Helena Peñas: “Decarbonisation objectives and circular economy principles must go hand in hand in energy transition”
Norvento Enerxía is a Lugo-based company with four decades of experience in the renewable energy sector. Norvento develops and operates large renewable generation plants, designs and manufactures technology for energy generation and storage, and provides advanced energy solutions for self-consumption to industrial clients around the world.
In its trajectory there have always been values based on research, technological development and innovation, as well as sustainability and respect for the environment, which has led to its alliance with CETIM Technological Centre, through ZEPPELIN project, which seeks to obtain Green Hydrogen based on a circular economy.
Today we talk to Helena Peñas, Head of Bioenergy and Renewable Gases at Norvento Enerxía, who will analyse the current situation of renewable energy and will give us the main keys to face the new challenges that the future holds for this sector, focusing on the role of hydrogen as a new energy vector.
Norvento is a pioneering company in renewable energies. Its origins date back to 1981, and since then it has entered different sectors (hydroelectric, wind, biogas, solar, self-consumption, etc.) What are the company’s main markets today?
Norvento is a growing company in a booming sector. Since its origins, it has been evolving its portfolio, trying to anticipate the market and always focusing on innovation at energy transition service.
Currently, Norvento develops and operates large renewable generation of different technologies. Mainly wind installations, with an additional 1,000 MW under development in our portfolio, both in our country and abroad.
Another Norvento field of action is to provide advanced renewable energy solutions, adapted to each client needs. This includes services based on renewable gases, photovoltaics and energy storage. In many of these projects, Norvento markets its own technology products, another of the company’s main assets, including medium-power wind turbines, converters and containerised storage systems.
COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine have led to a considerable rise in energy prices in general, and natural gas in particular. What role do you think renewable gases play in this context of the need to accelerate the energy transition?
In order to meet the propose Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, everything points to a progressive renewable electrification, and to give impetus to a greater flexibility of the system to manage surpluses -energy storage-.
However, achieving zero emissions with a 2050 horizon implies the total economy decarbonisation, including those sectors that are most difficult to “electrify”, such as industrial heat demand or heavy transport. In this context, renewable gases (biogas, hydrogen) contribute to solving both problems -storage, decarbonisation-, and it is therefore expected to be a key element in our economy in order to achieve neutrality.
On the other hand, war and recent crises (health, economic) have generated disturbances in the energy market, and collaterally promote those projects that favour consumers energy independence, at any level. Thus, since 2022 beginning, the NG price has increased drastically, favouring renewable gas projects, which have already enjoyed growing interest in recent years.
Almost a decade has passed since Norvento’s first biogas plant. What are the challenges currently facing renewable gases production and the necessary levers?
That’s right. Norvento began in the biogas world as a pioneer in Galicia, and currently has several of its own plants for this renewable gas, some of which have been in operation for almost a decade. The truth is that, although biogas is a mature technology with a long history outside of Spain, sector is still “taking off” in our country, and to speed up its deployment it is necessary to overcome the barriers that still make it difficult. Some of these barriers include a complex regulatory framework, affected by numerous sectoral laws. Long processing periods could make the execution of some projects unfeasible in the short term.
Another key measure to promote renewable gas projects in Spain is the implementation of incentive systems to promote their generation and consumption. An example is the “guarantees of origin”, recently introduced in Spain, and whose function is to confirm to final consumer that gas purchased has been produced from renewable sources.
What does hydrogen appearance as a new energy vector mean?
Although this is not the first time that hydrogen has positioned itself to burst into energy outlook, in the current context – massive deployment of renewable energies, decarbonisation objectives, etc. – this renewable gas emerges as a key link for the use of surplus renewable energies and decarbonisation of non-electric energy demand. Without forgetting the decarbonisation of the hydrogen usual uses as a raw material -refineries and fertiliser production-. To satisfy this already existing demand for hydrogen (more than 70 Mt per year), it is estimated that 6% of the world’s natural gas is used, with the consequent emission of CO2 equivalent…
For large-scale implementation of green hydrogen, the industrial technological maturity of the value chain is sufficient so that barrier is not of a technical nature in any case. The barriers (infrastructures adaptation, production cost, regulation…) will depend on each application for green hydrogen, and will be function of the market.
In the ZEPPELIN industrial research project MISSIONS, Norvento collaborates with CETIM and a leading business consortium in the production of green hydrogen from the products and waste valorisation. What will be the relevance and impact of the circular economy application for hydrogen production in the future?
We believe that the decarbonisation objectives and the circular economy principles must go hand in hand in the energy transition. In this sense, adapting or optimising waste management is key to mitigating GHG emissions. Similarly, the industrial symbiosis projects promotion -the waste or by-products of one industry become raw materials for the same or another – already favours the entry of renewable gases – biogas or biomethane – into the energy panorama.
Within Zeppelin project, Norvento and CETIM are researching a process called “dark fermentation”, which aims to generate hydrogen from waste and organic by-products, through a biological process -similar to anaerobic digestion-. Currently the level of development is medium, but important advances are expected in the coming years for this technology and its variants, which present great advantages for the generation of green hydrogen compared to the conventional process, such as not needing water or energy.
«Having a reference multisectoral research centre like CETIM enriches exchanges and catalyses the conception of new ideas, as well as favouring projects progress»
What is the impact participating in projects of this type for Norvento?
For Norvento, participation in this type of project is great importance, as it places us at the technological forefront to face the challenges linked to the energy transition, and allows us to investigate and verify first-hand the potential of emerging technologies and processes, as well as to advance in the development of specific processes. All of this results in greater responsiveness and more future versatility for our customers.
In addition, having a leading multisectoral research centre such as CETIM, with which we have been working for some time now under an open and collaborative collaboration model, enriches exchanges and catalyses the new ideas conception, as well as favouring the projects progress.
Administrations are promoting renewable gases, with the creation of different initiatives or instruments such as “Hydrogen Roadmap” and “Biogas Roadmap”. How important is this support? Will it allow biomethane and biohydrogen to consolidate in Galicia and Spain?
At Norvento, we believe that it is essential for Administrations to promote renewable gases, and we understand the Roadmaps as an essential first step that outlines the path to follow and sets out Spain’s intentions and positioning with regard to renewable gases development.
In case of hydrogen, although there is a gap between reflected ambitions and the progress of the real execution capacity, data confirm that progress is being made at a good pace and that Spain responds in line with the EU to the objectives set (indicators to 2030) both in electrolysis capacity and in % replacement of gray H2. We believe that in Spain the implementation of green hydrogen economy will be of particular relevance, as there is no fossil resource available, but there is an abundance of renewable resources (prospectively at lower cost).
In case of biogas, we understand that Roadmap comes at a good time (a lot of latent interest, ongoing projects…). Although it is perhaps little unambitious (target of 10.4 TWh compared to more than 130 TWh of potential available in advance), it is positive that the approach includes all applications (self-consumption, biomethane, vehicular), as various types of projects may coexist according to their specific characteristics, both those that seek to capture large amount of waste and smaller others of a smaller size that pursue a resilient self-consumption model under a private promotion.
Along the same line, at international level, in 2020 European Commission approved European Green Pact, a set of measures to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 in European Union. Do you think we are on the right track? What role does Norvento hope to play in achieving this objective?
The ultimate goal is to reduce emissions, in 2023, by 55% compared to 1990 and make EU climate neutral in 2050. Goals pursued are ambitious in a global context where demand for primary energy continues to grow (energy sector is responsible for 44.3% of GHG emissions). However, end of the road has been mapped out and different countries are joining forces to decarbonise this sector with necessary deployment of renewable energies and introduction of renewable gases in the global energy panorama.
Norvento, with its ability to act comprehensively in the renewable energy sector, and its accumulated experience, faces these challenges with confidence and always with the aim of continuing to offer the best solutions for its customers, always aligned with the principles of energy transition and sustainability.
Norvento Enerxía is a Galician family business, based in Lugo, which designs and manufactures wind turbines and electronic converters, distributed generation projects and microgrids. It is also responsible for the promotion, exploitation, operation and maintenance of large renewable plants. With environmental commitment in its DNA, it has been working in the renewable energy sector since 1981 and its continuous technological innovations contributed to the energy industry has boosted its successful positioning in the national and international market.