Gas: four paths to 2050

National Grid is to boost customer engagement to provide a clearer picture of the future of the gas transmission system

Gas: four paths to 2050

While attention is focused on distribution network operators and the rise of distributed generation, it is easy to forget that both the electricity and gas transmission networks have their own challenges to face. National Grid brought those challenges sharply into focus with the publication last month of its annual set of documents setting out the long-term future of its transmission. networks.

Alongside the usual Electricity Ten Year Statement, Gas Ten Year Statement and System Operability Framework, National Grid published its first Gas Future Operability Planning document. This new publication follows on from the ten-year statement to consider how changing requirements will have an impact on the operations and processes of the National Transmission System (NTS) until 2050.

The launch of the new document coincides with the launch of it’s Future of Gas project, which asks industry and policymakers to look at the future role of gas and the gas transmission network. National Grid believes it is well-placed to facilitate a debate and provide an overall view of how gas can be a partner to electricity in a low-carbon future. But the company says it “should not and cannot answer this alone”. It wants to facilitate engagement with the whole industry in looking for answers. With its planning document it aims to set out, at a high level: the context and challenges faced in determining the future of gas; the fundamental questions the company needs to address; and the plan to do that through engagement with stakeholders.

Those challenges include system imbalances, which can lead to reductions in gas system stock levels, in turn impacting on system pressures, and short-notice changes in customer requirements at peak times of system maintenance.

As part of its Future of Gas project, National Grid has developed four “sensitivities” or scenarios which meet the UK’s 2050 target. These build on the Future Energy Scenarios 2016, but aim to show greater variation of gas demand projections to enable National Grid to test the NTS with a wider range. The company hopes that through engagement with stakeholders, these sensitivities can be validated and the assumptions further enhanced in order to understand what impact they would have on customers and the services customers would require. National Grid will then work to best meet these needs through regime change, policy changes or physical investment.

Electric transformation

Electric Transformation sees the lowest level of gas demand across the transmission system. Within this sensitivity, gas demand is constrained by low investment in CCS. Nearly all gas demand is eliminated from power stations by 2050. The industrial sector significantly reduces its demand for gas too; cleaner light industry that does not require high thermal delivery dominates while heavy industry declines. There is a significant drop in gas demand from residential heating: heating is replaced with electrification or more efficient gas appliances, removing two-thirds of demand. This assumes that consumers are willing to change to alternatives. This route to decarbonisation requires significant additional renewable electricity generation and nuclear power to provide a guaranteed baseload.

Balanced Pathway

In this sensitivity, CCS-enabled generation is deployed along with nuclear and renewable technologies. There is electrification of heat as in Electric Transformation, but this is supported by more renewable gas, reducing the total requirements for electrification in order to hit the 2050 target.

Carbon Capture

Within this sensitivity, investment in CCS technology is at its most effective, allowing for an abundance of CCS-enabled power generation from gas as well as continued use of gas within the industrial sector. High levels of green gas capitalise on the strength of a well-supported gas network to allow for the lowest penetration of electrification of heat in the residential sector compared to the other sensitivities. Gas is used in the transport sector as a lower carbon alternative to petrol and diesel vehicles, especially for heavy goods.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen production becomes a significant component of the future energy system. Building on the work undertaken through such projects as Leeds H21 Citygate, hydrogen displaces natural gas in the distribution networks and therefore becomes the main fuel for heating people’s homes. This hydrogen is produced at NTS offtakes from natural gas that is transported by the NTS. The methane is converted to hydrogen to feed into the distribution networks to supply homes, once gas appliances have been replaced with hydrogen versions. Industrial demand either uses hydrogen from the gas distribution network or continues to use gas at large sites connected to the NTS. This method also allows for hydrogen vehicles to be easily refuelled across the country. Two key technologies are required to enable this: one is steam methane reforming (already established in the UK) to create hydrogen from natural gas; the other is CCS.


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