A £2.4m ($3m) project is underway in the UK to investigate ways of decarbonizing the country’s gas networks by introducing more ‘green’ gases such as biomethane.

The OptiNet project is a collaboration between smart energy technology company PassivSystems, gas DSO Cadent, construction and engineering group Costain and energy company Wales & West Utilities.

The use of green gas is forecast to grow as utilities aim to further decarbonize the UK’s energy networks. Currently, Wales & West Utilities supplies 130,000 homes with biomethane from 19 connected sites and forecasts by Cadent suggest that the UK will have sufficient green gas to enable over 120 TWh to be injected into the gas network annually by 2035.

PassivSystems chief executive Colin Calder aknoledges that introducing green gases brings challenges, and added that balancing supply and demand on gas networks “is becoming more complex with the rising number of distributed gas and biomethane connections”.

“There are also new demand types to consider, like gas peaking plants, which ramp up quickly to deliver electricity during periods of peak demand and help balance generation from renewable energy. Increasing numbers of these plants are connecting into the gas distribution networks. Sudden changes in demand, as the peaking plant switch from online to offline, can cause pressure in the gas network to rise and fall unpredictably”.

He said whole-system solutions, which simultaneously optimize energy flows across gas and electricity networks, are essential to facilitate the delivery of sustainable energy solutions.

“To accommodate the breadth of change required to deliver a low carbon, smart energy system, we need to work with our partners to design and future-proof the UK gas network in harmony with the electricity network,” Calder added. “We need to balance an increase in green gas and distributed power generation and manage unprecedented pressures on the network. We have to develop and deploy an optimised network solution that can adapt to constant changes.”

The OptiNet project will review several solutions to create capacity in the network to allow additional biomethane plants or other distributed gas generation to connect and flow, even in the lowest demand periods. 

Chris Clarke, energy strategy director at Wales & West Utilities, said enhancing the role of biomethane “is an essential step on the path to delivering an affordable, reliable and green future for energy… the gas network is preparing for the future and ready for decarbonised gas”. 

PassivSystems will look at how ‘plug and play’ compressor technology can be used across multiple sites without the need for bespoke modifications. A medium pressure network between the English towns of Honiton and Swindon has been selected as a demonstration network for the project. It was chosen as it is approaching a critical mass of biomethane enquiries in the area and a solution is required to enable a growth in capacity.

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The future role of gas across Europe will be discussed and debated in detail at European Utility Week and POWERGEN Europe later this year.