The UK National Grid has teamed up with 2OC, a company, which has developed “geo-pressure” technology to utilize the enormous pressure inside the UK gas pipelines, which supply UK homes.
The first of several planned schemes will see the implementation of small turbines inside the gas network, to produce 20MW of clean energy by 2010 from the natural gas that is delivered at high pressures through the pipes.
The innovative technology will support the National Grid, which owns most of the UK’s gas pipeline, in meeting its targets of sourcing all of its internal energy use from renewable technology. It is estimated that on completion of the eight planned schemes across the UK, the combined renewable energy generation could be as much as 1GW – the equivalent a conventional coal or nuclear power station.
Andrew Mercer from 2OC explains that
“Natural gas is at far too high a pressure when it is drilled from underground reservoirs, so can’t be used safely in homes. It would just blow up your gas cooker.”
Instead, the pressure must be released at hundreds of sites across the supply network known as pressure reduction stations (PRSs). 2OC plans to build mini-power stations across these PRSs, to capture this energy, which is currently lost, to generate clean electricity.
Whilst the technology has in some form been in the spotlight before – the US considered it at some sites in the 80s – the huge associated costs have meant that it did not become more widespread. The British engineers expect to reduce costs by combining the technology with a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit at high efficiency.
Mercer has also identified another use for the technology, which he calls “free cold“. Reducing the gas pressure also delivers significant temperature drops, from as much as 10C to -30C, presenting an opportunity as a potential replacement technology in refrigeration and air conditioning units. In addition there have been talks about using this technology for large scale cooling close to letdown stations, such as the EU’s proposed concentrated solar power project across Northern Africa (making the project planned for the blistering heat of the Sahara desert more feasible) and also to supply the huge cooling needs of large computer data centres.
The emergence and implementation of such innovative ideas is well received by environmentalists, particularly in light of the momentum we have built on the climate change agenda in the UK. Despite the technology being in its pilot stages in the UK, if implementation of the technology continues across the 2000+ potential sites in the UK, this would significantly reduce the UK’s dependence on foreign imports of fossil fuels to satisfy it’s ever-increasing energy consumption. Whilst enabling the UK to meet carbon reduction targets (to contribute to the mitigation of climate change) and increasing energy security, it should be noted that the technology uses the high pressure from deliveries of natural gas. If supplies are depleting, do we need to consider other ways of using this technology – assuming fewer deliveries gas? I think we do.
In terms of prices, I would expect that after initial investments to install geo-pressure technology at PRSs, the dual function (additional clean energy) which can be harnessed from deliveries of natural gas should reduce the prices of gas for end users, but whether this might be cancelled out by the increasing gas prices from overseas remains to be seem.