How far away are we from using power-to-gas?
Electrolyzers are already in standard use, even in larger power plants. With respect to methanization, the basic process is very old, but for this application’s large-scale production, there are still a lot of technological options to be tested. However, we think it is the right time to enter because we see this as a deployed technology in some 20 years ahead, especially with regard to the huge storage capabilities of the existing gas grid.
Talking about the gas grid – how compatible are all these multimodal energy systems with the conventional power sector?
A question I am frequently being asked is this: Can we be friends with the conventional sector? To a lot of people’s surprise, the answer is: Yes, we can. Conventional power plants today will be the balancing power plants of the future. There are very strong reasons to assume that balancing should be centralized: for cost reasons, and also for electrical control reasons. So we need them. Certainly, there will be a change of fuel. Instead of carbon fuels, synthetic gas will be used, which means that in a gas-fueled power plant, everything is already in place. Substituting natural methane with synthetic methane really is nothing. And there is another question: When you want to synthesize methane, where does the CO2 needed for the synthesis come from? I think that you can run the whole process in a closed cycle. You use the CO2 coming out of a gas-fired power plant and store it on-site for the next time you need to synthesize methane. In that regard, gas-fired power plants will be a necessary, integral part of the scheme. Yes, they only have to operate 1,000 hours a year, and you have to devise a business case for that. But that will not be a large problem if the political will is there.
Why should a utility invest in multimodal energy systems?
Because they will come. The advocates of energy system transformations worldwide, certainly after the Paris Agreement, will force systems to change. But stakeholders in the energy industry as well as in politics will have to agree on the way to go. Presently, we are making decisions going the wrong way. We endorse coal, for instance, rather than gas. At the same time, we see a lot of stakeholders who are surprised that things they thought would never happen are happening today. Many of those companies now come to us and ask for advice.
How important is digitalization in making sector coupling a success?
Digitalization is simply indispensable. If I owned a heat pump, I would want to have an optimized price mechanism, especially if I have a huge storage of some 10 cubic meters or more. Smart energy management systems will take care of heating water whenever power is at its cheapest, and this will be assured by connections to a prognosis and a market server. Having every prosumer making business with anyone, anytime through money transfer mechanisms based on technology, e.g., blockchain technology, is another prerequisite for optimized processes. And it goes without saying that grids should be smart. Wherever power lines are laid today, glass fiber is already there – and it simply does not make sense to have one without the other.