Data and smart technology are driving the changes that are needed for Britain’s network of gas pipes to deliver different types of green gases.
The gas network in Great Britain and Ireland has around 300,000km of gas pipelines – that’s enough to go around the world’s Equator a whopping seven times.
Our plan is to replace the natural gas that 85% of Britain’s homes rely upon for heating, hot water and cooking by stepping up the quantity and mix of green gases, like hydrogen and biomethane, in the gas grid, over time.
That process has already begun. However, the way we manage the grid to deliver large quantities of gas is still very much designed around just around the delivery of one type of gas, natural gas.
So, what does that mean?
Gases like hydrogen and biomethane behave in different ways to natural gas when they’re being transported – and each unit of these different gases carries a different amount of energy.
This means that gas grid companies will need to deliver more or less of those gases, by volume, to ensure our central heating keeps our homes at the right temperature in the depths of winter or to ensure that we have the right amount of energy to cook on a gas hob. It also means that our energy system will need to adapt to ensure that the way that people’s energy bills are calculated remains accurate too.
To manage this change, gas network companies will need to be able to understand where these gases are in the grid and how they will be used, in real time, to ensure demand is met and that the gas is delivered in a safe and secure way.
At the same time, and in a transition very similar to that we have seen with Britain’s electricity networks, we are moving from a system where just one type of gas is introduced into the grid at just a few, strategic, central locations around the country to one where different types of green gas can come from different places, at different times and in different quantities and qualities, for example from biomethane production plants run by local businesses, farmers and utility companies. That trend is set to accelerate, as Britain's hydrogen production industry takes off.
Where does data come in?
Better quality data is key to managing these changes, because the existing modelling, and the systems based on it, dates from the 1980s. By having access to more and better quality data on the quantities of different gases being produced and used, gas grid companies can ensure they will continue to meet people's energy needs, connect new biomethane and hydrogen production plants to the grid as quickly as possible and more accurately plan how much infrastructure needs to be built, operated and maintained.
That’s where the Real Time Networks innovation project comes in. This project is installing and demonstrating the use of different sensor technologies, their associated hardware, software and infrastructure, which allows gas grid companies to more accurately understand the gas quality, flow, temperature and pressure data in the different parts of the gas network.
And because gas demand is closely linked to our weather, the project is designing and installing new weather stations which allow gas grid companies to collect live temperature, wind speed and humidity data of finer granularity than the network currently uses.
The data gathered is wirelessly transferred and managed by a real-time Cloud Data Solution, which securely stores, processes and analyses the live data, allowing the gas grid to meet all these needs in a smarter, more flexible and more capable way.
Real Time Networks is just one of the projects profiled in a new document that we’ve published, called ‘Introducing Britain’s Smart Gas Grid’, which you can find to the right of this page.
Notes to editor
Gas Goes Green #H2Explainers are a series of blogs setting all the key information you need to know about how Britain’s gas networks are working to deliver hydrogen to our homes, as part of our 'Tomorrow's Heat, Today's Opportunity' campaign. Check out the ENA Newsroom to find other articles and updates from both gas and electricity network companies.
About Energy Networks Association
Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the companies which operate the electricity wires, gas pipes and energy system in the UK and Ireland.
ENA helps its members meet the challenge of delivering electricity and gas to communities across the UK and Ireland safely, sustainably and reliably.
Its members include every major electricity and gas network operator in the UK and Ireland, independent operators, National Grid ESO which operates the electricity system in Great Britain and National Grid Gas which operates the gas system in Great Britain. Its affiliate membership also includes companies with an interest in energy, including Heathrow Airport and Network Rail.
What are energy network operators?
Energy network operators manage and maintain the wires, pipes and other infrastructure which delivers electricity and gas to your home, business and community. They are private companies which are regulated by Ofgem and employ around 45,000 people in the UK and Ireland. They are represented by their industry body, Energy Networks Association (that's us).