Delivering the future of heat

By Domenick Graziani

Renewable natural gas (RNG) will be an important part of the future of heat. Pictured above is the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn, where National Grid is partnering with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to convert biogas into RNG for residential and commercial use.

As an extension of its June 2018 Northeast 80×50 Pathway, a deep dive analysis into ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, National Grid is on the verge of filing proposals for the future of heat with the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to help provide a greater platform to combat climate change by decarbonizing the gas network.

National Grid New York President John Bruckner

“While the scope of taking on climate change can be hard to comprehend, I am confident that we have more solutions at hand than we recognize,” says National Grid New York President John Bruckner on Earth Day. “Working together with regulators, elected officials, environmental groups and customers to achieve cost-effective and innovative solutions is the only way forward.”

Much like natural gas helped lower GHG emissions in the power sector, Bruckner believes that natural gas will play an important role in transforming the heating sector. Achieving the targets outlined in its Pathway means dramatically reducing reliance on the most expensive and most polluting heating fuels: fuel oil, propane and kerosene. New York can achieve this goal by converting homes and businesses to more affordable and cleaner natural gas heat wherever possible and electric heat pumps elsewhere.

“When it comes to the climate debate, the expansion of our natural gas distribution system is always a hot topic too often framed as black and white,” Bruckner adds. “Those who support gas expansion are painted as the enemies of the common good and those pushing for all renewables are characterized as out of touch with the realities of our current energy system and economy. We’ve got to find a better way.”

As an energy company serving four million customers across the Empire State, National Grid is in a unique position to act and bring people together and use its gas network to help the state meet its GHG reduction goals. For the past several years, the company has been transitioning from a traditional utility to a new kind of energy company that merges core utility best practices with innovation, technology and clean energy solutions.

The company will soon be submitting proposals to the PSC to pilot new programs and technologies designed to stimulate new clean energy alternatives for its downstate New York natural gas networks. Some of those innovations include:

  • A green gas tariff that will give downstate customers the choice to supplement their natural gas usage with RNG – pipeline quality gas produced from biomass, wastewater or renewable electricity with lower emissions than from fossil fuel derived natural gas. The company believes RNG used for heating purposes should have incentives or credits in place to promote its use.
  • A power-to-gas pilot project that would produce RNG to help demonstrate the technical and economic potential of converting excess renewable electricity to hydrogen through electrolysis of water. Hydrogen from this process can be directly blended into the gas distribution system or be combined with carbon dioxide to produce synthetic methane and use the existing natural gas network to store and deliver that energy to homes and businesses.
  • A hydrogen blending study to assess how much hydrogen can safely be blended into the existing system.
  • A program to facilitate RNG interconnections by lowering the cost to connect RNG facilities to our network. To support this work, we are launching a “Future of Heat Engineering Group.”
  • An enhanced gas demand-response program that will give customers the choice to modify their gas consumption in response to price signals.
  • An expanded geothermal pilot to test out a utility-ownership business model and its ability to complement gas network operations. This would be a larger scale, second phase of a previously-approved and successful REV pilot that tested the ability of shared-loop geothermal, a heating source that uses heat pumps and the earth’s underground temperature to meet customer heating needs.

“This isn’t new for us, smart solutions are already underway,” adds Bruckner. “In Brooklyn, we have been injecting RNG from a landfill into our New York gas network since the 1980s and are working with the city of New York on a wastewater treatment facility that will inject RNG into our system later this year.

“We believe that natural gas can play a critical role in supporting the growth of electric vehicles, wind, solar, and other renewable technologies while also delivering lower-carbon heating. Expanded access to natural gas has resulted in emissions reductions in the Northeast by reducing the use of more carbon-intensive delivered fuels, like oil and propane.

“But our desire to create a future space for natural gas in the heat and energy landscape is countered by the potential unavailability of natural gas resources due to system constraints. If not addressed in a timely way, we will not be able to serve new gas customers in the downstate area. This could negatively impact emissions and economic development as customers will then move to other sources of energy such as oil, to meet their energy demands.”

One Comment

Scott Sklar

This is so great to hear. Capturing methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, and utilizing it for thermal and electric energy along with other bioproducts is essential. These type of projects need to be accelerated for water treatment and sewage treatment plants, manure lots and pig ponds, food processing wastes, and contaminated grains and foodstuffs.

Adj Prof Scott Sklar
Energy Director
Environment & Energy Management Institute (EEMI)
and Acting Director, GWU Solar Institute
The George Washington University (GWU)
Personal email: Ph 703-522-3049


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *