Large-scale solar and wind energy generation will not only be key to decarbonising Australia’s electricity grid, but would also form the foundation of a zero-carbon gas network, a new report has found.
The report, published by Energy Networks Australia on Monday and building on the Gas Vision 2050 report, says that Australia’s current gas network could be decarbonised by 2050, through a combination of renewables generated hydrogen fuel, waste to energy biogas, and carbon capture and storage technology.
In particular, the report talks up the potential of using Australia’s vast solar and wind resource to produce hydrogen fuels, that could be injected into existing gas networks; used for industrial heating, space heating and cooking; and to mop up and store excess renewable energy generation.
The findings of the report, based on research by Deloitte Access Economics, paint a markedly different picture to other studies modelling zero emissions grids, where gas is largely phased out in favour of solar, wind and hydro generated electricity, and balanced by energy storage and smart management.
Instead, the ENA claims that the decarbonisation of both the gas and electricity networks together would capitalise on existing infrastructure, bolster the uptake and optimisation of large-scale renewables, and provide the best outcome for consumers in the longer term, in terms of cost.
“The electricity required to replace the energy provided by the gas network will require vast upgrades to electricity generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure as well as additional investment in electricity storage,” the report says.
“This raises important questions about practicality and cost.”
To illustrate this, the report cites the case of Victoria, where the gas network currently provides 69 per cent of household energy a year. Switching from gas to 100 per cent electricity in that state, it says, would result in a doubling or tripling of peak electricity demand in winter.
“Our gas infrastructure and networks (also) have the capacity to store unused renewable electricity to manage hourly, daily and seasonal fluctuations in variable renewable supply and demand providing energy security and reliability.
“This process allows surplus renewable energy to be stored as hydrogen in the gas network and can be conserved and for later use converted back to electricity or used for domestic or industrial heat.”
In this way, the report says, hydrogen from renewable electrolysis could improve the integration of renewable electricity generation into energy markets.
“We know that there is significant potential across the country to apply the transformational technologies of biogas, hydrogen and CCS to existing networks to build and maintain a highly reliable energy system,” said ENA chief Andrew Dillon in a statement on Monday.
“Hydrogen production and storage could be a game changer as it becomes more cost efficient as the technology matures,” he said.
“The majority of Australia’s gas distribution networks are compatible with hydrogen.
“With applied technology, our existing gas networks could deliver better outcomes for Australian households and businesses, the environment and the economy.”
Dillon called on governments to support the exploration of a broad range of options, including technology neutral policies that allow renewable gas to be injected into the network, encouraging more efficient use of biogas and other renewable gases.
Industry is testing the impacts of injecting biogas and hydrogen into networks, with trials underway.
Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.