Distribution, Gas, Markets, Technology

Observations on future gas issues

In contemplating the role for gas in Australia’s future, there are broad societal and technology influences to consider. The Energy Networks Association (ENA) anticipates an escalation of consumer interest in choosing their energy source, in deciding how and when they use energy, and generally playing a greater role in determining how much they pay for energy or use a mix of energy sources.

As consumers begin to have more choice, many are choosing gas. The total length of Australia’s gas distribution networks has expanded by more than
10 per cent, to 82,000 kilometres, since 1997.

This increased involvement of consumers will likely boost demand for more efficient appliances, homes, buildings, transport (for example, natural gas vehicles), with consequent impacts on society.

A significant focus of the work on smart metering for electricity relates to more active network management and increased consumer participation in electricity, yet technology advances are also likely to lead to smarter gas grids.

Over time, these smarter gas grids may include elements such as:

  • Greater penetration of distributed generation, including cogeneration facilities supporting electricity system security of supply and meeting changing customer energy demands.
  • Partnering of gas with renewable technologies to boost reliability of supply.
  • More extensive time-of-use gas metering, driving stronger incentives around gas usage and network investment. Integrated smart metering and household displays that encompass gas, electricity and other utilities, providing usage and real-time price information.
  • Introduction of remote monitoring and within-network metering to provide gas distribution networks with better information on current network performance, and improved system control and maintenance.

Equally, these new gas grids will be delivering gas in a community with different expectations and requirements than those that underpinned the rollout of existing gas infrastructure. In addition to the issues already outlined, some relevant trends that can be expected are:

  • Increasing societal requirements for gas networks to operate at a level of “˜zero community risk’ in safety terms.
  • Expectations of absolute levels of reliability and low community tolerance for delays in tasks considered routine to gas network business operations (e.g. connections, expansions).
  • Changing patterns of network demand, arising from demographic trends such as the ageing population and smaller household sizes.
  • Increased demands from gas market participants for real-time information on gas transported by networks or pipelines, to enable gas shippers to maximise commercial positions in emerging market hubs.

One of the most significant drivers of growth and change in the natural gas industry will be the substantial role gas can play in greenhouse emissions reductions.

Australia’s natural gas sector has long positioned itself as a competitive bridging fuel between existing emissions-intensive fossil fuels and emerging renewable energy technologies. New domestic policy developments and ratification of the Kyoto climate change agreement will test that positioning and place the natural gas sector within a new carbon constrained business environment.

While the climate change debate continues and the situation regarding a carbon pollution reduction scheme is still not clear, many in the energy sector are seeing a greater role for gas in addressing climate change challenges and there are renewed discussions around developing strategies to promote the use of gas.

As the peak national body representing gas and electricity transmission and distribution businesses throughout Australia, ENA is well positioned to help shape the policy discussion into the future.

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