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.
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 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.
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.
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.