Britain's gas crisis

UK gas crisis - 5 lessons

A potential gas supply crunch in the UK provides lessons towards building resilience and decarbonising the gas grid.
Published: Wed 07 Mar 2018

Reports from UK’s National Grid of a ‘gas supply deficit’ during an extended cold weather spell in the last days of February and first days of March turned out not to be so dire as it could have been.

Widely covered in the popular media, National Grid reported on Twitter that it was an indication to the market for make available more gas and a situation the company was prepared for.

National Grid also assured that domestic gas supply would not be affected and subsequently that large users had reduced demand under commercial, i.e. demand management, arrangements.

Gas in Britain

Ofgem details the three main uses of gas in Britain as heating in homes, providing energy to businesses and for electricity, with gas accounting for over 40% of the electricity supply mix.

While this crisis was driven by a lack of gas storage capacity, according to Bloomberg, it presents some valuable lessons for the sector as it transforms.

1. Extreme weather challenges resiliency

More frequent and extreme weather events of different types, from storms to drought to cold, are affecting all parts of the globe and preparedness is needed. An example is the northeastern United States which has been hit by a succession of hurricanes and has led to a push to build microgrids and other resiliency into the grids.

2. Smart gas infrastructure

Smart gas metering has a key role. Due to the limited potential benefits, the business case for smart gas meters is more difficult to make than for electricity – only a handful of EU countries are rolling out smart gas compared with almost all for smart electricity. But with about 80% of British homes heated by gas, these offer a significant potential opportunity for demand management in the context of the connected home, alongside the industrial and commercial sector.

Similarly both sectors offer ongoing opportunities for home and building energy efficiency measures.

3. Need for flexibility market

With the high level of gas-powered generation, storage and flexibility in the electricity sector also have a place. Efforts to develop a flexibility market are underway with the network operators, with decisive developments expected in the current year as the Energy Networks Association’s Open Networks project advances.

4. Looking beyond gas

Alternatives to natural gas also should be accelerated. Biogas and specifically hydrogen open the way to additional benefits besides energy use. Hydrogen is an alternative to battery powered transportation and also can be used for renewables storage in use cases such as microgrids. In addition, these, along with other low carbon heat options, support the decarbonisation effort.

5. Optimise gas network assets

Underlying all of these opportunities is both doing more with the assets that are available as well as developing new ones and their enablement with intelligent technology to provide security and resilience to the network and ultimately a more sustainable energy system.