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Big role for gas in global energy mix


From Mr Malcolm Brinded.

Sir, Jürgen Grossman, RWE’s chief executive, makes some important points in articulating the scale of the challenge involved in reducing the carbon footprint of energy production (“Germany faces ‘Herculean’ task with move to renewables”, Special Reports, Energy, December 5). But reconciling economic growth and climate change is not a straight choice between nuclear and renewables. As a result of recent major increases in the global estimates of natural gas resources, energy policymakers should now be confident that they can count on abundant, affordable and acceptable natural gas today and for many decades to come. This is why Angela Merkel is right when she outlines a central role for gas in Germany’s new energy future.

Chancellor Merkel’s analysis should resonate across Europe and the rest of the world. Over the next 40 years, the world will need twice as much energy, but with half the carbon emissions. The simplest, fastest and cheapest way to achieve this will be for gas to displace coal in power generation in the next 20 years. Europe has the potential to lead the world here, because switching to gas-fired power generation would cut emissions now.

Modern gas-fired power plants emit approximately 50 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal plants. Europe is within economic distance of 70 per cent of the world’s gas reserves and has a well-established gas infrastructure. What’s more, a switch to gas wouldn’t come at the expense of renewable energy. Fear among non-governmental organisations and politicians that a stronger focus on natural gas will lock in another generation of fossil fuel plants – and drive out investment in renewables – misses the point. The flexibility of gas power is the natural complement to the intermittency of renewables.

And as for historic security of supply concerns, we now see many new countries exporting gas, plus much increased capacity to import liquefied natural gas into Europe – all of which creates a much more resilient supply situation.

Governments and regulators worldwide must acknowledge, welcome and encourage the role that gas can play in the future energy mix, through energy and power market policies that properly recognise the CO2 benefits, reliability and flexibility of gas power.

7 December 2011

Malcolm Brinded, Executive Director, Upstream International Royal Dutch Shell, London SE1, UK


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