The latest report from the energy distribution sector highlights an expanding industry with great prospects for delivering carbon emissions reduction.
Connections to the national gas grid are growing at a rate of about 100,000 per year, according to Energy Networks Australia (ENA).
Natural gas connections will tip over the 5 million mark in November – a massive 70% of Australian homes, the report says.
The reach and capacity of this network represents a great opportunity for innovative, low emission energy generation and storage.
As we have noted in the past, ‘power-to-gas’ is a new technology being examined in a trial in South Australia which would make use of excess wind/solar power to split atoms of water to create hydrogen, which could then be injected directly into the gas pipeline network, to mix with natural gas.
With $5 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), Wollongong-based company, AquaHydrex, is testing a new type of electrolyser to split the hydrogen and oxygen components of water.
If the trial is successful, otherwise wasted wind/solar power can be converted to gas for immediate use or for storage in the gas distribution network. This is both more efficient and has the advantage of reducing emissions because hydrogen does not contain carbon.
Australia’s biggest users of natural gas are in industry, covering manufacturing jobs in the hundreds of thousands. These are commonly 24/7 users of natural gas and many could not survive without it. Most big manufacturing processes, such as steel and other metal production, rely on gas for heating massive furnaces. Others , such as glass and fertiliser, depend on gas as a product ingredient. Electricity is not a practically viable alternative in some of these cases; in others natural gas is simply irreplaceable.
Small business users, especially in hospitality and service sectors, number in the tens of thousands in all mainland States.
In the five million homes connected to the extensive gas pipeline networks, people typically use gas for space heating, cooking and hot water.
Natural gas is used in homes and small businesses all year round but its consumption in winter months is nearly triple that of summer months because of the heating application – a vital necessity for many people, including the elderly.
According to ENA, Australia has over 90,000 kilometres of gas distribution network and Australian households use over 11 million gas appliances.
Calculations by Deloitte Access Economics suggest Australia’s existing gas infrastructure could store more energy than six billion PowerWall batteries.