The impacts of Covid-19 will be felt across our society for some considerable time to come as we continue to adapt to new ways of living and working, mindful of the hundreds of people who have been so personally affected by the loss of friends and family members to the disease.
Through the pandemic and the recent Thursday evening clap for carers, we have seen a renewed sense of respect and gratitude for so many people in our society who have ensured frontline services have been available, from those in health and emergency care to supermarkets, corner shops and energy suppliers, rebuilding that feeling of community and collectiveness.
Another welcome but perhaps unintended outcome of the pandemic has been a sizeable reduction in global carbon emissions in recent months as a result of changed consumer behaviours as lockdowns have been imposed. At the peak of the virus outbreak, emissions in individual countries decreased by 17% due to the significant reduction in travel and transport, and changing energy patterns. However previous experiences of decreases in global carbon emissions have taught us that these can be short lived and are often followed with a rebound. For example, the 2008-2009 financial crisis saw global emissions decline by 1.4% in 2009 followed by a growth of 5.1% in 2010.
This time though it may be different. The authors of a recent report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air suggests that the lower emissions output of Covid 19 has “offered a glimpse of the cleaner, healthier, environment that is possible”.
Of nearly 20,000 drivers polled by the AA in May 2020, 40% said they would be driving less after the social distancing restrictions are lifted. As many as 82% indicated they will take some sort of action to maintain cleaner air after lockdown to help reduce air pollutants.
The one unknown however from the unprecedented set of circumstances is the extent to which we will remain true to new outlooks on life or if, as a new normal emerges, they will end up being thwarted by other distractions.
It feels like the pandemic has forced us globally to a key juncture of this challenge and increasingly society agree that now is the time for showing an effective plan.
Whilst the Covid pandemic has understandably halted progress across many economic sectors, the move to green the natural gas infrastructure in the UK has recently made a further ambitious step on its decarbonisation journey.
In April the Energy Networks Association (ENA) launched a programme titled ‘Gas Goes Green’ aimed at supporting gas network operators agenda’s to be ready for householders and businesses to switch to hydrogen ready appliances. The programme is designed to build on the wealth of learning that has been leveraged from a number of high-profile research and development initiatives operating across Europe, many of them being delivered in the UK.
‘Gas Goes Green’ seeks to consolidate learning from across the gas industry to maximise the role of natural gas networks in delivering net carbon zero by 2050. A key aim of the programme is to deliver this transition into a ‘business as usual’ setting ensuring the work completed today paves the way for an effective set of decarbonisation solutions in the future and in turn ensuring a smooth transition for energy users.
For the 21 million homes across Great Britain connected to the gas grid the ambitions of the ‘Gas Goes Green’ programme will offer great confidence that the infrastructure that has served energy needs for the last 60 years will continue to be the energy solution of the future without the need for considerable cost, readjustment to the way they consume energy or critically, disruption to their properties.
This will be equally good news for the c.300,000 householders and businesses connected to the natural gas infrastructure in Northern Ireland as well as those property owners who have access to the natural gas network but have yet to connect.
Whilst the long terms credentials of the gas infrastructure look attractive, an important aspect of energy transition will be the need to fully capitalise on the more immediate measures we can take to minimise carbon outputs today. The strive for a perfect set of immediate solutions cannot afford to slow down the progression of impactful, practical solutions that are available today that engage society and springboard us closer to the end goal.
Energy users switching from home heating oil to natural gas reduce their carbon emissions by around 50% as a result of both the introduction of a carbon cleaner fuel and the associated efficiencies of a highly efficient boiler and controls. These are impressive carbon savings given the move to natural gas is also celebrated as a desirable ‘home improvement’ due to the lifestyle, convenience and efficiency benefits it offers.
By the end of 2022 there will be 230,000 homes in NI that have access to the natural gas network but will continue to be heated by oil fired boilers. This represents a sizeable opportunity for these homeowners to reduce their carbon heating footprint by a substantial 50% and in turn add to the 1.1m tonnes of carbon that current gas users in NI are already taking out of NI’s atmosphere on an annual basis.
Those connected or connecting to the natural gas network in NI are doing so in the knowledge that from the outset they are reducing their carbon emissions by 50% and furthermore they are connecting to an infrastructure that aims to be carbon neutral before 2050.
There is no doubt that we are entering into a period of transition where things will have to change both from an energy usage perspective as well as wider society practices if we are to realise the full net carbon zero potential. Whilst Northern Ireland’s journey in this regard will be as challenging as other regions, we are starting in pole position to begin making immediate inroads on this target through the full utilisation of natural gas networks locally.