Utility Week

UTILITY Week 8th April 2016

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6 | 8TH - 14TH APRIL 2016 | UTILITY WEEK People & Opinion Green gas can play a big part in the mix The UK has an extensive gas infrastructure in place – we can use it to hit our low-carbon targets. Chief executive's view Mike Foster, Energy and Utilities Alliance K ing Canute could not turn back the tides; he acknowledged his pow- ers were limited. Similarly, UK politicians must recognise that our geographic location, climate and weather patterns are major determinants of future energy policy and that they can try but will fail to alter them. The energy trilemma, a phrase that rightly suggests the difficulty in balanc- ing the competing demands of affordability, reliability and sus- tainability, should be set against the UK's particular energy needs. As a result of natural gas abundance, the UK has the world's leading gas grid infra- structure in place, directly sup- plying the energy to heat 85 per cent of UK homes. It would be a travesty not to use this existing infrastructure as part of the solu- tion to the trilemma, and "green" gas could be the key. Heat demand is seasonal – no surprise there – but its peaks during the winter either need to be met by supply or people will go cold, and no politician wants that. Switching away from gas heating will mean households face considerable up-front costs, which are simply unaffordable. A recent study of Bridgend, pro- duced by Wales & West Utili- ties, suggests that 81 per cent of households simply do not have the cash at their disposal to make that investment without massive subsidies. There is no definition of what "green" gas is. Indeed, this is part of the attraction, in that there is no winner or silver bul- let but instead a range of green gases. Perhaps "low carbon" gas is a better description. First off the blocks is biomethane. This is the gas captured from waste processing, typically anaero- bic digestion. The technology is proven, it has worked for years. Companies like Severn Trent clean up the biomethane from their Minworth sewage treatment works and inject the green gas into the grid. BioSNG is next, a green gas that achieves its status because it uses waste materials, usually sent to landfill or incineration, to create the gas. The process is technically complex, involving advanced plasma technology. Ofgem has recently awarded National Grid funding to develop a commercial scale plant in Swindon, having seen the success of smaller trials of the technology. The alterna- tive use of waste gives the gas its green credentials. The Swin- don plant envisages supplying gas for heavy goods vehicles but there is nothing to stop it being fed into the gas grid for every- day use once it is blended to reach the gas quality standards required. Another green gas is hydro- gen, currently produced from natural gas using steam meth- ane reforming, where the carbon can then be captured. The ques- tion is how much hydrogen can be used and in what manner? It is possible, within existing gas quality guidelines, to mix up to 2 per cent of hydrogen into the blend that flows through the gas grid. Some studies suggest that up to 20 per cent might be feasi- ble – remember this makes the overall mix of gas greener. However, Northern Gas Net- works is conducting a feasibility study into 100 per cent hydrogen through the gas grid. Its Leeds 21 study is arousing considerable interest within the industry on the basis that it envisages using the existing gas grid and conven- tional heating systems such as central heating in the home, but in a completely carbon-free way. This article is not designed to reach the conclusion that one single option can solve the UK's energy trilemma. There is no sil- ver bullet. However, green gas, whatever the source, offers a viable way forward using our existing gas infrastructure. It means not turn- ing our back on gas but embrac- ing it. Overall, it could prove to be the most cost-effective way of keeping people warm and meet- ing our international climate change obligations. Utility Week Stars Awards Manchester, 17 June 2016 In June, the acclaimed Utility Week Stars Awards will be back, and bigger and better than ever as we celebrate the crucial contributions of front line and back office staff from across the utility sectors. We will honour the unsung heroes of the energy and water companies who, day aer day, go above and beyond the call of duty to deliver these vital services to homes and busi- nesses, making a real difference to people's lives. The finalists across all the categories have now been named, and the full shortlist can be found online. For more information: www.utilityweekstars.co.uk

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