Antoni Peris – President, Spanish Gas Association (SEDIGAS)
Antoni Peris, president of the Spanish Gas Association (SEDIGAS), discusses the efforts both in Spain and across Europe to advocate for the increased utilization of natural gas, and the progress & challenges he has seen during these efforts in recent years. He also expands on the pivotal role that Spain can play with regards to Europe’s broader energy portfolio given the strong natural gas infrastructure in the country as well as the expertise and know-how of Spanish firms.
As an introduction for our international readers, could you provide us with a brief overview of your professional experience as well as what your top agenda priorities are at the moment?
“Spain should be the southwestern gate to Europe in terms of energy, and we have been working towards becoming an energy hub for several years.”
I am an engineer, and I have been working in the gas industry since the beginning of my career in 1984. Over the course of these years my career has been devoted to gas distribution, and since 2012 I have also been involved in LNG distribution. Additionally, in 2007, I was elected president of SEDIGAS. In terms of agenda priorities, we must demonstrate and convince Spanish policymakers that gas has a key role to play in the energy transition, as we believe it has. In Spain, as we are part of the European Union, regulations come from Brussels, and this means that part of our job is to be in touch with the European community and demonstrate, as an entire industry, that gas has a key role to play. We are convinced this is true, as gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels and we believe there are many opportunities for gas to be part of the new energy mix. This is where our focus is on a daily basis.
In Spain, we believe that there are opportunities for introducing new ways of using gas. We still have 70 percent of households that are not connected to gas, which is quite a bit below the 50 percent average across the EU in general. We think that gas also could be part of this smart energy system, that we could use gas as a way to store energy, to transform electricity, and we believe that there are many opportunities in this regard. However, to accomplish this, we will truly have to transform current energy models.
While pursuing this goal of increasing the usage of gas within Spain, how receptive have you found the authorities, and what have been some of the issues that you have had to tackle?
We have found the authorities to be quite receptive, as they know that gas has to be a part of the energy solution, and they are aware of the many associated advantages of using gas. Several Spanish companies are active in European projects that are developing compressed natural gas for vehicle fueling stations, which are part of the Alternative Fuel Directive, and obviously natural gas is a part of this program. We are also active in developing projects for this objective, and just recently we completed a project in partnership with Portuguese and French companies.
Many of the measures taken to address broader environmental issues, such as alternative fuels, can actually end up exacerbating the problems we see in terms of pollution itself. Sometimes, policymakers make decisions trying to address climate change, yet they have unwanted consequences, and actually increase pollution. We believe that if gas is utilized more, all of the collateral effects could be avoided.
Renewables and natural gas are definitely the best partners. To this respect, everyone understands that renewables find themselves in need of a back up source of energy, not only as for power generation but regarding other thermal applications as well. As long as secure of supply continues to be a priority, we believe this partnership –gas and renewables- will endure.
As you know, in Europe there are several projects focused on renewables as well as gas, and we think there is an opportunity here in Spain to introduce new technologies in this regard. There are a lot of threats to the system, from everything from emissions and renewables to the electrification of transportation in big cities, and as an industry, we will need to adapt to these changes.
How much of a threat do you find renewable energy, and what role do you think the natural gas industry can play in supporting the development of new technologies?
From my point of view, renewables do not pose a threat. A huge amount of money is spent on introducing and developing renewables that are simply not competitive, and this does not make sense. We believe that European policies on this issue need to be reviewed. Introducing renewables costs a lot of money, and despite their introduction, we have actually seen on many occasions an increase in Co2 emissions, as countries for example turn to coal for backup; it is unacceptable in this day and age to turn to the most polluting source of energy. Looking at the climate change agenda, something is wrong in how we are addressing the issue today, as we are producing more Co2 than we were previously, while at the same time investing a lot of money in renewables. We are convinced that gas has a role to play in addressing such issues.
Renewables are new ways of producing energy, however, what we always say is that the focus should be on using the best and most efficient way to produce energy. We believe that gas is the best partner for renewables, because everyone knows gas is the most efficient source of energy. Unlike renewables which are only produced when there is wind for the turbines or sun for the solar panels, gas allows energy to be produced when the customer needs it – which is obviously more convenient for the customer. Renewables always need another source of energy for backup, and natural gas is the best partner for this.
Many of these issues require you to look at the broader region, and Spain is uniquely positioned with regards to Europe’s natural gas agenda, both in terms of the de-carbonization agenda but also diversification of supply. What role do you see Spain as having as a potential energy hub to contribute to Europe’s gas agenda?
Spain should be the southwestern gate to Europe in terms of energy, and we have been working towards becoming an energy hub for several years. We have six regasification plants and a very strong infrastructure, as well as two pipelines connecting Spain with Northern Africa, resulting in an installed capacity of roughly 90 billion cubic meters, and that means that we have the potential in terms of being part of the energy mix for all of Europe. Additionally, LNG gives the possibility to the system of having cargo coming from every part of the world, which gives you much more flexibility in terms of securing supply.
Given this existing infrastructure, as well as Spain’s expertise in this field, what is causing the delays of connecting to Europe, and what can be done to make progress on this front?
This is a very complicated issue, and from our point of view there are several reasons for the delay. One of these is that, for many years, France had not been promoting the development of these connections. We have had a lot of meetings with the French to advocate for it; yet we still do not have this connection. However, that being said, I am pleased to say that we have seen some positive changes recently. In part, this has been spurred along by a growing recognition across Europe of the huge potential in terms of energy that southwestern Europe represents. We have been active in this regard and have conducted many meetings to raise this issue. For example, the Spanish regulator has been meeting with many groups, and Enagas, Spain’s leading natural gas transmission company and technical manager of the Spanish gas system, has been working actively to move the issue forward. Our government has also been deeply involved in the promotion of this project within EC.
I believe that all of these actions have helped move this project forward. It is not moving as fast as we would like it to, but we are seeing progress, and people are actively working to try and find solutions.
During your illustrious career in the energy sector, how have you seen the reputation of Spanish energy firms develop over the years internationally?
The reputation of Spanish companies has improved dramatically since the early 1990s when most firms started their international operations, mainly in South America at the time. Today, Spanish firms have a very strong reputation internationally, not only from the technical point of view but from the commercial one as well. The Spanish gas sector, in terms of LNG facilities, is one of the leading in the world, and this has boosted our reputation in the LNG market not just in terms of facilities but also in terms of using LNG as an alternative to pipelines. We are experts in these fields, and that is well known internationally. Spanish companies have a reputation of employing seasoned, talented people in all parts of the industry, and we have had successful international operations and a proven track record of being effective. It does not matter which segment of the industry, we have strong and comprehensive expertise.