How to re-purpose the UK’s natural gas transmission system for hydrogen

The planning involved in transitioning National Grid’s national gas transmission system to hydrogen is hugely complex. The power of cloud computing cuts through the uncertainty and complexity of developing a robust and resilient network strategy.

The energy sector in the UK is entering a period of unprecedented change. Driven largely by the need to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the impacts of climate change. In 2019 the UK became the first major economy to pass a legally binding net zero emissions law. This will see all greenhouse gas emissions brought down to net zero by 2050. National Grid are playing a key contributory role. Setting a net zero target of 2050 themselves, as well as being a leader, innovator and collaborator in Gas Goes Green and the energy network transformation. This extends beyond the boundaries of Great Britain (GB), linking with Europe through international interconnectors.

National Grid Gas Transmission (National Grid) have the opportunity to play an important role in supporting the UK decarbonisation target. Through the re-purposing of their assets to transport hydrogen, a low carbon energy vector. However, there is significant uncertainty associated with this, in terms of the timing, scale and detail of how the hydrogen economy will develop. There is also significant uncertainty around the impact this will have both strategically on National Grid’s asset base and how the network will transition to a newly designed operational configuration.

Introducing BMA’s NetStrat Solution

To effectively plan for National Grid’s transition to hydrogen gas in a way that best supports cost effective UK decarbonisation, rapid and flexible scenario analysis is required. This encompasses both engineering and economic factors. BMA’s industry leading NetStrat solution has already allowed National Grid to take a holistic, Adaptive Systems Planning approach to developing its 25-year natural gas network strategy.

NetStrat uses the power of cloud computing to cut through the uncertainty and complexity of developing a robust and resilient network strategy. It applies an innovative combination of operational and asset modelling approaches in a single model of National Grid’s end-to-end gas transmission network to inform both future network design and operation

The NetStrat H2 Solution

An extension to the NetStrat solution, NetStrat H2 empowers National Grid to rapidly develop, test and evaluate options for a UK wide hydrogen transmission backbone called Project Union. These scenario options simultaneously consider both the new Hydrogen network and the existing natural gas network. This allows National Grid to identify opportunities to repurpose existing natural gas pipelines to hydrogen. This is a much more cost effective option than building new pipelines.

The National Grid hydrogen backbone will super charge the government’s investment in clean hydrogen production and carbon capture in the UK’s major industrial clusters. Rapid, bulk scenario analysis provides the agility and pace which is critical to support the UK achieving its ambitious decarbonisation target.

“The Network Strategy, NetStrat, solution has delivered a step change in our ability to deliver and test network strategy against a wide range of future energy scenarios. This is critical to our ability to ensure that our gas transmission network remains relevant and fit for purpose in the context of a rapidly changing energy system”

Antony Green

Hydrogen Director, National Grid Gas Transmission

BMA’s Systems Model Landscape

The BMA Advanced Digital Business Twin (ADBT) allows you to optimise your end-to-end value chain. Delivering better outcomes for you, your customers and the environment. By incorporating a whole systems approach within the ADBT, companies will get more value from their investments. This is achieved by maximising synergies between different investment drivers and minimising trade-offs.

ADBTs also provide integration across multiple time horizons:

  • Optimising overall strategy including network design, asset and operational strategy.
  • Optimising tactical roadmaps that minimise the impact of capital delivery and maintenance on system resilience and operational performance.
  • Optimising the operation of asset systems once they are deployed.

NetStrat H2 in the Landscape

NetStrat H2 is an example of a Strategic/Network network level ADBT solution which considers how assets, processes, systems and the entire network must adapt to longer term (25+ years) contextual change. In this case, optimising network design and the transition to re-purpose the UK’s Natural Gas Transmission System for Hydrogen and support the UK achieve its target of NetZero by 2050.

NetStrat H2: Key Functionality

National Grid Gas Transmission (National Grid) own, manage and operate the UK high-pressure gas national transmission system (NTS). The NTS is a gas superhighway that connects the UK, balancing supply and demand on a day-to-day basis to make gas available when and where it is needed. It provides heat to around 80 per cent of the UK’s 28 million homes. National Grid is evaluating how existing natural gas pipelines can be repurposed to transport hydrogen and carbon as part of the UK’s Net Zero future. This includes involvement with East Coast Hydrogen and Net Zero Teeside. Repurposing existing national infrastructure assets within the national energy system will reduce the overall cost of decarbonisation. This will ultimately reduce bills for customers and ensure UK plc maximises the value and utilisation from existing assets. Using NetStrat H2, National Grid are exploring synergistic opportunities in the development of the UK hydrogen ‘backbone’. This takes into account the evolution of the decarbonisation of UK industrial clusters and the hydrogen backbone development across Europe.

The planning involved in transitioning the national gas transmission system to hydrogen is hugely complex. It requires consideration of not only how best to develop a hydrogen backbone, but also how to safely and efficiently manage the residual natural gas network; ensuring the heat stays on for millions of people in the journey to Net Zero.

National Grid have the challenge of developing a hydrogen transition plan that coordinates with a wide range of other initiatives. From industrial decarbonisation to the decarbonisation of domestic heating right across the UK. However, there is still significant uncertainty around the details of the UK roadmap to Net Zero and therefore, National Grid’s own roadmap needs to remain agile and flexible.

Key Functionality of NetStrat H2

In response to this challenge, the NetStrat H2 Adaptive Systems Planning model was developed to enable National Grid to carry-out thousands of future energy scenarios. Ensuring that their hydrogen transition strategy is agile and robust, avoiding strategic deadends and stranded assets.

BMA’s NetStrat model was already embedded and being used at National Grid. This is an advanced systems model of the NTS network using an innovative combination of optimisation and hydraulic modelling approaches to inform future network design. This is enabling National Grid to develop a robust 25-year network strategy, which is resilient in the face of future uncertainty. The model is already identifying areas of asset redundancy, efficiency and initial pathway opportunities for low and zero-carbon gas transformation. (Click Here to see the NetStrat Case Study)

NetStrat H2 is a Hydrogen Strategy Updgrade to the NetStrat model. NetStrat H2 enables National Grid modellers to perform Optioneering to re-purpose assets and enable a hydrogen network. This includes the ability to rapidly consider a large number of alterative network topologies (design layout of the national infrastructure assets).

The top-down systems modelling is enabling enhanced resilience in National Grid’s development of its future hydrogen transformation strategy:

  • Proactively identifies top-down network capacity and resilience investment needs, using a systems perspective.
  • Enables clearer direction on National Grid Network Hydrogen strategy, whilst enabling agility and flexibility. This is achieved through large-scale scenario analysis which enables visibility and sensitivity of uncertainty and development of no regret and least regret decision pathways.
  • Enables the identification of strategic asset decommissioning opportunities.
  • Enables the identification of potential new network topologies (design layout of the national infrastructure assets).
  • Enables the development of robust business and evidence cases. Whilst also enabling collaboration and stakeholder engagement with parties such as Ofgem, BEIS, Industrial Clusters, GDNs etc.
  • Enables the development of the most cost-effective hydrogen transmission backbone by identifying existing pipelines that can be repurposed to hydrogen.

A New Frontier for Scenario Analysis

NetStrat and NetStrat H2 are heralding a new frontier for scenario analysis at National Grid. Prior to NetStrat being implemented, 28 future energy scenarios were completed by the Network Strategy team each year.

Through the application of NetStrat’s advanced analytics to remove the need for manual input, the scenario analysis function is now truly scalable. This is illustrated by the fact that they were able to complete 800 scenarios in the 12 months after the original NetStrat went live.

Scenario Analysis capabilities have only continued to soar and are now well established as a core capability in the National Grid Network Strategy team. In 2021 with the deployment of additional virtual processors 10,000 scenarios were completed in 12 months

NetStrat H2

Using the top-down systems modelling capability of Netstat H2, National Grid analyse thousands of future energy scenarios. This ensures that their hydrogen transition strategy is robust and resilient.

In each future energy supply/demand scenario, Netstrat H2 applies advanced optimisation algorithms to optimise the utilisation, repurposing and decommissioning of the NTS feeder pipelines and compressor assets, which comprise the national gas transmission system (NTS).

By always considering the end-to-end system, National Grid ensure that the decisions they make in any specific region are coordinated with activity on the rest of their network. This includes support and collaboration of industrial decarbonisation and the European hydrogen backbone. This ensures even greater system resilience.


Related Insights