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In 2019, the UK set a legal target to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. It became the first major economy to do so. The National Grid’s ‘Future Energy Scenarios’ report recognises the crucial role of gas in the energy transition. It leverages sector expertise, existing infrastructure, and technologies to integrate renewables rapidly and at scale. This meets the ambitious government deadline. In this blog, we explore the role of gas in the clean energy transition.

Gas as a transition fuel

Compared to coal, natural gas emits 45% to 55% fewer greenhouse gas emissions when used for electricity generation (according to the IEA). From 2010 to 2019, the shift from coal to gas saved approximately 500 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to adding 200 million electric vehicles to the road1. Currently, renewable sources are unable to generate sufficient uninterrupted power for the country. Natural gas can complement wind and solar energy during seasonal variations and provide backup during short-term fluctuations.

In March 2021, the UK government reached a North Sea Transition deal with the oil and gas industry. This collaboration taps into the sector’s energy expertise to expedite the green energy transition. The deal involves a £16 billion investment over the next decade in low-carbon technologies. It aims to enhance the country’s carbon capture infrastructure and initiate the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel for heating, industry, and transport2.

Hydrogen

There is increasing recognition of hydrogen’s potential as a clean energy alternative to gas. One significant advantage of using green hydrogen is the ability to repurpose the existing natural gas infrastructure for its transportation and storage with minor modifications. This approach is not only quicker than constructing new pipelines but also more cost-effective.

Numerous projects are already underway across the UK, experimenting with hydrogen as a power source for residential communities. Additionally, as part of the Energy Security Strategy in April 2022, the UK government pledged £375 million in support for innovative energy technologies. This includes investments in hydrogen and carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) to expedite the development of domestic power3.

Carbon capture

Carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) involves capturing greenhouse gas emissions, storing them, and utilising them for energy production. While the technology is already used to reduce emissions from natural gas, its deployment has been slow and underutilised.

However, the ambitious Net Zero targets are likely to change this scenario, as CCUS holds significant strategic value in the clean energy transition. Besides enabling low-cost hydrogen production, it can be retrofitted to existing power and industrial plants. It is particularly valuable in industries such as cement, iron, steel, and chemicals, where alternative emission reduction technologies are limited.

Looking ahead, recent government investments in hydrogen production and CCUS highlight the significant role of natural gas in the clean energy transition. It will continue to serve as a bridge, filling technology gaps and offering a lower-carbon alternative to coal and oil until renewable energy becomes economically viable.

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