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A new economic miracle for Europe built on renewable energy

The common threat to the economic prosperity of every member state of the European Union is a breakdown in energy supply, because we have to rely on fossil fuels in the form of oil and gas imported from regions of the world where there are wars and human rights abuses. An even greater threat – to all citizens of the world and not just to those living in Europe – is climate change caused by global warming which itself is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. How could renewable forms of energy, such as solar and wind power be developed to meet the energy needs of every EU member state?

There is a problem with renewable sources of energy such as the sun and wind: electricity can only be generated by photovoltaic solar panels when the sun is shining; or by wind turbines when the wind is blowing. Unless energy can be stored, renewable energy is unable to meet the needs of consumers at other times.

A recent article by Jasper Sky published on 2nd July 2014 on DW’s website, entitled: “‘Power-to-gas’ may solve renewables storage challenge”, describes how renewable energy can be used to produce hydrogen and mythane in a process called ‘power-to-gas’. See http://www.dw.de/power-to-gas-may-solve-renewables-storage-challenge/a-17754416 . Electricity generated by solar panels or wind turbines need not be transferred directly into a national grid, but could be used in the electrolysis process to convert water and carbon dioxide into gas.

In the article Jasper Sky said: “In principle, the technology proposition is straightforward. Germany, like most developed countries, already has a well-developed network of pipelines and storage tanks for natural gas. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is used to heat homes and generate electricity in gas turbines. Methane, the main component of natural gas, also serves as a basic feedstock for the petrochemical industry, which makes everything from plastics to pharmaceuticals.”

Two examples were mentioned in the DW article where the power-to-gas process had been put into practice in Germany: the Audi car manufacturer has opened a six megawatt e-gas plant at Werlte in Emsland. See the Audi World webite at http://www.audiworld.com/articles/world-premiere-audi-opens-power-to-gas-facility/ . According to Audi World the synthetic mythane produced at this plant: “is virtually identical to fossil natural gas and will be distributed via an existing infrastructure, the German natural gas network, to the CNG filling stations.”

The other power-to-gas project mentioned in the DW article is the E.ON and Swissgas parnership at Falkenhagen near Berlin. At this plant electricity from wind power is used in the electrolysis process to produce gas that is then pumped into the existing gas network for distribution. See article on E.ON’s website at http://www.eon.com/en/media/news/press-releases/2013/8/28/eon-inaugurates-power-to-gas-unit-in-falkenhagen-in-eastern-germany.html .

Gradually very small e-gas production plants using power from renewable energy sources, are being put into practice by companies such as ETOGAS in Germany. Similar power-to-gas plants could soon be providing the energy needs for consumers in villages, towns and cities across Europe, as a response to the economic, environmental, and security crisis caused by our reliance on imported oil and gas. For every member state of the European Union the investment in power-to-gas technology – as a means of capturing and storing renewable energy – could lead to a new sustainable economic miracle that would free Europe from its dependence on fossil fuels.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2014



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