POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Decarbonising the Gas Network

Published Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The burning of natural gas for heating contributes 14% of the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Decarbonising, or reducing the carbon content of the UK gas supply is one option for reducing the emissions from heating. This POSTnote looks at the contribution that two alternative gases, hydrogen and biomethane, could make in achieving this goal.

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The Climate Change Act (2008) requires an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2050. The UK is on track to meet short-term emissions targets, but is unlikely to meet longer term targets without additional policies. While emissions from electricity production have fallen significantly, there has been much less progress in reducing emissions from heating.

The gas network supplies natural gas to consumers for heat, and could in future supply alternative gases that do not contribute to climate change. This note looks at the prospects for ‘decarbonising’ the gas network, by supplying biomethane and hydrogen in place of natural gas. It covers their production and supply, carbon emissions and costs, and technical and policy challenges.

Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • The UK needs new policies on low carbon heating to meet its emissions reductions targets under the Climate Change Act.
  • The gas network delivers more than twice the energy of the electricity grid and supplies 23 million consumers. Supplying hydrogen and biomethane in place of natural gas could reduce emissions.
  • Biomethane from waste already supplies some gas to the network and could be increased. The amount of available waste material limits future supply potential to 5-20% of current gas demand.
  • There is also potential to supply parts of the network with hydrogen in future, but this is reliant on cost reductions, uptake of carbon capture and storage in the UK, and significant changes in network infrastructure.

An update to this note was published on 27 Nov 2017.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • John Baldwin, CNG Services*
  • Chris Brown, Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem)
  • Mark Crowther, Kiwa Gastec
  • Dr Paul Dodds, University College London
  • Stuart Easterbrook, National Grid
  • Richard Heap, Energy Research Partnership*
  • Dr David Joffe, Committee on Climate Change (CCC)*
  • Dave Lander, Dave Lander Consulting
  • Andy Lewis, Cadent*
  • Angus McIntosh, Scotia Gas Networks*
  • Dr Chris Manson-Whitton, Progressive Energy*
  • Prof Marcus Newborough, ITM Power*
  • Isaac Occhipinti, Energy Utilities Alliance
  • Dan Sadler, Northern Gas Networks*
  • Jon Saltmarsh, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)*
  • Judith Shapiro, Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA)*
  • Dr Jamie Spiers, Sustainable Gas Institute, Imperial College London*
  • Marcus Stewart, National Grid
  • Dr Alan Whitehead, MP
  • Worcester Bosch Group*
  • Philip Sargent, Cambridge Energy UK

POSTnotes POST-PN-0565

Authors: Malcolm Graham; Jack Miller

Topics: Climate change, Energy, Oil, petrol and natural gas, Renewable energy

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.