Friends of the Earth held a rally at the Journalists’ House (Novinarski dom) in Zagreb on 26 January 2023. The conference presented the document Study on the Degasification of Croatia, drawn up for the Friends of the Earth (Croatian name of Zelena akcija) by the Association for Sustainable Development of Energy Systems. Interestingly, the authors of the Study on Natural Gas use the name “fossil gas”, stating that modelling Croatia’s energy development has shown that replacing fossil gas with renewable sources by 2035 and a return on investments by 2037 is possible.

The presentation at the conference shows that the authors of the Study on the Degasification of Croatia believe that natural gas is an environmentally unacceptable energy source that harms human health. It rejects the role of natural gas as a fuel in the transition period, except in the segment of electricity generation to some extent, and it is placed at the level of harmfulness like coal in terms of environmental impact and global warming.

These views on natural gas preceded the presentation of the Study on the Degasification of Croatia. The content of the Study covered segments of industries, heating and electricity production without giving more detailed consideration to transport. The role of renewable energy as an alternative and complete substitution for natural gas in the next ten years was also highlighted. Finally, the focus was placed on Gradska plinara Zagreb (Zagreb City Gasworks), which “has a 39% share of total household consumption”.

The authors of the Study on the Degasification of Croatia advocate the de-installation of gas boilers in favour of new technologies and establishing connections to the local thermal system. Furthermore, they point out that the density of thermal energy consumption is a key parameter for defining zones in which the expansion of the existing heat grid or the construction of new district heating systems should be carried out.

The Study on the Degasification of Croatia lists ways to eliminate the use of gas in specific sectors, including the use of gas in the electricity sector using wind and solar power plants, and also in industries through the gradual replacement of technologies and energy sources, where gas consumption in refineries and the petrochemical industry could be replaced with hydrogen. Furthermore, the use of gas in gas boilers for heating could be ceased by expanding existing district heating systems and building new ones in densely populated areas, along with the decarbonisation of existing systems using locally available heat sources: geothermal energy, solar energy combined with seasonal heat storage facilities, aquifer energy, soil and surface water energy, and biomass. In addition to these heat sources, heat pumps powered by green electricity should be used.

While respecting the activities and initiatives of civil society organisations, the Croatian Gas Association (CGA) responded to the invitation from Friends of the Earth (Zelena akcija) in good faith and participated in the conference professionally, expecting the authors of the study to present strong arguments in favour of the Study on the Degasification of Croatia, which was nevertheless absent.

The CGA believes that the approach in the respective Study is not optimal given that it relies only on segmentary consideration of otherwise very complex energy issues. Future energy development (and the development of the Croatian gas sector) can be defined solely based on comprehensive professional and scientific analyses of the energy balance and energy mix, including analyses of the energy production and consumption for all energy sources in Croatia, along with a presented overview of existing and technologies under development, subject to feasible and sustainable proposals in terms of the temporal, financial and security aspects of energy supply.

The CGA believes that the Study on the Degasification of Croatia, despite some good segments and ideas, offers a biased view of the complex field of energy, denying the important role of natural gas, which is necessary and completely sustainable even in the period of energy transition. The mentioned study is incomplete since no other solid and liquid fossil fuels were considered, which is certainly a deficiency in its methodological approach. Furthermore, the Study on the Degasification of Croatia does not consider important modern technologies and approaches in using gas that make natural gas even more environmentally friendly, such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) or a mixture of natural gas and hydrogen.

In its regular operations, the CGA fully adheres to the guidelines of the strategic document Energy Development Strategy of the Republic of Croatia until 2030 with an outlook to 2050, adopted by the Croatian Parliament on 28 February 2020. It clearly defines the role of natural gas, taking into account the fact that Croatia has national production of natural gas which is not negligible – giving the country a comparative advantage, especially during this time of energy uncertainty and use of coal once again, even in some of the most developed EU Member States. Natural gas will continue to be an important energy source in Croatia, and gas consumption will remain significant, even if it has a lower share of the total energy balance after 2035.

The CGA strongly supports the position that natural gas is a “partner” to renewable energy sources. Natural gas and renewable energy sources are complementary in achieving the goals of energy transition and emission reduction. Accordingly, we should optimally utilise existing energy resources and the existing gas infrastructure handed over to us by previous generations of those who are experts in development.

Finally, in changing geopolitical relations, as witnessed recently, Croatia has been able to secure a safe and reliable energy supply for households and industry, including measures to significantly mitigate energy poverty precisely due to the strength of its developed energy and gas infrastructure. In the face of the global energy crisis, EU Member States are obviously turning to their national sources of energy and potential supply routes for securing energy supplies, even reactivating conserved coal-fired power plants, even though it contradicts the proclaimed goals of a carbon-free future for the EU by 2050.