Would you trade the gas industry for an all-electric future?

15th May 2017

 

In 2010, the Coalition Government suggested heat demand could be met by switching from gas to an all-electric solution. Government think tanks state that by 2050 ‘heat will no longer be provided on a large scale by individual gas boilers.

It goes without saying that those of us in the gas industry are going to have some concerns over that.

We do need to reduce the carbon emissions from heating but there is still debate about how this can be achieved practically and in a form that delivers for the Government the Industry and most importantly the consumer. The Heating and Hotwater Industry Council, HHIC, believe, actually, we know that gas has a role to play in the future and here is why….

Gas has kept the lights on and UK homes warm for the past 200 years. Using gas, as a source of heat in the UK dates back to the early 1800’s. Some 40 years before the humble chocolate bar and over 100 years before the television.

As a shameless fan of statistics I have dug out my top three to help you put in to perspective just how big the gas industry is. Take note, you never know, they may come in useful in the next pub quiz!

  1. As a result of its abundance, the UK has the world’s leading gas grid infrastructure in place, directly supplying the energy to heat 85 per cent of homes and meet 50 per cent of the UK’s non-transport primary energy needs.
  1. The current gas grid covers over 284,000km which is enough pipe to go 6 times around the world!
  1. Around 1.6 million boilers are sold each year. That’s approximately, 1 sold every 1.5 seconds and fitted every 15 seconds by the UK’s most trusted trade; the Gas Installer.

When you read these figures you start to understand the colossal size of the gas industry and its importance to the UK economy. When it comes to heat, gas is the UK’s fuel of choice, and for good reasons.

The UK’s reliance on gas for heat, and the seasonal peaks and troughs in demand, mean gas cannot be easily replaced by electricity.

The much-used graph (below) by Robert Sansom of Imperial College, demonstrates better than words can, the challenge. Heat demand is seasonal, no surprise there, but its peaks during the winter either need to be met by supply or people will go cold. So having the energy, in whatever shape, available at short notice to meet peak demand, whilst not having supply sitting idle for much of the year has to be the energy policy outcome of choice.

The same graph also shows the levels of current electricity demand. As you can see, whilst there is variation across seasons, days and hours the peaks and troughs are nowhere near as great.

Building the additional electricity generating capacity needed to meet peak heat demand is simply unaffordable (60 new Hinckley C nuclear reactors, 100 interconnectors, 60,000 wind turbines and Solar PV on every UK home)

It would involve more than doubling the UK’s electricity network. A switch to electricity from gas would also require the 23 million gas customers to replace boilers, pipes and radiators with compatible systems, costing as much as £12,000 per household – a move that would be both unaffordable and disruptive.

We do need a clear pathway to decarbonise heat, one which recognises that behavioural change and cost are integral factors to achieving the required outcomes. We believe that Gas will remain the primary heating fuel beyond the 2040’s. The fact that the gas grid currently delivers gas into the homes of over 85% of the UK population coupled with the very large investment needed to change this, suggests that gas, albeit green gas will be a vital component of the UK’s energy infrastructure for many years to come.

The opportunity afforded by injecting green gas directly into the grid, whether biomethane, synthetic natural gas, or hydrogen will allow the gas grid to be decarbonised without homeowners needing to take action and with little additional investment.

Gas enables us to stabilise and secure supply, keep energy prices low and reduce emissions. Regardless of the energy future that we witness I suspect gas will continue as a key UK fuel.