The UK must completely remove fossil-based natural gas from its fuel mix within the next 30 years to meet long term climate objectives, according to recent report from conservative think tank Bright Blue.
The report, published on Friday 15th February, says that the government must set out incentives and boost investment to increase supply of low carbon gases to lessen the heat sectors demand for natural gas.
Around 35% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from natural gas combustion and around half of those emissions are linked to gas use in the heating sector. Bright Blue indicated that in order for the country to meet future emissions reductions targets, such as the EU’s 2050 aim for net-zero emissions, deeper decarbonisation is essential.
Wilf Lytton, senior researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, told EURACTIV: “UK gas must be completely decarbonised during the coming three decades if this country is to meet its current and likely future legal emissions reduction target.”
“Now, with time running out, the government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity”, Lytton continued, going on to say that in order to meet the 1.5-degree target mentioned in the Paris Agreement “natural gas will need to be almost entirely eliminated from the networks by 2050, if not earlier”.
However, we still face considerable restrictions that make decarbonisation challenging. Lytton says, “existing gas regulations were designed decades ago” and “there are currently no incentives for investments into low-carbon gases, which hampers deeper decarbonisation of the sector”.
Lytton suggests that energy regulator ‘Ofgem’ should introduce a new low carbon gas obligation. He says that “this will enable the UK to decarbonise the gas network at the lowest possible cost, without distorting the market and removing the need to subsidise alternatives to natural gas”.
Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry welcomed “this thought-provoking work from Bright Blue”, saying that Britain should build on the success of decarbonisation within the electricity sector to begin decarbonisation of gas as well.
Perry argued that the UK needs “to get serious in tackling heat” in order to remain a world climate leader, suggesting that we build on our world leading natural gas sector and infrastructure when considering future policy solutions.
“Hydrogen and Biomethane can help deliver serious climate action through our existing infrastructure, keeping consumers on board and maintaining the flexibility and resilience provided by the gas system,” Perry said.
Bright Blue’s report suggests potential solutions such as gradually increasing the amount of low-carbon gases in the network over time, as well as implementing various measures aimed at reducing the amount of gas used by consumers.
The principal recommendation within the report is to make it compulsory for gas suppliers to deliver a steadily increasing percentage of low-carbon gases to the network, including biomethane, bioSNG and hydrogen. Over time the amounts of these low-carbon gases would be increased to help us fall in line with the Paris climate agreement targets.
According to Bright Blue this would require changes to the UK gas network “on a scale not experienced since flammable gas first arrived in homes”. Gas safety regulations currently only allow up to 0.1% hydrogen to be part of the gas supply which will have to be amended to reflect the actual technical capabilities of the network.
Last year, hydrogen was described as “credible” for use as green energy in the UK by The Committee on Climate Change (CCC). This is currently restricted by the lack of plan by the government to develop a hydrogen supply chain in the near future.