ICGB sees future potential for hydrogen to flow along Greece-Bulgaria gas pipeline

ICGB sees future potential for hydrogen to flow along Greece-Bulgaria gas pipeline

ICGB is the developer and independent transmission operator of the 182-km Greece-Bulgaria natural gas interconnector (IGB), which was commissioned in late 2022. On the Bulgarian side, the company is led by Teodora Georgieva, Executive Officer. ICGB is held equally by state-owned Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) and IGI Poseidon, a joint venture of the Greek DEPA International Projects and the Italian energy group Edison.

The IGB went live on October 1, 2022 ensuring the flow of 1 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas per year from Azerbaijan into Bulgaria. What is the likelihood that the pipeline will start carrying hydrogen in the future and in what quantities or percentage of capacity? What necessary modifications must the transmission infrastructure undergo for that purpose?

With its successful launch in October 2022, IGB reshaped the region’s energy map and opened an entirely new route for diversified and secure natural gas deliveries. At present, considering the challenging new environment created by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, supplying Bulgaria with natural gas and allowing transportation of quantities to other countries in the region is the main priority. Yet, as a transmission operator developing infrastructure that will be exploited for the next few decades, ICGB is naturally already looking at future opportunities, including the use of hydrogen.

We are currently researching hydrogen transmission possibilities in all relevant aspects – technical, economic and regulatory. The likely infrastructure modifications needed relate to special metering and gas quality equipment, improved sealing of valves and fittings and more advanced safety systems.

In addition, IGB is only one part of a much bigger picture or perhaps even two bigger pictures. One is the general possibility to transport H2 via existing natural gas pipelines, but for that to happen, at least several consecutive infrastructure operators should be ready for hydrogen transportation to/from a certain destination.

The transmission service is just complementary to a market of a given commodity itself, being it natural gas, hydrogen, etc. We need a hydrogen market to be serviced by us, the transmission operators. A market with its fundamentals of supply and demand, different levels, and specific regulations. The whole economic value chain regarding the H2-production, its delivery to the entry points of the pipeline systems, its direction, and final use is still undeveloped.

Bulgaria stands to get 35 mln euro in funding under the EU-backed national Recovery and Resilience plan (RRP) to develop 55 MW or over 4,300 tonnes/year of renewable hydrogen production capacity by 2030. What role could IGB play in developing that capacity and what investments will need to be made to back that effort in the near future?

Considering ICGB has the role of an independent transmission operator, we will be closely following the trends in the transmission of natural gas and maybe hydrogen in the future. I believe we will more likely blend if that market develops. Potential investments concern necessary technical modifications and possibly the physical connection of hydrogen production sites to IGB, if such are to appear along the pipeline route. Of course, ICGB is and will remain open to communications with government bodies and business for further developments in that respect. After all, the European Union, and Bulgaria as a member state, are looking at greener solutions that would enable reaching the energy transition goals. As a company developing an energy project that’s a true game-changer, ICGB has every interest in being a part of that process of change.

Could modifications be made to the pipeline to transport other types of renewable fuel, e.g. biomethane?

The injection of green hydrogen and biomethane is currently seen as the next step towards the decarbonisation of the gas sector in several countries. However, the introduction of these gases in existing infrastructure has energy sector-related, material and operational implications that should be carefully looked at. According to various studies, hydrogen content up to 20% by volume appears to be possible to accommodate in the current infrastructure with only minor technical modifications. However, at the Distribution System Operator (DSO) level, the introduction of gas quality tracking systems will be required due to the distributed injection nature of hydrogen and biomethane. The different tolerances for hydrogen blending of consumers, depending on end-use equipment will be critical during the transition period to a 100% green gas grid as there is a risk of pushing consumers off the grid.

What role do you see for current gas transmission grids in 30 years’ time? How could ICGB contribute to the inclusion of renewable energy sources in the energy mix of Bulgaria and the SEE region?

From today’s perspective, I should say IGB will hold the role of an extremely interlinked and harmonised pan-European transmission network with the possibility to accommodate different types of gases produced and used in climate-neutral ways.

ICGB’s contribution with respect to the renewables sector lies in the transmission of energy stored in the form of gas. It goes without saying that the main present disadvantages of renewable energy sources are balancing and storage of generated energy. That is where hydrogen is deemed to be the answer so far and where IGB comes to use by transporting it. Perhaps it will be not long before we will be providing transmission of hydrogen from Greece north to Bulgaria and the wider region, using wind or solar power, coming from either the Mediterranean coastline or delivered via Floating Storage Regasification Units.

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