The topic of sector coupling and the role it may play in the energy transition has recently received a great deal of attention in European energy policy circles. In particular, power-to-gas technologies, which enable the production of hydrogen via water electrolysis as well as the synthesis of methane via the hydrogenation of carbon dioxide (the so-called methanation reaction), have often been portrayed as holding great promise for future low-carbon energy systems, potentially providing a range of services including the provision of both short-term flexibility and long-term energy storage.
In order to put these ideas to the test, the University of Liege and its partners Fluxys (BE) and RaboResearch (NL) have carried out a scenario-based, quantitative analysis evaluating the role renewable power generation technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines combined with conversion and storage technologies such as water electrolysis, methanation, fuel cells, hydrogen and battery storage may play in the future Dutch electricity system, and how they may help achieve substantial carbon dioxide emissions cuts. The analysis relies on an open source model recently published in the academic literature. In addition, a technical report is publicly available, and the main results have also featured in the Dutch press, notably on the ESB and Energeia websites.
For convenience, the main conclusions are also listed next. Firstly, it clearly appears that the Netherlands have sufficient RES potential to supply electricity demand levels comparable to those observed in 2017 while reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 99% from 1990 levels. Secondly, power-to-gas and storage technologies only feature in very ambitious emissions reduction scenarios. In particular, these technologies do not appear in scenarios combining moderate emissions reduction targets with substantial technology cost reductions, suggesting that their emergence is heavily conditioned upon the massive deployment of RES capacity, and does not solely depend on their cost. Thirdly, electricity prices become much more volatile in scenarios with high emissions reduction targets, and the average electricity price increases substantially as well, doubling or tripling compared with the reference scenario seeking a 49% decrease of carbon dioxide emissions. Then, it should be emphasised that electricity interconnections provide much needed flexibility to the Dutch power system, making up for shortages in RES production and conveniently absorbing surpluses when they occur. This flexibility directly translates into substantial cost savings, as the system configuration seeking to meet the most ambitious emissions reduction target without any interconnection is by far the most expensive. It should be borne in mind, however, that interconnections may not be able to provide such flexibility in real systems, as electricity exchanges will ultimately depend on generation and consumption patterns on both sides of the transmission corridor. Finally, methanation only appears in the scenario without any electricity interconnection, where synthetic methane is used to displace limited volumes of natural gas.
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