Utility Week

UTILITY Week 21st July 2017

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Page 26 of 31

UTILITY WEEK | 21ST - 27TH JULY 2017 | 27 Operations & Assets Market view T he gas industry is at a seminal point in its long history. The key drivers of change are the UK targets set out in the Climate Change Act. A reduction of green- house gas emissions by 80 per cent against 1990 levels by 2050 is a hugely significant challenge not just for the gas industry but for all energy players. In the absence of any technological game changers it is clear that success will only happen incrementally. We are currently in our third carbon budget having achieved about 40 per cent of the decarbonisation tar- get. This is laudable, but we should not rest on our laurels. Progress achieved to date has been the easy part – the low-hanging fruit. The major challenge is to decarbonise heat. Heat represents almost half of final energy consumption in the UK. About three- quarters of this is heat for domestic, com- mercial and public buildings, and represents 20 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Currently most buildings (about 85 per cent) are heated by gas that is transported in a system of pipes – the gas network – which is then burnt in boilers. Much of the heat used in industrial pro- cesses depends on gas delivered in a similar way. Gas is also a significant fuel for electric- ity generation and we are seeing an increase in demand for gas for generation, partially driven by the planned closure of coal-fired generation by 2025. Clearly, achieving the carbon targets at current costs with current technology will be impossible. For some time, there has been a school of thought that – if we are to achieve the targets – the gas network faces an uncertain future, possibly including a long-term decline. It has been posited that electricity will be the vec- tor that will deliver heat. This is in stark contrast to our view, which is that the gas network is essential for deliv- ering an integrated, affordable low-carbon energy system for consumers. The rationale behind our view lies in a reimagining of the purpose of the networks as well as a recog- nition of the practical and real world advan- tages that the network provides. To many, the gas network is in place to ensure the safe, reliable transport of natural gas to customers' homes. The network has indeed performed this role magnificently for many decades. However, this success has resulted in the conflation of two issues, inex- tricably linking the network to natural gas. In fact, the network is a system that is ambivalent about the energy vector it trans- ports. Grasping this reality frees up the possibilities for the network in meeting our targets. Furthermore, what is not widely rec- ognised is the sheer amount of energy that the network delivers and, importantly, the storage capacity in the physical infrastruc- ture of the network. Electrification of heat would just not be possible bearing in mind the huge inter-seasonal swings in demand. Once you decouple the gas network from natural gas and start to think of it as an energy transport system with the ability to store energy and deliver it where and when the consumer requires, you begin to see how it can continue to be a valuable national asset from now to 2050 and beyond. This freedom to reimagine the role of the network – coupled with the potential of the network to store energy and help satisfy the demands of the Climate Change Act – has unleashed a wave of innovation that is rip- pling through the gas industry. The possibility of using waste as a source of gas is one exciting development that is already under way. We have more than 100 connections to the network delivering low- carbon, or green, gas to the customer. Fur- ther work is planned to convert black bag waste into synthetic gas that can be used as a fuel. Trials are also being developed to blend hydrogen with natural gas, and ultimately use 100 per cent hydrogen in the network. Equally exciting is the potential for gas to provide a reliable source of energy as inter- mittent renewable energy schemes become more important for power production, as well as a further intermingling and integra- tion between gas and electricity. Far from being seen as a obstacle to progress, we see gas as an enabler of renewable energy sources. Gas can also play a role in helping to decarbonise the transport sector, contrib- uting to a cleaner environment. None of this is possible without the gas network. The network infrastructure is already in place, and is maintained, safe and reliable. With increasing demands being made on the electricity network – by, for example, the increased use of electric vehi- cles – it would be asinine to disregard the role that the gas network can play in meeting our climate change targets. In fact, we see a golden age for the networks on the horizon. Ian McCluskey, head of technical services, IGEM On the road to 2050 Efforts to decarbonise the supply of heat to homes and businesses in the UK could, ironically, lead to a golden age for the gas network, according to Ian McCluskey.

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