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Here comes… Renewable Gas

[ I know, I know, this song is actually about gasoline… ]
For the delight and edification of my dedicated followers, I present some more evidence to back up my claims that the future will be… Renewable Gas.

Of course the story starts with the old guard : Natural Gas, and the comfort that various governments are offering to the oil and gas industry in general over the securing of their future business.

As usual. As expected. In fact, as it should be. The developed world is still highly dependent on hydrocarbon fuels, and fossil gas is a good option, for the meantime.

Here’s the UK Government working on their “Gas Strategy” consultation :-

UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) : 17 March 2012 : DAVEY SETS OUT MEASURES TO PROVIDE CERTAINTY TO GAS INVESTORS”
UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) : 2 May 2012 : “A CALL FOR EVIDENCE ON THE ROLE OF GAS IN THE ELECTRICITY MARKET”

I did ask some colleagues if they wanted to join me in responding to this consultation, but there was no serious energy for it in my networks, so I didn’t do anything, because I prefer collaboration on this kind of thing, otherwise I work too hard and fail to make an impact too often.

But anyway, now that things seem to be clear that the Nuclear Power confidence bubble has properly burst, the default gas strategy that has been brewing for a while is now gaining ascendance, including the ambitious plans of the gas operators and the deals the UK Government are striking to keep gas imports topped up.

And that’s fine. And even though replacing coal-fired power generation with a combination of wind power and (something like 21.75 gigawatts of) new gas capacity is going to be really good for meeting our carbon targets and maintaining energy security, this is only fine until around 2030.

Between 2030 and 2050, the UK will have to decarbonise gas, or find a non-gas solution to energy needs. Under most scenarios, gas used for heating in domestic properties must be reduced, so the sustainability of gas demand for space heating and cooling use in households after around 2050 is unlikely. Meaning : we won’t be using gas at home.

However, gas will still be required for backing up renewable electricity generation, so we had better start preparing for decarbonised, Renewable Gas production right now, because it’s going to take a long time to build up production capability.

Oh look, National Grid and Shell are on it :-

“Shell and National Grid join hydrogen to gas grid feasibility study : Aug 31 2012 : The Hydrogen Journal : UK hydrogen company ITM Power has announced that Shell and National Grid have joined its feasibility study looking at injecting hydrogen into UK gas networks. The feasibility study has a budget of £164,000, with funding from the UK Technology Strategy Board. Founder participants are Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, ITM Power and energy consultancy KIWA. The idea is that excess renewable energy (which is surplus to requirements of the national grid) could be used to electrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen could be added to UK gas networks, which are allowed to carry around 5 per cent of hydrogen under current regulations. The project includes preliminary logistical research, system research, creation of a generation model and the simulation of hydrogen production at a single wind farm. ‘Having both Shell and National Grid plc contributing to this project will provide a significant level of industry expertise and we are delighted to be working with these highly respected organisations,’ says Graham Cooley, CEO of ITM Power.”

And I think BP is on Renewable Gas foundation technologies too…it’s a bit hidden in the sub-text, because the headline obscures it – but notice the use of the terms “catalysis” and “new metal alloys and composites” – these are right at the heart of Renewable Gas chemistry :-”

“BP invests $100m in materials for oil and gas industry : 14 August 2012 : BP is to establish a $100 million research centre to lead work aimed at advancing the use of advanced materials across a variety of oil and gas industrial applications. One focus will be structural materials such as new metal alloys and composites. The BP International Centre for Advanced Materials (BP-ICAM) will be modelled on a ‘hub and spoke’ structure, with the ‘hub’ located within the UK University of Manchester’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. The ‘spokes’ and other founder members are the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London in the UK, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US. The BP-ICAM will carry out research into seven primary areas – structural materials, smart coatings, functional materials, catalysis, membranes, energy storage and energy harvesting…”

The best plan appears to me to be : let’s go gas. Let’s replace coal with gas. Let’s then work on Renewable Gas at the same time, and implement strong energy conservation measures to reduce energy consumption – let’s meet our carbon targets by getting renewables and conservation to add up to total decarbonisation.

OK, so some of the gas infrastructure and plant that we put in today may well not be used 100% of the time in a decade or too. But that’s OK. If we need to, we can recycle gas turbines into wind turbines. And keep the rest running on Renewable Gas.

And naturally, attracting finance for new gas generation is going to be hard if they may only be running for a few decades. This is a genuine barrier to keeping the lights on, but I’m sure we can clamber over it somehow (although not with carbon pricing… but that’s another story).

With gas, we can all win. Everybody.

I’d like you all to join me in singing along “gas, gas…gas gas”, because that’s exactly where we’re going.

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