Hydrogen and biomethane-ready plastic pipelines could drastically cut UK emissions

Replacing old iron gas pipes with hydrogen and biomethane-ready plastic pipes will cut carbon emissions and deliver the world’s first zero-carbon gas grid, according to the Energy Networks Association (ENA).

The UK’s homes and businesses will benefit from an emissions reduction ‘bonanza’ over the next 12 years as a result of gas network company investment, according to new figures from the ENA.

The figures, published as part of the organisation’s Gas Goes Green programme, show that by 2032, investment in replacing old iron mains gas pipes with new hydrogen and biomethane-ready pipes will take the equivalent of 526,433 cars off the road since 2014, as a result of reduced emissions. However, the fate of these ambitious plans rests in the hands of energy regulator Ofgem.

David Smith, chief executive of the ENA, said: “The UK’s world-leading gas network allows us to reliably access the energy we rely upon quickly and easily, often when we need it the most. It guarantees people’s comfort in our homes while providing the lifeblood that our businesses need to grow.

“But we need to decarbonise the gas that we use, and an investment programme that was first introduced in 2002 to improve safety is now playing a vital role in reducing emissions and laying the foundations for a world-leading zero-carbon gas grid, coming in on time and under budget.”

The proposed investment forms part of the Iron Mains Risk Replacement Programme, which replaces old iron gas pipelines in the UK’s low-pressure gas networks with plastic piping. Uniting all of the UK’s gas network companies, the ENA’s Gas Goes Green programme will deliver the world’s first zero-carbon gas grid by allowing it to deliver zero-carbon hydrogen and biomethane.

According to the ENA, the impact of methane on global warming is 21 times greater than that of carbon dioxide (CO2), with around a quarter of man-made global warming attributed to it. The firm’s figures show that the CO2-equivalent impact of reducing methane natural gas emissions from the UK’s gas pipelines, which supply 23 million properties.

Key figures from the ENA’s figures show that:

  • The Iron Mains Risk Replacement Programme has reduced emissions by 22.4% since it began in 2014

  • By 2032, if investment plans are approved by energy regulator Ofgem, emissions will drop by a further 55.6%

  • In total, between 2014 and 2032, the programme will have invested £28 billion (€1 million) in creating a hydrogen-ready gas grid in towns, villages, and communities nationwide. Existing Ofgem figures show that from 2013 to 2021 gas network companies are forecast to bring in the costs of replacing iron mains more than 10% lower than those agreed, saving consumers £1.3 billion (€1.44 billion)

  • By 2032, the programme will have achieved a 66% CO2 emissions equivalent reduction from the gas grid.

The emissions reductions forecasts from 2021 to 2026 are based on investment plans submitted to Ofgem as part of the RIIO-2 price control of energy network companies. The regulator published its draft decision on the plans in July with the ENA expressing concerns that the decision would mean the UK would lack the investment it needs to meet its net-zero targets.

Smith continued: “The figures we’re publishing today come with one caveat – the emissions reductions we can deliver going forward are dependent on the decisions due to be made by Ofgem, and it’s important that the regulator recognises the wider impact of its decisions in this area.

“If it 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 the UK at the front of the pack of the international race for hydrogen.”

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