jobs.
Towards renewable natural gas
Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, producing the least emissions. Fuel switching to natural gas can have a positive contribution towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (i.e.: 117 pounds of CO2 per million Btu versus 228.6 of anthracite). This feature, along with the discovery of large reserves of non-conventional gas and the development of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) distribution logistics will ensure that natural gas will undoubtedly play a role of growing importance in the short and medium term.
Moreover, the gas system can become greener by incorporating indigenous bio synthetic natural gas (bioSNG), which can be obtained from the processing of biogases originating from biomass (landfill, waste water, plant biomass processing, etc.). This will result in a gas system with less external energy dependence and less net emissions of CO2.
A comparison of the gas and electrical systems show that both systems share the characteristic of the capillarity in the distribution (on many occasions they reach the same end point, the final customer) and they have one important difference of the possibility for storage. Those two aspects are very important when assessing the complementary aspects of the two systems. These connections provide flexibility to the energy system, enabling new possibilities to optimize it.
The complementary nature of both energy carriers can potentially have the following advantages:
The conversion of surplus electricity generated from renewable sources to synthetic gas (“manufactured” natural gas) so that the gas system can act as the storage medium for the electricity system.
Due to the large growth of wind and solar generation and due to the fluctuating character of their energy production that depends entirely on primary resources (sun, wind), there will be periods of excesses in the generation of electricity and periods of shortfalls. This obviously leads to a need for energy storage. Energy storage will become an increasingly important solution to manage the effect of fluctuations in electricity supply, both on a daily seasonal basis. Storage facilities with great capacity both in volume and in time will be increasingly required, which could be the gas grid.
Methane, the major component in natural gas is a molecule with a high energy density and, therefore is a good medium to store energy. Additionally, gas storage is also part of the gas system that already has developed solutions for the seasonal variations. This synthetic natural gas appears to be an ideal partner to solar and wind renewable generation.
These conversion technologies are called Power2Gas (P2G) and are currently being developed by various companies. Gas Natural Fenosa has participated in several projects in this area and is currently working with the Spanish Government and other partners to develop a plant to produce synthetic natural gas from biogas, via the methanation of hydrogen obtained from renewable sources.
High efficient heat and electricity production
In addition to the large combined cycle gas plants, which are technologies already developed and currently providing back-up to renewable generation, there are, for the end user, several smaller scale highly efficient micro-cogeneration solutions based on gas that can produce both heat and electricity efficiently. Amongst the technologies being developed, we can find systems based on micro-cogeneration for buildings/communities, Stirling engines and fuel cells.
Twin fuels (gas and electricity) equipment
Additionally, for the consumer there are solutions that can run on either electricity or on gas (i.e. heating systems, gas hybrid vehicles) depending on different parameters (technical restrictions, energy price, energy availability, etc). Those solutions are a new source of flexibility for the energy system.
In conclusion, the integration of energy system will improve the security and quality of energy supply. This will permit an increase in the efficiency of the systems leading to a reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gases.
To view Blanca Losada’s advocacy from the COP21 Edition, please click here.
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