Gas could help UK to a low carbon economy, say Durham University experts

Report co-authored by Durham University academics says gas could be a 'bridging fuel' - but will soon become a part of the problem, not the solution

Ofgem has warned gas and electricity suppliers
Ofgem has warned gas and electricity suppliers

Gas could provide a ‘bridge’ to a low carbon economy - but it is not a long-term solution, according to new research co-authored by Durham University.

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) said that gas could be an important ‘bridging fuel’ for the country as it juggles energy demand and climate change targets.

But the research also warns that it won’t be long before gas becomes part of the problem rather than the solution.

The research combines the latest energy system modelling techniques with analysis of UK gas security to assess future demand.

To prevent global temperatures rising above 2C, the research suggests that further gas use will be needed in the short term to replace coal and complement the increases in low carbon energy sources that must also occur.

However, this is dependent on gas use beginning to fall in the late 2020s and early 2030s, with any major role beyond 2035 requiring the widespread use of carbon capture and storage.

There is also significant geographical diversity in the role that gas can play in addressing climate change, with a very limited use in some regions and an extended and strong role in others.

Professor Gavin Bridge of the Department of Geography at Durham University, said: “In just over a decade the UK has gone from being self-sufficient in gas to importing about half of the natural gas that it consumes – mostly from Norway.

“As the UK’s gas import dependence has grown, it has essentially been ‘globalising’ its gas security, potentially increasing the exposure of UK consumers to events in global gas markets.

“To date the UK has shown resilience to international supply constraints, such as the Russia-Ukraine crisis and conflict in the Middle East.

“Stress tests have shown that the UK can draw additional supplies from Norway and the global LNG market. However, as domestic production declines, the UK’s reliance on Norwegian gas will grow.

“Existing Norwegian fields will begin to decline in the 2020’s and the UK may have to access its gas via the continental market. This may undermine UK energy security.”

UK shale gas has been suggested as a solution to supply concerns, but Prof Bridge said the research showed production over the next decade, the key time-period where gas could act as a transition fuel, is unlikely to be of sufficient scale to significantly reduce UK import dependence or gas prices.

Instead of banking on shale, UKERC recommends rapidly expanding investment in alternative low-carbon energy sources and investing in more gas storage to help protect consumers against short-term supply disruption and price rises.

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