The key to a low-carbon energy future

Stuart Easterbrook, future gas strategy manager at Cadent, on why decisions made at a local level are key to a low-carbon energy future.

The key to a low-carbon  energy future
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 The decarbonisation of the gas network is one of the toughest challenges facing the UK energy system. Gas delivers a huge amount of the UK’s critical energy needs. It transports up to three times more energy than the power grid. On a cold winter’s day, a home heated by gas will have five times more energy delivered to it by the gas network than by electricity.

Warmth is also very personal and impacts the vast majority of homes across the UK, as well as businesses, schools and hospitals, and many other public buildings. This makes the necessary move to lower carbon alternatives highly complex.

Our view at Cadent is that local engagement with trusted credible organisations will be essential to successfully delivering the scale of change required.

Although how we will each decarbonise our heating systems remains uncertain, the options available to us are already known. These are:

  • Replacing fossil gas with green gases, such as biomethane or BioSNG, hydrogen, or hydrogen blends;
  • Hybrid heating systems (electric with gas at peak times);
  • Electric; or
  • Biomass/biofuels.

Many of these options are likely to be mandated across an area. You cannot convert one house to hydrogen and their neighbour to biomethane. To be viable, a biomass or electric district heating scheme will require all properties in an area to convert. If the gas network is removed in an area, all the homes and businesses will face the same problem, and will need a sensible, pragmatic, community-level solution. Working through the right solutions will therefore have to be undertaken at a community level. This is best done by local, trusted and expert voices to stand a good chance of success.  

Policy set and implemented from Westminster with no local engagement will be very hard to deliver, but a national framework will still be required. We will need to socialise costs, and also to ensure the best solution for the UK overall is delivered. For example, without a national framework, one fast-moving and forward-thinking region may use up a valuable feedstock that is better used elsewhere, where alternatives are more limited.

Any decarbonisation programme is likely to take decades due to the scale, and the costs will be significant. A region that moves first would not want to feel penalised compared with another that may not switch for 10 years. Socialisation will also be key when considering ongoing running costs.

So, we at Cadent believe the decarbonisation of heat will need to be delivered at a local level, by trusted, credible organisations, within a national framework that protects consumer bills and the overall cost of transition. As experts in gas distribution, and as we’re embedded already in local communities, we know we are central to that trust and discussion.

We’ll play a significant role in both the transition to and future operation of a low carbon, low cost, secure and reliable energy system. We’re already involved in setting the localised energy agenda, by being involved often in discussions with decision-makers in the local areas we operate in.

We’re stating the case for a future, locally-driven energy system that will have a low carbon gas network at its heart, supplying the large slugs of energy required both to keep us all warm, and to secure the power grid with back-up generation to keep the lights on. 


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