Role of natural gas

In the Netherlands annually almost 3,300 PJ of primary energy is consumed for the production of electricity, heat, transportation fuels, and chemicals and other products. The distribution and utilisation of the different primary energy sources is shown in the table below [1]. Natural gas consumption represents 46% of the Dutch (primary) energy consumption. The main applications of natural gas are chemistry (7%), power production (23%), and – by far the largest application – the production of heat (70%), of which 40% is consumed by households (more than 400 PJ). Outside industry essentially all heat is produced from natural gas (i.e. 96%).

In the World Energy Outlook 2004 [2] of the IEA it is predicted that the consumption of natural gas will increase (in absolute numbers) over any other energy source. The global consumption of natural gas will be doubled in 2030. In the period till 2020, the European demand for natural gas will increase with annually 2-3%, as a result of changing feedstocks in the electricity sector.

Major drivers for the increases utilisation of natural gas for energy production are the climate change issue, as well as economic considerations. Gas-fired power stations are cheaper than coal-fired plants. Within the Kyoto protocol the EU countries are committed to reduce the emission of green house gases (with CO2 as the main component). Natural gas has by far the smallest impact on the environment compared to coal or oil, e.g. natural gas yields half of the amount of CO2 per produced kWh of coal and even less for other green house gases. Another reason for increased popularity of natural gas is the policy of many countries to decrease the dependency on crude oil import by substituting 10% of the crude oil import by natural gas.

The global reserves are large enough to accommodate the growing demand in natural gas. Currently, the EU covers approximately 60% of its own consumption, mainly from the production in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (approximately 50%). Although the dependency on fuel import in the EU is considered as a problem, the situation for natural gas is much more positive compared to coal and oil.

The production of natural gas in the Netherlands, however, has reached its maximum and it will gradually decrease. Due to the increasing demand for natural gas and the decreasing resources, the import dependency in the EU will increase to approximately 70% in 2020. Increasing amounts of gas will have to be imported from outside the EU, i.e. Russia, Africa and the Middle East. Furthermore, a part of the required gas will be imported, in liquid form (i.e. Liquefied Natural Gas or LNG), from more distant locations. Both higher costs and risks are associated with these developments and the dependency on politically less stable countries. The latter was clearly demonstrated early 2006 when Russia decreased the gas delivery to the Ukraine.


  1. Statistics Netherlands (CBS), 2006 (
  2. IEA World energy outlook, 1999 (ISBN 92-64-17140-1)