The real energy transition? The best of us
It is one of the most debated topics in this period, when it comes to energy.
The crisis unleashed by the Russia-Ukraine war, the exponential increase in the cost of energy, Europe's desire to free itself from Russian gas, the drive towards the decarbonisation of energy consumption.
What is the final solution to all of this? We will be able to discuss endlessly about which is the best energy source that will satisfy our ever-increasing "hunger", probably without finding a single answer and all agree.
Electricity, natural gas, green gas, hydrogen, renewable energy from the sun, air, wind, water, land, nuclear, etc. What is the right way? Is it reasonable to think that there is only one answer?
Let's start with some data: in 2021 in Italy roughly 310 billion kWh of electricity were consumed (Terna data), while about 75 billion m3 of natural gas were used (MiTE data). Considering that each m3 of gas contains approximately 10 kWh of thermal energy, we have a gas consumption of approximately 750 billion kWh.
The greater energy requirement is therefore now covered by natural gas, which however has now highlighted two critical issues: it is a "clean" fuel, but its combustion produces carbon dioxide (CO2) which contributes to the generation of the terrestrial greenhouse effect, the cause of climate change we are all witnessing, moreover it is a source of energy (energy vector) that 90% of which we import from foreign countries and in particular, as is well known, from Russia. We are therefore subject to potential "blackmail" from the countries that supply us with gas, with the consequences that we all have under our own eyes.
Then, the most logical way would seem to be to throw oneself on electricity, which could be produced totally, or almost entirely, in Italy, mainly through renewable sources, primarily the sun, which Italy can have at its disposal. And it is undeniable that using renewable energy would be the exact direction towards the energy transition and the longed for climate neutrality.
But is it realistic to think that this happens, or rather, that it can happen in a short or medium term? Electricity in Italy today is produced for the most part thanks to thermoelectric power plants, powered mainly by natural gas. The electricity produced by photovoltaic systems in 2021 covered only about 8% of the electricity needs, and as a whole, renewable energy contributed about 36%.
The main problems of renewables for the production of "green" electricity are, as is now known, two: the first is the intermittency and unpredictability of production (both the wind and the sun are neither constant nor predictable), the second it is the impossibility of storing significant quantities of electricity (batteries are fine, but only if we refer to a few tens of kWh accumulated).
How then, considering that natural gas is of fossil origin and imported from abroad? One of the proposals, clearly included in the national PNRR strategy, is to keep the gas vector as an energy source, but gradually transforming it into "green" gas produced in our country.
Today's gaseous fossil fuel can become "green" by changing our energy strategy, focusing on two different renewable sources: biomethane and hydrogen.
Biomethane is currently produced in various Italian sites and injected into the network. Today's statistics estimate the amount of gas produced in Europe to be around 3.5 billion m3 (and Italy is one of the main producers), which the European energy strategy expects to bring to 35 billion m3 by 2030.
Green hydrogen can be produced from a renewable source, electricity from photovoltaics, which powers electrolysers. In this way, gaseous hydrogen is produced, simply using water as a raw material and obtaining oxygen as "waste".
From SNAM website (https://www.snam.it/en/energy_transition/hydrogen/hydrogen/index.html)
The methods are clear, making them operational and getting the product available immediately is anything but immediate.
So we firmly believe that the real solution is and will be the energy mix. The gas will not disappear, but it will evolve from fossil to green. But it will take some time. In the meantime, the use of electricity, and in particular that from renewable sources, will have to grow and work alongside the gas carrier to obtain complementary energy resources. Not to replace, but to support an ever-increasing demand for energy, balancing its availability with that of natural gas, pending the transition towards complete sustainability.
Totally renewable electricity could be the point of arrival, gas the most suitable means to reach this goal. We, producers of gas and renewable energy solutions, continue to take our responsibility towards the environment, proposing highly efficient solutions, to make the best use of current resources, but ready to take up the challenges that the market and the economic and political conditions impose, for the future of our planet.