What will the energy industry look like in the year 2050? And what consequences will that have for the gas market? Interesting questions, which are prompting the publication of ever more studies and forecasts to find answers. Even though many of these studies differ in their specific figures and results, they have one thing in common: they describe an energy world that doesn’t have a lot in common with the one we are familiar with today. The general consensus is that renewable energies will play an ever greater role, as will climate protection and energy efficiency.
The Energy Reference Forecast, on which large parts of the German energy and climate policy are based, depicts the following image of the market, for example:
- Primary energy consumption will continually fall, while economic output increases at the same time. The growing energy needs of Asian economies mean the prices of crude oil, natural gas and steam coal on international markets are set to rise.
- Renewables continue to make a fast-growing contribution to energy supplies. More than half of all renewables will be used for electricity production.
- Energy-based greenhouse gas emissions will be more than 50% lower in 2050 than in 1990, the Kyoto year. The reason for this is falling primary energy consumption and its level of greenhouse gas intensity, which is falling over the long term.
- Thanks to increasingly efficient vehicles, the energy consumption in the transport sector will go down. Expansion of electromobility will make a contribution here too. Petrol and diesel will lose ground in favour of biofuels, electricity and natural gas.
- The national market areas for electrical power in Europe will continue to consolidate. Here, network expansion will also play a central role, which will further develop in Germany thanks to the changed institutional framework.
- The installed generation capacity of the German power plant fleet continues to rise. This is down primarily to the low contribution to guaranteed output made by the strongly growing renewable energies. High CO2 allowance prices will ensure growing proportions of natural gas in energy production by 2050.
 See “Development of Energy Markets – Energy Reference Forecast”, commissioned by the German Ministry of Economics (BMWi) from Prognos AG, the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne (EWI) and the Institute of Economic Structure Research (GWS), 2014.
Future of the gas market
The gas industry therefore faces the challenge of defining its own role in the energy market of the future and then fulfilling this role. As it does so, factors like power-to-gas and biogas in particular will feature significantly. Natural gas and natural gas infrastructure harbour enormous potential when it comes to becoming and remaining the partner to renewable energies in the energy system of the future. On the one hand, this is because natural gas can work alongside the use of renewable energies in a way that is environmentally friendly and spans different sectors (electricity, heat, mobility, industry). On the other, the natural gas infrastructure offers an outstanding energy network, with which the energy flows of the future could be realised quietly and underground – a smart grid that’s already in place.
In the short and medium term, it is also important in this regard to strengthen the competitiveness of gas as an energy source. One key factor here is the development of the European internal market. Cross-border trade in natural gas needs to be simplified, because borders not only make a product more expensive, but also harder to get hold of. Breaking down these borders is something the EU is working on with the creation of an EU internal market – and not only for natural gas. This development must be carried forward by the member states in particular, although the harmonisation of rules in the markets that would join together does pose a challenge.
The gas industry has recognised this challenge and is working at full steam to find answers to the questions that arise from the fundamental change in the energy world. In order to ensure its own ideas and proposed solutions are heard, the gas industry is trying, for example, to gain a foothold in the social and political debate through associations like Zukunft Erdgas, FNB Gas, DVGW, INES and EFET.