Japan Gastech Consortium Chairman Nobuo Tanaka expects Gastech Japan 2017 to be a milestone for power suppliers and users to come to a consensus on the role of gas in the energy mix of the future.

Gastech Japan 2017, the world’s largest event for the gas industry, will be held at Makuhari Messe, in Chiba Prefecture, from Tuesday to Friday. It is expected that 25,000 visitors from all over the world will attend the exhibition that features 600 exhibitors and more than 200 speakers.

“Gas is a clean energy source. Its availability will improve and investment will also be increasing,” Tanaka, the chairman of The Sasakawa Peace Foundation and the former executive director of the International Energy Agency, said in an interview in Tokyo.

“Through Gastech, I want people to see that the future market will be stable, encouraging them to make large investments and create a predictable market.”

Gastech also offers the opportunity for global companies to showcase their technologies and businesses to people in the energy business.

It is significant that Gastech will take place in Japan because the island nation is the world’s largest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), accounting for 36 percent of worldwide imports.

Additionally, Japan has led and continues to lead the industry, as it was the first country to import LNG as an energy source. Japan first imported LNG from Alaska in 1969.

“Since then, Japan has accumulated the technology to liquefy natural gas, keep it cold and liquid during transport and later gasify it. And, as Japan is the largest consumer of LNG, the country is at the center of the world’s attention,” he said.

Tanaka also said the industry is currently going through a second-stage revolution. The first-stage was the shale gas revolution in the U.S. earlier this century, dramatically reducing the prices of natural gas and transforming the U.S. from an LNG importer to exporter, leading to expanded natural gas use in the world.

The second-stage revolution is the formation of a solid market after other countries began expanding LNG production, he said. The ratio of liquid to gas has been increasing and liquid is expected to surpass gas as the transportation method of natural gas by 2040.

Transporting natural gas requires construction of physical pipelines, while transporting LNG requires building ships to keep it liquid and factories to transform it from gas to liquid. It is generally accepted in the industry that 3,000 km is the threshold beyond which LNG is a cheaper option than gas, but it depends very much on price negotiations with many interested parties.

However, gas trade via pipeline has a drawback, as it does not allow buyers and sellers to change their counterparts without constructing another expensive, time-consuming pipeline. Thus, LNG offers better potential to apply market-pricing mechanisms, which will stabilize prices and help expand trade.

Japan does not currently have any pipelines for natural gas supply. While the country does not have to focus on pipeline transportation, it should build one for transportation from Russia as a risk hedge, Tanaka said.

Amid the second-stage revolution, Asia, where natural gas demand is high, would like to become a hub for the LNG market, Tanaka said, adding that every country in Asia aims to be the hub and Japan should therefore establish strong presence as the industry leader.

Tanaka sees the bright future of natural gas as an energy alternative to oil and coal.

Short-term demand for natural gas in Japan is expected to drop, as power companies restart nuclear plants that have long been suspended after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.

However, the demand is likely to pick up in the long run amid the global sentiment of reducing reliance on nuclear power in the long run. While many countries are investing to strengthen renewable energy by building solar panels and windmills, it will take some time for renewables to reach sufficient production levels to satisfy energy demand. This makes natural gas a good alternative, as it is cleaner than both oil and coal and more efficient than renewable energy.

Another merit of natural gas is that producers are scattered — in Asia, the Americas, Africa, Europe and Oceania — around the world, making for low geopolitical risk, Tanaka said.

Japan should also focus on natural gas because it is the mission of a developed country, he said.

“China and India may want to use coal because it is cheaper. So Japan, as a leader of environmentally conscious countries, should polish the technology to enhance efficiency and lower the costs of using natural gas for developing countries,” he said. “Then Japan has the option of selling such technology.”

To increase the use of natural gas as an energy source, the world should “put appropriate prices on carbon emissions,” Tanaka said.

That will make countries serious about meeting global goals of carbon emissions, which will reduce the use of oil and coal and increase the use of natural gas, Tanaka said.

Tanaka is hoping visitors, speakers and exhibitors at Gastech Japan 2017 will exchange their opinions and share information to make a better future for the natural gas industry and the world.

“Many people — government officials, researchers, businesspeople and others — will get together. I hope people will make good use of Gastech Japan 2017 to share information. I would like them to actively participate in discussions and the various events, while thinking of the future and carrying messages to the world,” he said.

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