WAG Loop: we need a fast west-east expansion!

Gas Connect Austria is developing promising projects for new transport routes. One example is the West-Austria gas pipeline. The WAG Loop project can significantly increase security of supply and enables the transport of large quantities of hydrogen in the future.

© Rene Knabl
Projects such as the expansion of the West-Austria gas pipeline in Austria contribute to the security of supply of the whole of Europe.

How can we prepare for a lack of gas supplies from Russia? How do we enable the supply of gas from European markets? And how do we make our country fit for the energy future? New transport routes are part of the solution. The WAG Loop project plays a central role in this. Its implementation would increase the capacity of the West Austria Gas Pipeline (WAG) by more than two thirds and allow the simultaneous transport of natural gas and hydrogen.

Securing supplies for the future

By closing the gap of the missing 100 kilometers, WAG would have two continuous, parallel ("looped") pipeline strings in the future. The expansion could compensate bottlenecks in the medium term if Russian gas does not arrive and could also be done in stages. "We need an expansion of West-East capacities - and we need it as quickly as possible. Every day we wait further in Austria can cause us problems later on in a gas shortage situation," stresses Harald Stindl, Managing Director of Gas Connect Austria (GCA). Because of the many steps required - from right of way to environmental impact assessment – this can take several years to implement without legal facilitation.

ENTSOG's recently published Annual Gas Supply Outlook 2022/23 underpins the need for the project. In it, the Association of European Transmission System Operators for Gas affirms the essential role of gas infrastructure for secure energy supply in Europe. For the report, it was assumed at the time of preparation that no gas would flow from Russia from July 1 to September 1, 2022. The consequences would be serious: Most European gas storage facilities would already be exhausted in the winter of 2022/23. And even in summer 2023, many European countries would not manage to fill their gas storage facilities sufficiently for the following winter. As a countermeasure, ENTSOG recommends, among other things, expanding European transport capacities.

© Rene Knabl
Already today, 5 bcm of gas flow through the Oberkappel metering station on the Austrian-German border every year. In the future, it could be more than two thirds more.

More LNG from Europe

The expansion of the West-Austria gas pipeline and upstream networks would make it possible to increase the supply of LNG (liquefied natural gas) to Austria - both from LNG landed in northwestern Europe and from North Sea gas via Germany. With the existing LNG terminals in Northwest Europe and the planned construction of LNG terminals in Germany in 2023, there is great potential for this in the medium term.

In addition: the WAG Loop would also meet the increased interest in gas transport from Germany to Austria. At the last auctions for transport capacities in July and August 2022, there was very high demand at the Oberkappel and Überackern entry points. "Currently, the capacities of the West-Austria gas pipeline are already fully utilised, and demand exceeds supply many times over," says Stefan Königshofer, Head of Sales Transmission & Distribution at Gas Connect Austria. Capacities from Austria to Hungary are also in high demand and already well booked.

And this is what the WAG Loop brings
  • West-East transport capacities increase from 0.94 to 1.6 million m³/h
  • This is an increase of 5.78 billion m³/year at 100% capacity utilization.
  • This corresponds to 64.70 TWh of energy
Expansion of gas pipelines is urgent

The market-driven expansion of the pipeline network is an important task of Gas Connect Austria. Based on reported market demand, GCA prepares an annual network development plan (see Regulation (EU) 2017/459). However, in view of the geopolitical uncertainties and the European climate protec-tion requirements, many customers are currently not willing to make binding commitments for new capacities to be created. That is why politicians are now called upon to act immediately in the interests of security of supply. "The gas network must be expanded quickly. It is necessary to compensate for the lack of market demand through government subsidies or bookings of public organizations and thus enable the implementation of urgently needed projects," appeals Harald Stindl.

An essential prerequisite is the inclusion of Austrian gas infrastructure projects at the European level - for example within the framework of REPowerEU or as projects of common interest (PCI). This would pave the way for EU funding. But Austria should also support such projects, for example through subsidies or recovery guarantees for capital employed.

Outlook: Energy transition and hydrogen

Even with decreasing natural gas demand and further REPowerEU measures, an expansion of transport routes will be necessary in the next two decades. Increased wind and solar power will make electricity generation more volatile. Natural gas can cushion consumption peaks during weather fluctua-tions and store excess renewable energy. Therefore, gas will continue to play an essential role in ensuring a secure power supply in the future. This requires an appropriate infrastructure - and the West-Austria Gas Pipeline plays a significant role in this.
The implementation of the WAG Loop also paves the way for the transport of green hydrogen in larger quantities. Via the parallel pipeline system, natural gas and hydrogen would be transportable in the network at the same time. Hydrogen - for example, from North Africa via Italy or Romania or the Ukraine - could be brought to Austria and distributed from there to other markets such as southern Germany. This would create the basis for the hydrogen transport corridors envisaged in the European Hydrogen Backbone. In addition, it would also be possible to supply industry in the Upper Austria area Linz and the Schwechat refinery located in Lower Austria with renewable energy.

The WAG Loop at a glance

The WAG pipeline has been in operation since 1980 and is one of the most important gas pipelines in Austria. It runs for 245 kilometers from the Slovakian border in the east to the German border in the west. The WAG consists of a continuous gas pipeline and another, largely parallel ("looped") pipeline. Both strings are operated bidirectionally. The WAG Loop project provides for the completion of the still missing approximately 100 kilometres of the parallel pipeline.