The role of gas in the smart energy system of the future

By Keith Owen, Head of Systems Development and Energy Strategy for Northern Gas Networks
The UK is facing a huge challenge.
The 2008 Climate Change Act commits us to reducing net UK emissions of carbon dioxide for the year 2050 to being at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline, a position further strengthened with the signing of the 2016 Paris Agreement. 
In addition to being sustainable, we need to deliver energy in a way that is both affordable and secure. These three critical issues are often referred to as the energy trilemma.
There’s no question this is an enormous task, and one that requires pioneering thinking.
With differing limitations across all energy systems, it’s virtually guaranteed there will be no single, simplified answer. When considering the UKs future energy security, it may be better to have a comprehensive diversification of energy to support our economy and wider society.
Academia and industry are turning to the question of the ‘whole systems approach’ and working on ways to show how combined, collaborative thinking between different energy systems can provide the solutions we need. 
A great deal of research and modelling has already been undertaken and now is the time to use this learning to prove, at scale, whether the theory can be made to deliver in the real world. 
Located in Gateshead, InTEGReL, (Integrated Transport Electricity Gas Research Laboratory), is a unique whole energy system development and demonstration facility, specifically looking at integrated solutions to our power, heat and transport needs.
Led by Northern Gas Networks (NGN), the gas distributer for the North of England, working with Northern Powergrid (NPg) and Newcastle University in partnership with the EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI), InTEGReL will seek to break down traditional barriers between our gas, electricity and transport sectors, to create more flexible, secure and affordable ways to deliver energy to our customers.
 The NGN-owned site will provide the perfect location to test, integrate and optimise disruptive energy systems approaches, methodologies and technologies at scale. This is necessary to boost levels of innovation, energy efficiency and customer confidence to enable wide-scale adoption across the UK. 
Comprising a 15-acre space, InTEGReL’s heritage as a former British Gas research centre between the 1970s - 1990s and its current role as an operational gas site means it boasts some unique facilities, which give it a head start as a research and demonstration centre.
Across the UK electricity network there is an ever-increasing need for storage and flexibility to support further expansion of renewables, whilst meeting the growing demand created by increased use of electric vehicles in the transport sector. 
The decarbonisation of the gas network poses a greater challenge perhaps, in part because of the sheer scale of energy being delivered -  up to five times greater than that in the power network - but also because natural gas, whilst being the cleanest fossil fuel still contains carbon. 
The UK gas network does however possess vast amounts of energy storage capability.
Within the NGN gas network, there is approximately 25GWh of energy storage, used to provide daily gas energy balancing and demand management while supporting the ever-changing needs of our customers. 
InTEGReL will explore a great many opportunities to bring together the electricity, gas and transport sectors and demonstrate technology that will deliver the low carbon multi-vector solutions needed, at scale, at an affordable cost and in a secure manner. 
InTEGReL can support the UK energy infrastructure by demonstrating the possibility of using a range of technologies to deliver lower carbon, affordable heating and power generation. 
Gas battery concept…
The centre will aim to demonstrate how excess electrical energy can be stored within the gas network in the form of hydrogen, and then at a different times and locations be taken back out to deliver power to constrained parts of the electricity grid.
By doing this it can also provide a better decarbonisation pathway for the power, gas and transport systems.
The partnership between NGN, Northern Powergrid and Newcastle University will work together through the InTEGReL facility to share learning and demonstrate at scale how a whole systems approach will deliver better solutions to energy in the UK.
Starting with several small-scale research projects, InTEGReL is already exploring bigger set pieces such as ‘the gas battery’, establishing hydrogen networks and micro grids. These will tap into the work the power sector has done on smart grids, and understand how that can be employed within the gas industry.
Ultimately, InTEGReL aims to demonstrate that by bringing together the long-term strategy, delivery and operational maintenance of different energy systems, we’re more able to exploit the benefits of joining them together.
By doing that, it hopes to answer the three elements of the energy trilemma – better cost outcomes for the customer, improved resilience and the ability to accelerate the decarbonisation of transport, heat and power. 

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