Energy networks unveil plan to deliver the world’s first net zero emissions gas network

Energy networks unveil plan to deliver the world’s first net zero emissions gas network

  • Supporting low carbon heating for 23 million homes and businesses and mandating “hydrogen-ready” boilers
  • Realising £13bn a year savings by taking a balanced Pathway across electricity and gas to decarbonisation
  • Unlocking investment in large-scale low carbon trials and delivering a supportive legislative environment 

Decarbonising the gas network will be critical for the UK to meet its Net Zero targets, with heating being one of the most challenging issues to face. That is the conclusion of a major new report, the first to outline a viable pathway for decarbonised gas in 2050 since the UK committed to ‘Net Zero’ emissions.

Navigant’s “Pathways to Net Zero“, commissioned by Energy Networks Association and independently reviewed by Imperial College, sets out a detailed plan to deliver a zero carbon gas grid, with clear technical, operational and regulatory actions that need to take place to achieve it.

By following a Pathway as set out in the report where we use more low carbon and renewable gases along with further electrification, the approach could save around £13bn a year compared to a Pathway that relies on electricity alone.

Technology is advancing rapidly and one of the steps that government could quickly and easily take would be to mandate new boiler installations to be “hydrogen-ready” when the appliances come to market in the coming years.

Mandating “hydrogen-ready” boilers is part of a suite of actions that should be taken to advance the implementation of a Net Zero 2050 including:

  • Introducing a comprehensive energy efficiency programme – helping to keep peoples’ homes warm and alleviating fuel poverty
  • Increasing the volume of green gases, like biomethane and hydrogen, in the energy system
  • Providing support for large-scale trials including Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage, hydrogen production and smart hybrid heating systems
  • Changing gas safety, metering and billing regulations to allow hydrogen into the system

Transforming the gas network will ensure that the move to Net Zero is as done as smoothly and efficiently as possible while minimising the impact on our lives, from the way we heat our homes to the way we travel around the country. In future low carbon and renewable gases will: 

  • Continue to provide heating and hot water for homes and businesses
  • Be used to provide heat for industry 
  • Help manage peaks in power and balance the use of renewables
  • Be used extensively in the transport sector, in particular for international shipping and also for heavy road freight

The UK has made significant progress in decarbonising the energy system and the scale and pace of the challenge is set to increase as the UK tackles the climate emergency. This progress is in part thanks to the strengths of a privatised gas network which has incentivised innovation and investment.

Britain’s unique system of energy network regulation has already helped make the country a world leader of renewable electricity. Now it is doing the same for clean gas. The gas network companies are already playing their part: building on their experience which has already seen nearly 100 green gas production plants connected across the country and developing innovative research which has seen hydrogen emerge as a key policy option for heat decarbonisation.

Now is the time to act: Government, Ofgem and all key stakeholders must come together to make sure that not only are the public at the heart of their thinking but that the policy and regulatory framework supports the further delivery of the private investment needed to deliver a Net Zero  gas system for the country.

David Smith, Chief Executive of Energy Networks Association said:

 “We are facing a climate emergency and now is the time for action. Cutting emissions from heating has historically been complicated which is why I am delighted Navigant’s report shows the pathways we need to take to deliver low carbon heating for 23 million homes and businesses and getting us to Net Zero.

 “The country should be proud of the innovation and engineering expertise that has led to Britain being a world-leader of renewable energy, including green gasses. It is now for government, the regulator and industry to build on that success and create the right policy and regulatory environment to attract the investment required to deliver the world’s first net zero emissions gas network for the public”.

Richard Bass, Director, Energy, Sustainability and Infrastructure at Navigant said:

 “To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, urgent action is required across all fronts and the gas networks must have a prominent role. Our analysis demonstrates that there are technically viable and cost effective pathways for low carbon and renewable gas to contribute to the decarbonisation of the GB energy system in combination with electrification, carbon capture and storage, and improvements in energy efficiency.”

Notes to editors

  • Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the voice of the networks, representing the ‘wires and pipes’ transmission and distribution network operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland.
  • Navigant is a specialized, global professional services firm whose teams apply experience, foresight, and industry expertise to pinpoint emerging opportunities to help build, manage, and protect the business value of the clients we serve.
  • The report is available at http://www.energynetworks.org/gas/futures/gas-decarbonisation-pathways/pathways-to-net-zero-report.html

Key facts:

Navigant assume annual additions of 20 anaerobic digestion plants in 2020, increasing to 40 new anaerobic digestion plants/year from 2029 onwards. This requires a replacement for the RHI which comes to an end in 2021. This replacement will also need to support hydrogen production.

Green hydrogen production (i.e. hydrogen production from excess renewables) should begin in 2026, by 2050 55% would be produced from dedicated renewables and 45% from curtailed renewables.

Pathways report further background and recommendations:

  • The Pathway is built around four core elements, which work together to reduce the overall cost and disruption of decarbonising the energy system
    • Low carbon and renewable gases
    • Energy efficiency
    • Electrification
    • Carbon capture, usage and storage
  • A balanced scenario of low carbon gases and electricity is the optimal way to decarbonise Great Britain’s energy system and reach net-zero emissions
    • Analysis shows that the Balanced Scenario is lower cost than the Electrified Scenario by £13bn/year, equivalent to 12% of total energy system cost in 2050
  • Preparing for Transition:
    • Strategic, technical and policy planning to enable low carbon gases to play a significant role in GB’s transition to net-zero, while maintaining safe and reliable operation
  • Facilitating Connections:
    • More anaerobic digestion (AD) biomethane plants connected to the gas grid
  • Expanding Supply:
    • First hydrogen projects integrated with carbon capture, utilisation & storage (CCUS) and anchored by baseload consumers, likely from industry and transport
  • Expanding the Demand Base:
    • Hydrogen use extends to commercial and residential consumers near the first hydrogen projects, initially via low blends (up to 20%) but developing into 100% hydrogen clusters
  • Increasing Low Carbon Gases:
    • Hydrogen clusters spread and connect to become extensive hydrogen zones, enabled by an evolving, carefully managed National Transmission System (NTS)
  • 100% Low Carbon Gases:
    • Low carbon gases fully integrated across the GB energy system, with distinct regional solutions

Policy requirements:

  • Facilitate Biomethane Injection: Trial and implement solutions to facilitate biomethane injection
  • Mandate hydrogen-ready boilers: New appliance installations to be “Hydrogen Ready” once commercially available to make part of regular appliance replacement and upgrades
    • “Hydrogen-ready” appliances and equipment (e.g. boilers) are designed so that they can operate at up to 20% blend of hydrogen (by volume), or otherwise at 100% hydrogen. Deployment of such systems will provide a means of future proofing end-user systems in advance of a roll-out to 100% hydrogen in a region. Equipment manufacturers indicate that “Hydrogen Ready” gas boilers will be commercially available from around 2026. A programme of testing and certification will be necessary before these systems can be rolled-out to end-users.
  • Gas Safety, Metering and Billing Regulations: Modify regulations to enable hydrogen injection, remove the need to add propane to biomethane and accurately bill customers for their actual energy use
  • Incentivising and Financing the Energy Transition to include:
    • Establishing an energy efficiency policy framework and funding mechanism (covering domestic / non-domestic sectors)
    • Providing market support for emerging low carbon and renewable gas production technologies
    • Addressing any potential adverse impacts of the low carbon transition (fuel poverty, industrial competitiveness)
  • Large-scale demonstration of hybrid heat systems: Scale up demonstration – including using hydrogen fuelled hybrids – in order to improve evidence base
  • Hydrogen storage needs: Examine the potential future storage requirements for hydrogen and funding means
  • Developing UK skills and labour capacity: Develop skills and labour capacity to deliver the transition to a decarbonised energy system
  • Repurposing high pressure networks for Hydrogen: Conduct trials to demonstrate hydrogen compatibility of gas networks and infrastructure and explore gas separation technology at Hydrogen clusters
  • Raising awareness: Communicate the need and mechanisms for end users to switch to low carbon and renewable gas heating technologies
  • Standardise gas network connection requirements: Developing a common connection regime to simplify the connection process and lower project costs
  • CCUS implementation: CCUS is critical to delivering a net zero energy system in 2050. A number of aspects need to be considered for successful implementation, including the Policy framework and Funding mechanisms

Gas Decarbonisation Pathways Project:

The Gas Decarbonisation Pathways Project sees all gas networks working collaboratively together on a Project whose objectives are to:

  • Support the development of policy and regulatory change around decarbonisation of gas networks.
  • Develop a shared view of the pathways and decision points for changes to the networks, and their operation, to support decarbonised gas among the GB gas network licensees.
  • Ensure that innovation and other activity to support decarbonisation is coordinated, and that real options analysis is independently evaluated for policy and decision makers.
  • Ensure that policymakers and energy industry stakeholders are engaged in the process to develop pathways and options for decarbonising gas, complementing existing and planned activity.
  • Ultimately, to support the decarbonisation of energy networks and the customers they serve.