By Katie Harrison
The UK’s target to reach net zero carbon by 2050 will require an overhaul of current systems, including the UK gas network, which currently relies predominantly on fossil fuels. The transition to a carbon free gas grid will require increased biomethane production and the introduction of hydrogen – both of which are considered green gases.
The Gas Goes Green programme aims to deliver an entire carbon free gas grid by 2050, but how will implementing this huge infrastructural change work in practice? Will consumers be disrupted by changes to the gas grid? And why is this programme so important to meeting our net zero goals?
What is the Gas Goes Green programme and why is it crucial for supporting net zero targets?
The UK places a huge reliance on the gas network, for heating homes and workplaces and operating equipment. As the climate crisis heightens, our dependence on fossil fuels must end. Fossil fuels contributed to 76.2% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 which highlights the scale of the issue at large.
The Gas Goes Green programme was launched by the Energy Network Association in 2020 to develop the world’s first carbon free gas grid. The programme involves replacing the current gas grid with a combination of hydrogen and biomethane, working alongside electricity as part of the UK’s journey to reaching net zero.
Driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen is part of the government’s Ten Point Plan and will allow a carbon free gas network to become a reality. However, scaling up hydrogen production and use in the national gas grid is not straight forward and to implement a hydrogen gas network requires a huge infrastructure change.
Biomethane is also part of the solution to decarbonise the gas sector and is already being used throughout the gas grid due to its compatibility with existing gas network infrastructure.
How can the gas network prepare for hydrogen?
Household appliances, such as boilers and combi-boilers, can already take up to a 20% volume blend of hydrogen. However, only a 0.1% volume blend of hydrogen is currently allowed in the gas network, due to health and safety concerns around the capability of the pipes.
The Iron Mains Risk Reduction Programme is a 30-year programme replacing ‘at risk’ iron gas pipes with polyethylene pipes which are fit for the purpose of transporting both hydrogen and biomethane. The project, which is two thirds complete, will allow hydrogen to be carried through the gas network.
Implementing a 20% volume blend of hydrogen throughout the gas grid could save around six million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.
Will a hydrogen gas blend impact end user experiences?
A project led by Cadent at Keele University found that using household appliances with a 20% volume blend of hydrogen made no change to user experience. This is now being tested on a public network of around 300 properties to see the results on a larger scale and to monitor consumer disruption.
Along with government support, the Gas Goes Green programme is working with boiler manufacturers to develop a hydrogen-ready boiler which can also take natural gas. This would allow the boiler to operate with a 20% volume blend of hydrogen but would also have the ability to operate effectively when infrastructure allows a 100% hydrogen supply.
Is the plan for the UK gas grid to be 100% hydrogen by 2050?
No, not at all. The south of England and central Wales have a high availability of biomethane, so not utilising this would be wasteful. Depending on the biomethane production and demand in those areas, a complete biomethane system may be better suited over a 100% hydrogen supply.
However, many consumers already have their energy needs met by electrification – such as electric heat pumps – which may reduce overall demands for gas in general. Together, hydrogen, biomethane and electricity will deliver sustainable heating.
What’s next for the Gas Goes Green programme?
Decarbonising the gas grid is a huge project which can’t be done overnight. Health and safety and the impact on consumers both need to be considered throughout the transition. The Gas Goes Green programme is working to ensure there are no detrimental effects to consumers and the process of removing fossil fuels from the gas grid is done with as little disruption as possible.
Over the next four to five years, there will be continued research and development to ensure the role of green gas is understood and guarantee that green gas is delivered safely into the UK gas network.
For more information on the Gas Goes Green programme, visit: Gas Goes Green – supporting hydrogen – Energy Networks Association
 2020 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Final Figures (publishing.service.gov.uk)
 The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (publishing.service.gov.uk)