A holistic approach for the energy system: climate action and energy security go hand-in-hand

#CriticalThinking

Climate, Energy & Sustainability

Picture of Martin O'Neil
Martin O'Neil

Vice President, Strategy at GE Gas Power

We are in the midst of an unprecedented energy crisis. With energy prices at an all-time high and entrenched inflation, access to affordable energy and the entire green transition are both under threat. This situation is exacerbated by energy supply disruptions, which have exposed Europe’s fuel reliance on Russia and highlighted the importance of EU energy security. The crisis is compounded by the many threats stemming from climate change. Our short-term energy security measures must therefore complement our ultimate green objectives.

Market stimulus for grids of the future and the dispatch of decarbonised assets are imperative to enable the energy transition. With a strong grid backbone, more renewables can be added faster. This holistic approach would ensure that synchronous rotating assets strengthen grids in the near term, and that lower carbon intensity assets are always dispatched ahead of higher carbon intensity peers.

An ambitious, thoughtful and realistic approach – prioritising flexibility, affordability and cooperation – would help ensure energy security and achieve net-zero objectives.

It is no secret that Europe must ensure the security of its supply. The EU is already undertaking huge strides towards greater energy independence through the REPowerEU package. The framework takes exemplary steps towards increasing energy efficiency and, vitally, building up alternative energy sources such as renewables and hydrogen – a prime example of how the EU can simultaneously tackle climate change and energy security.

Against the backdrop of nuclear and coal phase-out in a number of European countries, massive investments are needed to future-proof Europe’s energy supply

As the EU scales up its green ambitions to tackle the newly arisen energy security threats, the pre-existing issues must also be addressed. Europe is looking to rapidly roll out renewables; therefore, we must ensure system accommodation and integration. Exploiting gaseous fuel power technologies ensures the flexibility needed to mitigate intermittency issues from wind and solar, recognised in the REPowerEU plan. With a commitment to support €300bn in investments and reforms, Europe must act now to improve energy security and scale decarbonisation technologies to deliver climate neutrality by 2050.

Gaseous fuel power technologies can play a critical role in Europe’s power mix, not only as a reliable transition technology to help ensure grid stability, but also as a sustainable destination technology. Moving forward, deployed technologies must be compatible with long-term climate objectives. With the right investments in low-carbon gases, such as hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, gas power generation can progressively decarbonise and support sector electrification, paving a clear path to 2050 while avoiding stranded assets.

General Electric (GE), for example, has already shown that this can be achieved: the technology exists and is operational. Recently, a coal-fire unit project with ORLEN Group in Poland was transformed into a new agreement for the construction of a 745 MW gas-fired power plant, delivering low-carbon power. Moreover, more than 100 of GE’s gas turbines currently use hydrogen or similar alternative fuels and are therefore able to co-fire natural gas with cleaner fuels, such as hydrogen and biomethane.

Breakthrough decarbonisation technologies, such as CCS and hydrogen, are pivotal for unlocking a carbon-neutral future. Against the backdrop of nuclear and coal phase-out in a number of European countries, massive investments are needed to future-proof Europe’s energy supply. The revised TEN-E Regulation facilitates new public investments in these projects but reaching scale will require a combination of public and private support.

We need coordinated European regulation and incentive mechanisms to roll out the necessary energy infrastructure quickly and efficiently

Corporate leaders in power generation are already taking action to concretely support this transition and build an energy system that works for everyone. GE is uniquely positioned to play a collaborative role, with years of expertise in the industry and complementary technologies, including renewables, gas technology, nuclear, grid and digital, and a large spectrum of power generation and distribution.

Getting the regulation right and strengthening energy grids is key. The radical overhaul of Europe’s energy model, with the twin track to decarbonise and secure energy sovereignty, requires ambitious action from policymakers and industry alike. At the same time, we are all grappling with new realities and market dynamics generated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The challenge for industry and electricity generation is to adjust the market design to ensure energy security, affordability and decarbonisation. Accomplishing this simultaneously is no mean feat. To get there, the right incentives are required to attract investment in the right type of capacity. We need coordinated European regulation and incentive mechanisms to roll out the necessary energy infrastructure quickly and efficiently.

The EU energy grid must also be prepared for the changes ahead by accelerating physical and digital upgrades to better manage the increase in decentralised renewables. For renewables to be truly integrated into power systems, the EU will have to ramp up permit allocations – as addressed by REPowerEU – but also grid improvements. There is a visible need for better efficiency, improved stability and greater interconnectivity of electricity grids.

The nature of climate change requires solutions using a global perspective

Europe should act as a global leader and partner. International and regional cooperation is also critical in order to secure short-term supplies and empower green energy production. This is equally vital in securing the raw materials needed to deploy renewables at scale. The EU must prioritise partnerships with democratic states that support EU values and pursue a green agenda.

At the same time, while scaling up imports of clean energy, such as green hydrogen, we must be mindful not to accelerate Europe’s green transition at the expense of developing economies. The nature of climate change requires solutions using a global perspective.

How can the EU make the holistic approach work? Europe’s foremost priority is maintaining energy security and weaning itself off dependence on Russian imports, while upholding Green Deal goals. This Herculean effort requires action on all fronts from industry and governments, while keeping the end goal of transforming the energy sector and wider European economy for a green and sustainable future.

Getting the energy mix right by boosting renewables and harnessing gaseous fuel power technologies is vital to realising this. Taking a holistic approach to the most urgent challenges facing Europe today through investment, incentivisation and reliable partnerships is the key to success.

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