With nuclear power generation being phased out, coal considered too inflexible and the potential for shale gas to overcome current negative connotations in parts of Europe, natural gas as a source of electricity generation is drawing increased interest in Germany, which is rapidly moving toward total reliance on renewable sources for power generation.
"The ideal compensation for renewables is natural gas," said Ruggero Schleicher-Tappeser, a physicist and Berlin-based energy consultant. "With gas turbines you can very flexibly move generation up and down, and you can have lower upfront costs, too." Germany is pondering what to do after the planned shutdown of its nuclear generation fleet by 2022, he said.
"We have also had discussion on shale gas along the model of the exploration going on in the United States, and in Germany and France there are suspected [probable] reserves, but public opposition is very strong because of the hydraulic fracturing [fracking]."
He said the concerns about fallout from the chemicals used, and the fact that Europe is much more densely populated than the United States, have worried average Europeans. The population generally cannot be buffered as much from the exploration and production, should shale suddenly take on the mass development that North America is experiencing, Schleicher-Tappeser said.
Giant global oil/gas producer Total has proposed exploring shale areas in France without fracking, but the French government has refused to let the company proceed with very preliminary studies, a Paris-based Total spokesperson told NGI's Shale Daily.
Schleicher-Tappeser said there are "guesses" that there might be a lot of shale in places in Europe, but what he called "a large number of influential people say there is no chance to get to it. We don't see it as a long-term option over here."
Nevertheless, he said gas is -- and will continue -- playing a strong role as a balancing fuel for renewables, and without nuclear over the longer term, it will become more important in the German energy mix. There is a strong gas infrastructure system to rely on, according to Schleicher-Tappeser.
Total confirmed that this is the case in its European operations. Unconventional gas and oil are a key part of its strategies for the future, the Total spokesperson said.
"Generally, the pipeline and storage infrastructure for Europe is excellent," Schleicher-Tappeser said. "We have a very dense [gas] grid and storage facilities that are very good as well."
At its peak nuclear provided close to 30% of Germany's electricity and gas has provided about 25%, mostly from the North Sea and Russia, according to Schleicher-Tappeser.