A project to replace the UK's old iron mains gas pipes with a network capable of carrying hydrogen and biomethane is on course to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of Britain's gas network by two-thirds by 2032, according to new figures published today by the Energy Networks Association (ENA) that suggest the investment could cut emissions equivalent to taking more than 500,000 cars off the road.
The major infrastructure project forms part of the Iron Mains Risk Replacement Programme, which is replacing the UK's old iron network with hydrogen- and biomethane-ready piping made from plastic. Estimated to cost up to £28bn, the project is coordinated by ENA's Gas Goes Green initiative, which is bringing together all Britain's gas network companies in a bid to deliver the world's first zero-carbon gas grid.
The current iron pipes carry methane-based natural gas. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with global warming potential that is 21 times greater than that of CO2. Around a quarter of manmade global warming is attributed to methane emissions with leaks from gas production and distribution infrastructure seen as a major source of the gas.
Up until 2014, when the replacement project began, iron mains pipes supplied gas for heating, cooking, and hot water to 23 million properties across the UK through 284,000km of pipelines, with 85 per cent of properties connected to the network.
However, the Iron Mains Risk Replacement Programme has already reduced emissions by more than a fifth since then, the ENA figures show, the equivalent of taking 179,123 cars off the road. By 2032, if the corresponding investment plans are approved by Ofgem, emissions will drop again by more than half, the equivalent to taking an additional 347,310 cars off the road since 2020, according to the ENA.
"We need to decarbonise the gas that we use. And an investment programme that was first introduced in 2002 to improve safety is now playing a vital role in reducing emissions and laying the foundations for a world-leading zero carbon gas grid," said David Smith, chief executive of the Energy Networks Association, which is lobbying Ofgem to approve investment plans submitted to the energy regulator as part of its RIIO-2 price control of energy network companies. The plans are currently under consultation.