Gas network operators launch Pathway to Net-Zero joint plan

Launching the Pathway to Net-Zero document are (from left) Niall Martindale, managing director firmus energy; Áine Spillane, regulatory affairs manager GNI (UK); Michael McKinstry, chief executive Phoenix Natural Gas; economy minister Gordon Lyons; Paddy Larkin, managing director Mutual Energy; and David Butler, director SGN Natural Gas. Picture: Justin Kernoghan

THE north's five gas network operators - Phoenix Natural Gas, firmus energy, SGN Natural Gas, Mutual Energy and GNI (UK) - have launched a joint plan to fully decarbonise the region's gas network by 2050.

The Pathway to Net-Zero document ( charts out how the gas network will transition away from natural gas to renewable alternatives such as biomethane and hydrogen to support Northern Ireland's emission targets.

The injection of biomethane into the north's gas grid is expected to commence as soon as 2023 whilst significant work is under way to accommodate green hydrogen by the middle of this decade. Fully transitioning to renewable gases will reduce regional Co2 emissions by around 1.4 million tonnes a year.

Decarbonising the gas rather than changing the heating system will offer nearly 550,000 gas users an affordable transition to net-zero with minimal disruption, enabling customers to continue enjoying all the convenience and benefits of a gas heating system safe in the knowledge that the gas they use will be 100 per cent renewable by 2050.

Economy minister Gordon Lyons said: “I welcome these ambitious proposals to decarbonise the Northern Ireland gas network. Encouraging the production of renewable gases will create a significant source of indigenous green energy which will reduce our reliance on importing price volatile fossil fuels.

“This will ensure that in the delivery of self-sufficiency in affordable renewable energy, we will transform our economy, and the whole of our society will benefit from it.”

The transition to using renewable gases offers the opportunity for the north to grow its green economy by investing in indigenous renewable gas production which in turn will support economic growth and job creation across the region.

Queen's University Belfast has established that there is sufficient biomethane production potential from Northern Ireland's large agricultural sector to meet over 80 per cent of its current gas distribution network demand. Similarly, the region's significant levels of excess wind generation can be harnessed to produce green hydrogen.

Rather than importing energy, Northern Ireland has the opportunity to take advantage of its excellent renewable gas production potential to become energy self-sufficient and, in the long term, a significant energy exporter.

Declan Billington, chair of the CBI NI Energy Working Group, said: “In the future Northern Ireland's world leading products will be judged not just on price but also their carbon footprint. The swift incorporation of renewable gases into the gas network will be crucial to support the decarbonisation of our industrial sector and allow us to remain competitive in global markets.”

Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) deputy president William Irvine said: “The Gas Network Pathway to Net-Zero further recognises the significant cross sectoral benefits of biomethane injection and demonstrates the opportunity for biomethane, and the wider agricultural sector, to play a major role in Northern Ireland's energy transition. We hope its publication will encourage key decision makers to make our aspirations a reality.”