Up until 2004, the UK exported more gas than it imported, however with the decline in supplies from the UK’s Continental Shelf, we have increasingly had to reply on external providers to ensure our gas needs are met. Where the UK will get it’s gas in future is an issue that is currently on the national agenda, particularly with concerns about limitations of natural gas resources and the carbon reduction and energy efficiency targets set by the EU.
With many considering gas to be a ‘dirty’ fossil fuel and that it’s continued use will not help reach emissions targets, the role of gas in the UK’s energy mix by 2050 has increasingly come into question. However, with 50% of the total energy consumption in the UK going on central heating and 80% of that 50% provided by gas, it’s unlikely that gas will be going anywhere, though the way we source it may well change.
Gas may be a fossil fuel but it is still one of the cheapest ways to provide energy and it is generally considered much cleaner than coal or oil. This has led to research into other sustainable methods of sourcing gas that doesn’t rely upon natural gas from the ground. One of the less conventional forms of gas has emerged as biomethane.
Biomethane is a gas that occurs naturally from the ‘anaerobic digestion of organic matter.’ Such matter can include manure, organic waste, sewage and dead animal and plant matter. Perhaps the most well-known biomethane producers are cows; 10,000 of which can produce enough dung to convert into 226,000 cubic feet of biomethane per day.
There are a range of positives associated with biomethane which include the fact that it is considered a green source of energy. It is the same type of gas of that found in the ground, but there is a finite amount found in the ground and there is no even distribution of it around the world. Some countries are fortunate to have it in abundance, some a little, while some countries have no natural gas reserves at all. In a way, the ability to cultivate biomethane levels the playing field because it is derived from fresh sources, which makes it renewable and has the ability to be produced in countries with no history of natural gas stocks in the ground.
The government has recognised the potential of biomethane as a way to diversify the UK’s gas supplies and even included it in the Renewable Heat Incentive, supporting biomethane being put into the UK’s gas grid. There are now several biomethane gas to grid plants operating in the UK and even Sainsbury’s has opened a store in Cannock, Staffordshire that is entirely powered by biomethane gas, obtained from the breaking down of it’s waste food.
The future for biomethane as a form of providing energy to the UK looks good, but there is much more potential to be unlocked if we are going to make the most of all the energy biomethane generation can give us. The government needs to lead the way with more schemes like the Renewable Heat Incentive to assist in new biomethane projects as the future of the energy mix in the UK relies upon it. With recent cuts announced by the Treasury to many energy efficiency schemes and programmes, we will have to see whether the development of biomethane plants will be put on hold for the foreseeable future.
Article by Benjamin Clarke
• The Changing Nature of the UK's Energy Consumption 12th Feb 2015
• How to Maximise Your Heating System's Energy Efficiency 23rd Dec 2014
• The Government Stops The Green Deal Scheme 24th Sep 2015