GAS can play a big part in a future sustainable energy mix, but the industry has to help policy makers, planners and the public understand the non-price benefits of the fuel, according to a leading industry expert.

Remi Eriksen, president and CEO of DNV GL – an international classification and services group – said the North Sea could become a carbon storage hub for Europe and at the heart of a new billion-dollar industry.

In an analysis of the gas sector, Eriksen said the industry could take heart from government-industry CCS feasibility initiatives in Norway.

“By 2022, the Norwegian Continental Shelf could host a CO2 storage hub,” he said. “Commercially, gas with CCS is technically feasible, but there are cost barriers as CCS technologies are still not widely deployed by industries.

“As it becomes more widespread, infrastructure sharing, economies of scale, and technical innovation will improve its economic feasibility.”

Eriksen added: “However, higher pricing of CO2 is needed to accelerate investments in these technologies.”

Using the North Sea as a CO2 storage hub would bring huge cost savings in combating climate change, and could represent a massive advantage for gas in the future energy mix, he said.

“For this to happen, the industry must bring CCS to the whole gas value chain, in particular downstream.”

Eriksen said he was encouraged that finding ways to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas methane was among the focus areas of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’s $1 billion (£800 million) investment fund being created by seven oil companies to support the development of technologies to cut carbon emissions and promote renewable energy.

Demand for gas has risen just one per cent a year since 2012, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which estimates average growth at only 1.5 per cent per year to 2021. One factor weighing against faster growth for gas is the surge in the supply of cheap American coal to Europe.

However, he said the IEA’s forecast represented a stark contrast to its expectation of reduced demand for competing fossil fuels – oil and coal – and its long-term forecast foresees natural gas and renewables becoming the big winners in the race to meet energy demand growth until 2040.

Eriksen remained positive about the prospects for the fuel. He said: “Gas and renewables will be ‘frenemies’, healthy competitors and allies.

“Renewables do and will compete with gas, just as cheap gas can impede the development of renewables in the short term. I expect they will lean towards friendship in the long term, because gas can also provide baseload electricity to grids, complementing variable renewable power.”