firmus energy is one of three Gas Distribution Network Operators in Northern Ireland, all focused on building out the gas distribution network and connecting around 300 new customers each week.
Natural gas has been a significant success story for Northern Ireland. Whilst still in its development phase, particularly outside Greater Belfast, it offers long-term, proven and sustainable benefits for businesses and homes right across the region.
firmus energy has invested in 35 towns, cities and villages outside Greater Belfast, Phoenix Natural Gas Limited has placed significant investment in Greater Belfast/East Down and SGN, the latest investor, is developing the western reaches of Northern Ireland.
Collaboration has been key to this progress which has nurtured an industry that started as a Greenfield project, fully supported by the Utility Regulator and government under the auspices of the Department for the Economy (formerly DETI).
Although all three natural gas network businesses are at different stages in their development the one common denominator is that gas offers an attractive fuel alternative to oil which is the main targeted market with gas conversions significantly reducing the carbon footprint across Northern Ireland.
The next key development for the industry is the progression of a much-needed energy strategy for Northern Ireland. Unlike the natural gas industry, oil is not regulated but it is the dominant fuel in Northern Ireland. With around 70 per cent of homes using oil in the absence of any formal consumer protection being in place, it is vital that this is addressed formally, allowing a more level playing field within Northern Ireland’s energy market.
Northern Ireland has a ‘gas where gas is available’ policy endorsed by government, via the Utility Regulator’s role to promote the development of an economic and coordinated rollout of the natural gas network with a focus on business, residential, public sector and private sector new build gas connections.
Much more to be done
The rollout of the gas networks has seen around 5,000 kms of new gas distribution mains, that is around five million metres of new high-density polyethylene pipe laid, with close to 15,000 homes and businesses being connected to the gas distribution networks each year.
In fact, the networks have passed over 400,000 properties to date, with over 260,000 customers connected. The conversion of these customers to gas has directly reduced the amount of CO2 generated from energy usage by over 600,000 tonnes every year. Each time an oil customer converts to gas, it is estimated that there is a reduction of CO2 into the atmosphere which is the equivalent of taking one vehicle off the road. A staggering figure made all the more impressive when we consider that by 2022 it is envisaged that 550,000 properties will have gas available to them with around 319,000 expected to be connected.
The natural gas industry in Northern Ireland needs to grasp the opportunity to optimise the use of the assets and investment that made for the betterment of our local communities. Natural gas is the least polluting fossil fuel, however, over the medium to long term there is a general acceptance that natural gas can do even more. Decarbonising natural gas should be a real focus for the industry.
The future holds the answer
Natural gas can play a vital role in carbon saving reductions across the region. Northern Ireland’s waste rate in 2017/2018 was 48.1 per cent. Anaerobic digestion offers a proven solution for waste, particularly biodegradable food waste diverted from landfill. CO2 emissions from road transport account for a large majority (88 per cent) of all road transport emissions in Northern Ireland. The Committee on Climate Change has stated that emissions need to reduce to 46 per cent by 2030. Electric and hybrid cars are seen as the solution to reducing fossil fuels in cars. However, Natural Gas Vehicles considered best served by the HGV sector. The Northern Ireland natural gas industry can play a significant part in this.
Fuel for thought
A continued significant build out of the gas distribution networks will be achieved to around 70 per cent of potential gas consumers by 2022. Collaboration and support across the industry along with an ambitious energy strategy will deliver the vision of a low carbon economy with tangible benefits for the environment, our local and global environment, and energy consumers in Northern Ireland.
T: 0330 024 9000