Gas should be an essential component in a low carbon, value for money energy market

Posted on: 25/09/2015

IGEM President

This week, in my position as President of IGEM, I spoke at the organisation’s annual conference in Burton upon Trent about the future of gas and gas networks.

My view on this is really very simple. Gas should be an essential component in a low carbon, value for money energy market - and continue to be a key feature of future energy policy.

Previous thinking was that removing gas from the energy mix – particularly for heating homes – would help the UK meet our decarbonisation targets. However after a research project based in Bridgend in South Wales, the results make for stark reading. They show that only a balanced energy approach can help us meet the challenges of the future - and solve the energy trilemma of maintaining security of supply whilst meeting our carbon emission targets at an affordable cost.

The results of our project in Bridgend suggest that a balanced approach - including maintaining current levels of carbon taxation, adopting innovative gas heating appliances, and increasing the amount of green gas injected into gas networks - would result in optimum carbon reduction, and at a much more affordable cost.

Our work also suggests that this balanced approach is more supportive of energy intensive industries, who, faced with dramatically increasing levels of carbon taxation in their energy bills if current policy continues, may decide to move their manufacturing businesses away from the UK - with the associated impact on jobs and the economy.

We’re certainly not suggesting a one size fits all approach. New homes in the future will be built in a different way accommodating low carbon technologies. However in 2050, 80% of our housing stock will still be houses that are already built today, and the cost of retrofitting with the latest in low carbon technology means it is not really an affordable option.

Instead, a sensible solution could be a combination of smart metering to reduce energy use; more efficient heating technologies; and micro-generation boilers where gas generates electricity as well as heat - so that when we can’t rely on power from renewables consumers can generate their own. The gas industry has a part to play here too - we need to continue to maximise the opportunities to decarbonise gas. This not only includes ‘green gas’, but also the possibility of blending other gas – such as hydrogen, with natural gas to significantly reduce emissions from gas while minimising costs for homes and businesses.

Neither are we saying gas is the solution for everyone. Wales & West Utilities is involved in a collaborative industry project that will help customers to choose the best energy solution for them - whether that is changing from one fuel to another, or the optimum energy mix to keep their homes warm and their bills low.  When implemented, the project will enable consumers to design a bespoke energy solution - giving them the information and choice to make the best decision for their homes. 

One thing that is clear though, is that only gas can meet the peak energy demands. The figures are startling. Peak gas and electricity demand is around 25 times higher than existing low carbon generation can meet. And currently the UK gas network transports approximately 10 times the energy of that of the electricity network.

Rather than being seen alongside coal and oil as a relic of a dirty past, gas and the opportunity provided by the existing network infrastructure, should be a key part of future energy policy - to make sure increasing energy demands are met whilst at the same time delivering a low carbon, value for money energy future.


Chris Clarke

Wales & West Utilities Director of Asset Management and HS&E