Natural gas pipelines are at risk of becoming stranded assets by mid-century as the European Commission pursues its 2050 decarbonization strategy, EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete warned late last month.
“We will have fully decarbonized the European Union in 2050,” he said, “and the role of gas will not be the same in 2050 than today.”
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While fossil fuels “may still be needed” in sectors like plastics and petrochemicals, renewable energy sources plus nuclear generation “will be the backbone” of the continent’s electricity system, including electric mobility, Cañete added.
“That’s why we must be very clever when managing investment in infrastructure that they don’t become stranded assets,” he told Euractiv. It also explains why the EU’s recent energy infrastructure investments have focused “on electricity projects and not so much on gas pipelines”.
Euractiv speculates that Cañete’s comments may have focused at least in part on the intensely controversial Nord Stream II gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. “However, the context in which his comment was framed, focusing on the EU’s long-term decarbonization efforts, suggests it applies across the board to any pipeline project that increases the EU’s reliance on imported gas.”
The strategy says reducing fossil fuel dependence would cut import costs by €2 to €3 trillion between 2031 and 2050, free up funds to modernize the EU economy, and “positively impact EU’s trade and geopolitical position”.
Jonathan Gaventa, director of climate and energy think tank E3G, said a “focus on avoiding stranded infrastructure assets is very much needed,” adding that Europe’s natural gas network is already “oversized” in most parts of the continent. “It is clear that the role of gas will decline dramatically in both 1.5°C scenarios and will grow in none of them,” agreed E3G Senior Policy Advisor Lisa Fisher. But that reality is largely ignored in the EU’s 2021-2027 budget.
“The current infrastructure priorities would continue to lock the EU into the worst of both worlds and hinder instead of help the transition,” she told Euractiv.
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