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Replacing Britain’s old gas pipes and laying the foundations of a zero-carbon gas grid

04 August 2020

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Matt Hindle, ENA’s Head of Gas, answers some of the most common questions about the work gas network companies are doing to lay the foundations of a zero-carbon gas grid.

From safeguarding the public to laying the foundations of a zero-carbon gas grid. Today we’ve set out how Britain’s homes and businesses are set to benefit from an emissions reduction bonanza over the next 12 years as a result of gas network company investment. Matt Hindle tells us more.

So, what does this mean?

The figures we’ve published show that by 2032 gas network companies will have reduced emissions from transporting methane natural gas around the country by the equivalent of the carbon emissions of 526,433 cars since 2014.

How and why are they doing that?

They’ll have done this by replacing old iron mains gas mains pipes in Britain’s low-pressure gas networks with new hydrogen-ready pipes, made from plastic, to reduce the amount of natural gas ‘leakage’ – i.e. methane natural gas that escapes into the air.

This investment in replacing old iron mains pipes has been going on sometime. In fact, it first began back in 2002 after the Health and Safety Executive identified a potential safety risk from gas leaks from older gas mains pipes, i.e. those pipes within 30 metres of buildings, many of which dated back to the Victorian-era. The Iron Mains Risk Replacement Programme was introduced as a result, to deliver the investment needed to replace those old pipes.

Matt Hindle, ENA

What’s climate change got to do with it?

The impact of methane on global warming is 21 times greater than that of CO2, with about a quarter of manmade global warming attributed to it, so reducing even a small amount of leakage is not only a question of efficiency or safety but also of environmental impact.

The figures demonstrate the CO2-equivalent impact of reducing methane natural gas emissions from Britain’s world-leading network of gas pipelines, which supply heating, cooking and hot water to 23 million properties across the country. Over 85 percent of properties in Great Britain are connected to the network, which has 284,000km of pipelines.

…and what do you mean by hydrogen-ready?

The figures we’ve released today come from ENA’s Gas Goes Green programme. Bringing together all of Britain’s gas network companies, the programme will deliver the world’s first zero carbon gas grid by moving Britain's gas network infrastructure from delivering methane-based natural gas to zero carbon hydrogen and biomethane.

One of the benefits of the investment in replacing old iron-mains is to help ensure Britain’s extensive gas grid is ready for hydrogen and biomethane, because the pipes we’re replacing them with can transport them instead.

What’s the breakdown?

We’ve published this handy infographic to show how emissions will fall in the different regions of Great Britain. We haven’t included Northern Ireland, because it is part of the all-Ireland energy market and so reports in a different way.

The figures show that:

  • The Iron Mains Risk Replacement Programme has already reduced emissions by more than a fifth (22.4%) since it began in 2014, the equivalent of taking 179,123 cars off the road.
  • By 2032, if investment plans are approved by Ofgem, the energy regulator, emissions will further drop by more than half (55.6%), the equivalent to taking a further 347,310 cars off the road since 2020.
  • In total, between 2014 and 2032 the programme will have invested £28bn in creating a hydrogen-ready gas grid in towns, villages and communities across the country.
  • By 2032, the programme will have achieved a 66 percent reduction in CO2 equivalent emissions from the gas grid.

So, what will gas networks be doing between now and 2032 to deliver these reductions?

We’ve published two case studies that set out how gas network companies like SGN and Wales & West Utilities on the ground.

But our members’ plans for the next 12 years depend on important decisions that are currently being made by the energy regulator, Ofgem.

The figures we’ve published are part of local gas networks’ investment plans for the RIIO GD2 price control, which determines how much they will be able to invest between 2021 and 2026. The regulator published its draft decision on the plans in July, with ENA warning that the decision wasn’t sufficient to meet the UK’s net zero ambitions. That includes the investment our members would like to make in the period through the Iron Mains Risk Replacement Programme.

What’s the wider impact of that investment?

The kind of investment our members are proposing is not only good for the environment in the long-run; it is good for sustaining and creating jobs on the ground in the next six years. Equally important, is that it will help ensure that Britain has the kind of hydrogen-ready infrastructure that can underpin the development of a ‘hydrogen economy’, where there is a greater range of choice of zero or low carbon technologies for people, homes and businesses to use, such as hydrogen-ready boilers, or hydrogen-powered trucks, buses and trains. Without the right infrastructure behind those products, they won’t be able to access them.

And with countries around the world now developing their own hydrogen infrastructure to take advantage of the opportunities a hydrogen-economy presents, Britain risks losing its existing, world leading position.

Our members have also proven how they’re delivering value for money through the Iron Mains Risk Replacement Programme. The latest Ofgem figures show that for the period of 2013-21, gas network companies are forecast to bring-in the costs of replacing iron mains more than 10% (11.4%) lower than those agreed, saving consumers £1.3bn in the process.

As David Smith, Chief Executive of Energy Networks Association, says:

“The figures we’re publishing today come with one important caveat. The emissions reductions we can deliver going forward are dependent on the decisions due to be made by Ofgem. If the regulator fails to back that investment, then not only do we risk missing out on those reductions; we risk missing out in having the infrastructure we need to put Britain at the front of the pack of the international race to hydrogen.”

About Energy Networks Association

Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing 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 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 40,000 people in Great Britain.

More information

Press contacts for journalists

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