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National Grid unveils plan to run carbon-free gas through its pipelines by 2050

National Grid is set to unveil a plan on Tuesday to decarbonize its U.S. gas pipeline network by 2050, a move that’s part of the state’s broader efforts to ensure Massachusetts is net zero when it comes to fuels. carbon emissions on that date.

The goal is to augment electric heating with two forms of “clean” gas in utility lines: renewable natural gas – extracted from decaying materials at farms, landfills and sewage treatment plants – and “green” hydrogen, created from water using electricity. produced by offshore wind farms. The UK utility will also look at ways to incorporate geothermal heating systems in certain neighborhoods or for specific properties.

The announcement — which included some details already spelled out in recent filings with state regulators — coincides with an effort by the company to partner with other utilities to seek federal funding for a “regional center clean hydrogen. They hope to tap into an $8 billion pot of funds included in the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that Congress passed last fall. The hubs would involve regional clusters of hydrogen producers and distributors, storage facilities and end users. National Grid officials declined to name the other companies involved, except to say the hub would extend beyond its main states of Massachusetts and New York.

Natural gas now provides about half of the heat for buildings in Massachusetts, according to National Grid, making it a major source of carbon emissions. The utility’s plan calls for about half of the heat in state buildings to come from electricity by 2050, with the rest coming from renewable natural gas or “green” hydrogen, or a hybrid mix of electricity and these cleaner gas sources. Natural gas also powers about half of the region’s electricity grid, but the hope is that by 2050 nearly all of New England’s electricity will come from carbon-free sources, especially as offshore wind farms will be built in the coming years.

National Grid’s announcement is sure to draw criticism from environmentalists who say the big utilities – National Grid, Eversource, etc. Renewable natural gas is scarce in New England, and making hydrogen from water is currently considered an expensive process.

Stephen Woerner, chairman of National Grid in New England, said he expects the calculus to change once public policies are used to develop a significant market for fuels. “Nobody tells anybody they have to use it [today]”Woerner said.

Woerner said his company’s approach takes into consideration the difficulties inherent in obtaining permission to build substations and other electrical installations; the gas network, he noted, is already buried. And “clean” gas can provide a good backup for electric heating in the winter during times when severe storms cause widespread outages, he said. He expects National Grid to eventually import most renewable natural gas from outside New England, much like the utility imports all of its natural gas from other places today.

“The most important thing to do is [ensure buildings] are energy efficient,” Woerner said. “After that, we want to make sure there’s fossil-free natural gas available to take advantage of the gas grid where it makes sense, [particularly] for areas difficult to electrify.

Jon Chesto can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.