Shared future

Utility Week live: Showcasing the future of gas

Utility Week live: Showcasing the future of gas 150 150 SGN Future
Ryan Smith,
Innovation Delivery Manager, SGN
A blog from Ryan Smith
Innovation Delivery Manager, SGN

The annual Utility Week Live conference is taking place this week (21 and 22 May) at Birmingham’s NEC and will see the unveiling of the gas network industry’s flagship stand, the Gas Innovation Showcase.

This is a collaborative effort from across the gas industry, with network operators putting customers at the heart of the innovations being developing to drive our industry forward. What’s more, Utility Week Live promises to excite and engage a wide audience and highlight some of extensive work going-on both in front and also behind the scenes, to decarbonise the UK’s gas networks.

The showcase brings us together with the other four UK Gas Distribution and Transmission Networks – Cadent, National Grid Gas Transmission, Northern Gas Networks and Wales & West Utilities, plus our industry trade association, the Energy Networks Association (ENA).

Throughout the two days those attending the event will be able to learn more about the opportunities and challenges faced by the gas networks and how our innovations, updates and efficiencies are being made with future customers in mind.

Aberdeen Vision

On the first day, our Director of Energy Futures Gus McIntosh is doing a presentation on our Aberdeen Vision project, which has the capability to provide new market opportunities for hydrogen and carbon capture. The St Fergus gas terminal, 40 miles north of Aberdeen, is a key strategic National Transmission asset and provides an entry point for gas, supplying over a third of the UK’s gas. This location offers an opportunity to develop hydrogen blending in the National Transmission System (NTS) as well as in the regional gas distribution network. From the terminal, we’re proposing a new 100% hydrogen pipeline to Aberdeen where currently the use of hydrogen for transport is the most advanced and widespread in the UK.

H100

Also on Tuesday, our Innovation Project Manager Mark Wheeldon is presenting to the conference our H100 hydrogen project. H100 is a feasibility study which will enable us to assess the viability, from both a technical and commercial viewpoint, of constructing and operating the UK’s first 100% hydrogen gas distribution network. Our project will assess the suitability of three potential sites based on the site-specific opportunities, challenges and characteristics each site offers. The three sites all have attributes that are representative of the wider UK gas distribution system, which makes them prime candidates for a demonstration.

Stent Bag

Simon Buckley from Sarco Stopper Ltd (our key partner in developing Gas Stent technology) will deliver a presentation showcasing the project and some exciting recent live trail outcomes. The stent process will soon give us the ability to seal a damaged or leaking gas main from inside the pipe while maintaining the flow of gas without interrupting customers’ gas supplies. This project has real potential to be a ‘game changer’ in how we safely manage high volume gas escapes in the future.

RRES – Robotic Roadworks and Excavation System

On the second day (22 May) our Innovation Project Manager Ollie Machin will be presenting our incredible Robotic Roadworks and Excavation System (RRES), which aims to revolutionise the way roadworks are performed with its cutting edge robotics, advanced custom tooling and artificial intelligence.
The robotic solution is set to improve the efficiency, safety and minimise the environmental impact of utility excavations and activity.

On our stand, you’ll meet a variety of industry experts from all the companies and hear about these and many other new developments in innovation. Specifically, in the demonstration area of the Gas Innovation Showcase, our contribution will be to showcase the following innovations:

  • Collaborating with WASK – WASK CRANE will deliver a 30-minute demo showcasing a recent innovation in single hole Twin Bag. This new process allows two inflatable bags to be installed through the one drilling hole to isolate the flow of gas. This development in new technology is a significant improvement over the conventional systems used today.
  • Long-handled tooling – TT-UK is one of our innovation project partners and will be delivering a live demo on our long-handled tooling. This demo will showcase the process and explain how we can do operations above ground through a minimal excavation of core hole using our core and vac technology.
  • Collaborating with Pipetech – Pipetech will be doing a live demo of the advanced mini bag kit. This system developed with ourselves allows for the safe replacement of tight 90-degree bend ECVs used in semi concealed meter boxes.
  • Collaborating with Steve Vick – Steve Vick will be demonstrating the Service Foam sealing project, a system being developed to provide an easy method of sealing the annuls space between recently inserted gas main and the iron carrier pipe, which has been decommissioned.

And finally, I’d just like to say how proud our dedicated and professional workforce is to deliver natural and green gas to over 14 million people across Scotland and southern England. And achieving that innovatively, efficiently and above all safely for all our customers, is a challenge we totally embrace.

The UK’s low-carbon future will need a world-class infrastructure

The UK’s low-carbon future will need a world-class infrastructure 150 150 SGN Future
SGN's CEO John Morea
CEO, John Morea

The gas network in Great Britain is one of the most advanced and efficient gas infrastructures in the world, with some 23 million customers connected to 284,000km of pipeline, and around 85% of homes relying on gas for heat.

But our current energy system is in transition.  It’s changing in response to the UK’s commitment to addressing climate change by reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050 (2045 in Scotland).

If our country is to meet its commitments, then the way that we heat our homes must change – we must adopt greener solutions – using greener gases like biomethane or hydrogen or switching to electricity generated from renewables. These are big decisions, and there is no shared view of what the future looks like yet.  

We’ve talked to our customers to understand what their priorities are and to make sure we’re building their expectations into our plans. And we’re listening to our future customers – young people who care very much about the environment and the future of our world.

Our role is to work with customers, governments, other gas networks and across our whole system for energy, to develop a future decarbonised system that’s affordable, creates the least possible disruption and delivers the 2050 carbon reduction targets that we’ve promised.  We’re thinking ahead – far ahead- about what our role is and how we can play our part.

Our vision is for the gas network to be flexible, adaptable and fit for our low carbon future. In particular, customers want us to:

  • design the gas network to transport alternative sources of ‘green’ low carbon gas
  • set and achieve ambitious environmental targets e.g. reducing carbon footprint, producing less waste
  • investigate alternative means of providing heat to customers to reduce carbon emissions.

Biomethane

We’re on track to deliver enough biomethane green gas to meet the needs of 250,000 homes by 2021. There’ll soon be 100 biomethane production plants connected to the country’s gas networks and many more are planned.
Our role also involves helping to develop the right policies and standards to allow a future for green gas. Our “Opening up the gas market” project in Oban in the west of Scotland was designed to clearly show that the UK’s gas networks have the capability to safely transport a wider range of gases than currently allowed by government regulation. And most importantly, without the need for expensive processing – currently costing UK gas customers £325milion a year.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen is another clean gas with a future role.  Current gas quality regulations allow only 0.1 per cent hydrogen to be blended into the gas mix.  Cadent, our neighboring gas network, is planning to demonstrate how blending in up to 20 per cent hydrogen on Keele University’s private gas network will adequately address questions around safety, compatibility and billing – as well as prove its low-carbon capabilities.  A follow-on project will trial the same 20 per cent blend on a public network. 

Our own H100 project will see the construction of the UK’s first purpose-built hydrogen network at a location in Scotland to demonstrate safe and efficient delivery of 100 per cent hydrogen.

Both these studies and others consistently show that the decarbonising of gas is the most cost-efficient pathway for dramatically reducing heat-related emissions.

Transport

UK Government figures show that around a quarter of all transport emissions are produced by HGVs and buses, even though they make up just 1.5% of all UK road traffic.  Converting those vehicles to run on gas or hydrogen could have a very important role to play in our low carbon future.  We’re already seeing HGVs and buses convert to “compressed natural gas”, and I’m sure that when hydrogen becomes more readily available we’ll see it used extensively for transport.

The gas network could form the backbone of a national system providing a clean, quiet and cheap alternative to diesel. Converting to clean gas would be the most effective and efficient means to provide cleaner air in cities, and support CO2 reduction targets nationally.

2050 vision

Come 2050 we’ll need to have transformed our energy industry. We think that blended gas in networks will be playing a significant role in the low carbon energy mix, alongside heat pumps, hydrogen networks and other energy efficient and cost-effective solutions.


Our networks supply gas to some of the most remote and the most densely populated parts of Great Britain. What works for the Highlands of Scotland is unlikely to be the same solution for our city customers in places like London, Glasgow or Brighton, so local solutions will be key. The Scottish Government has announced an ambitious future energy vision, and we’ll be working hard to help to make it a reality.


We now need two things: First, a process of long-term total energy planning. Second, open and transparent conversations with government, regulators, customers and interest groups around the long-term vision for gas networks. The outcomes of those discussions will help our industry deliver the right transformation at acceptable cost.

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