National Grid plc is working to replace all fossil fuel in its New York and Massachusetts gas networks with renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen as a part of its path to net-zero emissions by 2050, the company announced.
The London-based gas and electric utility announced the plans as a part of its overall blueprint for tackling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from heating buildings. By transitioning its gas network and creating new heating solutions, management said it could greatly reduce the source of 39% of GHG emissions in Massachusetts and New York.
National Grid has been using RNG in its gas systems since 1981, but it plans to exponentially grow its procurement of the gas captured from sources like farms and landfills over the next several decades. The utility reported it expects to eventually use between 10% and 20% of the annual RNG supply available in the eastern United States.
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The utility also plans to mix hydrogen created with renewable electricity into its existing gas network with RNG to further reduce net GHG emissions and improve reliability. National Grid is a part of a consortium of businesses and state agencies led by New York seeking funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for a regional hydrogen hub.
National Grid CEO John Pettigrew compared the gas network initiative to the utility’s investments in wind and solar to decarbonize its electrical network. By making a similar commitment to improving heating, Pettigrew said National Grid could transition “completely to renewable natural gas and hydrogen by 2050 or sooner.”
With the changes to its gas system and targeted electrification of buildings across its service area, National Grid estimates it could reduce “economy-wide emissions” by 50% in 2030 and 90% by 2050, when compared to 1990 levels.
Some researchers have questioned the efficacy of hydrogen integration and RNG in existing gas infrastructure to lower GHG emissions, while some environmental advocates suggest more investments in renewable energy and electrification is the best path to averting a climate crisis.
In its explanation for its approach, National Grid highlighted several issues its customer base might have with transitioning to a scenario where most customers use electricity for heat. One of the most critical, it found, was the added natural gas volumes it estimated would be required to generate enough electricity.
The utility pointed toward a climate analysis created for the state of Massachusetts by Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. that concluded utilities would need to increase gas volumes by 50% to meet demand during a peak load day under a high-electrification scenario. The analysis found a transition that included a gas network for heat would need 15% more gas volume than current levels on a peak day during the same time frame.
Utilities that operate on the East Coast have had difficulty finding approval from state regulators in recent years for projects that would grow gas volumes for places like New York City. National Grid forecasted last summer that without new infrastructure, New York City and other parts of New York could see a gas shortfall as soon as next winter.
While National Grid plans to eliminate fossil fuel from its gas networks, management said the most reliable and equitable path forward for all of its customers requires a mix of gas and hydrogen with renewables, along with targeted electrification for customers that can afford it.
National Grid reported it looked at the current cost of retrofitting a typical building in Massachusetts or New York and estimated owners could pay between $20,000 to $60,000 in upfront costs to make their property an energy efficient, fully electrified building. Using its mixed approach, National Grid estimates it could save a collective $110-200 billion dollars “in economy-wide costs” for its customer base by 2050, compared to a high electrification approach.
National Grid serves 20 million customers through gas and electric networks in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. According to the company, of the roughly 10 million households in Massachusetts and New York, 57% currently use a gas furnace or boiler system, 25% use a boiler fueled by oil or propane and use electricity. Of the 1.4 million customers in New York and Massachutes that use electric heating, National Grid estimated about 1% use an energy efficient heat pump system.
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