National Grid has announced it plans to transition New York away from natural gas by 2050 via a combination of renewable natural gas and green hydrogen. New York City alone creates 70% of the State’s emissions, and almost half of those are a direct result of heating buildings and heating water with fossil fuels across its 1 million+ buildings.
National Grid’s strategy is that renewable natural gas and green hydrogen will be used in tandem with electrification projects and renewables like solar. The renewable natural gas and green hydrogen are necessary for reliability of the grid, at least with current technology in place.
I wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine this month on the topic. You can read that in its entirety here: National Grid says it will pivot to renewable gas and green hydrogen.
Additionally, a quick overview on renewable natural gas & green hydrogen is below.
Renewable Natural Gas
Renewable natural gas, or biogas/biomethane is captured when methane is released from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, food waste, and livestock manure. Emissions from these sources are recurring and otherwise contribute to greenhouse gas emissions but with the renewable natural gas process, they are harnessed, purified, and used to provide gas for cooking, heat, etc, through pipelines in the same manner as conventional natural gas.
Renewable natural gas is chemically similar to conventional, and can run through the same pipeline systems which is a huge plus for infrastructure concerns. However, the infrastructure to purify the captured emissions is essentially nonexistent currently.
There is some concern among environmentalists that biomethane pushes could push agricultural operations to scale further in order to be more cost effective. However, it is worth pointing out that the emissions from the agricultural sector are so high currently, that it seems unlikely capturing spilloff would ultimately function as a detrimental factor in terms of the broader emissions picture.
Even with that particular criticism aside, the infrastructure upgrades and purification setups needed and their associated costs make it unlikely that renewable natural gas can serve as a comprehensive replacement on its own.
Green hydrogen is the cleanest of the hydrogen options and produces zero carbon emissions. It’s produced by electrolysis. H20 is split into hydrogen and oxygen, so there is no waste and the environmental impact is zero. If the process is powered by renewable sources like wind or solar, it is considered a green fuel and has no environmental emissions cost.
The issue with green hydrogen is the infrastructure costs that would be associated with required upgrades to pipeline infrastructure. Currently, 26 pilot programs are running in the United States to test use in existing pipelines as well as production and storage methods.
So while green hydrogen may be the most promising of the solutions long term, it definitely is LONG term.