16. Gas Network Operators
Water, gas and power are considered essentials in developed society, and the responsibility for providing a constant supply rests with a range of public utilities and private concerns. What might not be visible at a first glance is the necessity for there to be overarching distribution organisations. Most consumers of water, gas and power only see the bills from their supply companies, they don’t see the grids and pipeline networks that act as infrastructure to communicate their supplies to their doors; nor envisage how coordinated and managed these need to be in order to keep the whole system functioning.
And thus it is that there are giant companies and government agencies that are forever working behind the market scenes, installing, repairing, connecting, transforming, regulating, pumping, pressurising, smoothing and balancing the supplies of water, gas and power.
It is these powerful and very well connected groups that may be a powerful voice for the introduction of Renewable Gas, as they have several good reasons to call for it.
First of all, because of potential vagaries and vaguenesses, and perhaps even international vandalism, the supply of Natural Gas, for example to the European region, which is heavily dependent on imports, might be at risk under some possible future conditions – temporal or temporary. This naturally mandates healthy grid-connected gas storage facilities. It is important to note that the storage of energy fuel gases is of an importance a magnitude higher than the storage of waste non-fuel carbon dioxide to these actors in the energy sector. We all know that climate change is a scourge that needs addressing, but if Vladimir Putin’s generals or buddies turn the taps off, the resulting energy emergency in Europe can only be answered by planning ahead of time to have stores of energy-dense gas on hand. Yes, we need to deal with climate change, but first, we need underground gas storage. Then we can decarbonise the gas.
Second, but no less important, is making sure that gas fuels can adequately and at all times compensate for the natural variability in renewable electricity supply – because, you know, the sun sets, and the wind dies down from time to time. Natural Gas is turning into a very good friend for filling in the gaps in generation, and so builds the case for gas storage. The electricity grid people want the smoothing done by gas, partly because it produces so much less in carbon dioxide emissions that coal, so there has to be a strong cooperation between the gas and power authorities and management. Yes, this is not Renewable Gas going into these stores, but see what happens in point three.
Thirdly, as the growth in renewable electricity “rockets”, and other shock terms to indicate exponential change, there will be times when the combination of the sun and wind power is just too copious – hours of excess energy just streaming into the wires. There is no way that every country in Europe can export all their excess electricity – the wires are full of whizzing wind (or solar) electrons from County Kerry to Pchery in the Czech Republic. What to do with all this excess electricity ? Why, make Renewable Gas of course, to store for future hungry gaps. All the more reason to build gas storage.
And so now you see where this is heading : the administration of the gas infrastructure deeply need gas storage, and the power companies can provide lots of perhaps close to zero cost electrons to make gas from water.
The call for “power-to-gas” or P2G is getting louder – making Renewable Hydrogen – but for a range of reasons, the best gas to store is probably Renewable Methane, so it will pay to watch closely for the details of progress.