European nations repurposing gas networks capable of carrying hydrogen

Rinnai’s Chris Goggin reports on how European economies such as Spain, Italy and Germany are working towards phasing out fossil fuels and repurposing their domestic gas networks and distribution systems to accommodate other fuels including hydrogen.
Chris Goggin
Director of Operations

Natural gas is still the predominant method of heating buildings and hot water provision across Europe. The UK, Spain, Germany, and Italy are economies that use substantial amounts of both natural gas and oil.

Each country has ambitious and binding decarbonisation targets and large functioning gas networks. What happens to domestic gas infrastructure once natural gas is fully phased out is a problem that each country is attempting to solve.

Italy, Germany, and the UK are the biggest natural gas markets in Europe, while Spain uses natural gas as an integral part of its domestic energy mix. All four countries share similarities in population and building stock.

Spain has more than 25 million residential properties that house a population just under 50 million. Italy maintains a population of just under 60 million and 26.2 million residential properties. The UK population 67 million with a building stock of over 25 million. Germany holds a population of 83 million and 42.5 million residential and non-residential properties.

Spain’s gas transmission network is comprised of 13,361km of pipeline and is operated by Spain’s largest privatised natural gas distributor, Enagas. Spain maintains significant energy security as supply is covered via a main Algeria route, providing an immediate alternative to Russian gas. Spain, however, consumes copious amounts of natural gas and relies on imports to satisfy domestic demand.

A majority of Italy’s gas network is owned by Snam, an independent company. Snam operates a nationwide pipeline network of 32,000km in length and supplies around 95% of the Italian market. Società Gasdotti Italia is the second largest transporter of natural gas in Italy, operating a length of pipeline network of around 1,300km in length in southern Italy.

Germany’s natural gas transmission network has a total length of 511,000km and its ownership is currently unclear. There have been multiple reports stating that major national German energy suppliers such as Uniper could become state owned. Doing so would nationalise gas supply, making natural gas dispersal less problematic in times of crises.

Italian and German natural gas provision is still heavily reliant on outside exports from Russia. Although actively phasing out Russian gas imports, both countries are yet to stop importing Russian gas due to national requirement.

Without natural gas, all mentioned countries will possess thousands upon thousands of kilometres of unemployed subterranean pipelines. What will each country do with these many miles of unused infrastructure? There is some evidence suggesting that big business and EU states are interested in purchasing gas infrastructure in anticipation of future widespread hydrogen usage.

Italy’s major gas supplier, Snam, has recently acquired a 49.9% stake in gas pipeline infrastructure. Snam paid Eni €385 million for connections in pipelines that reach into Algeria and the Tunisian coast – all connecting natural gas supplies to Italy.

These connections will give Snam access to a region that could become a future hub of solar produced green hydrogen production. Snam appears to be positioning itself in favour of future hydrogen dispersal between Europe, Northern Africa, and the Mediterranean.

The German federal government is in discussions with the EU regarding the viability of purchasing German gas network operator Wiga, valued at around €3 billion to €4 billion. Wiga is already 50% owned by a state-owned organization, SEFE (Securing Energy for Europe), and operates a pipeline network of over 4,000km.

Aims within the updated German National Hydrogen Strategy could be achieved through repurposing all current Wiga pipework to transport hydrogen. Doing so will enable the establishment of a national hydrogen network capable of dispersing hydrogen energy for commercial or domestic usage.

Main Spanish gas grid operator Enagas has also purchased a stretch of gas infrastructure from Spanish gas company Reganosa. Enagas acquired 130km of gas pipeline for around €54 million. Enagás will use this transmission infrastructure which shares a connection to Portugal to fully integrate renewable hydrogen production and distribution by 2030 within the region.

As the UK operates 7,630km of pipework that acts as a supplier of heat and energy into 25 million properties, UK energy policy is yet to outline how, or if, current natural gas infrastructure will be used in future power distribution. Continental economies have plans for hydrogen distribution using adapted gas infrastructure, whilst UK policy is still unclear.

Although each country will have to find decarbonising solutions applicable to their own energy requirements, geographical positioning and production capabilities, UK decision makers may have to include hydrogen as an energy resource due to the amount of work that has been completed by major EU economies.

Rinnai is committed to equipping customers, installers, specifiers, and system designers with updated and detailed information concerning domestic and international energy policy that may affect current or future purchasing options.
Find out more at www.rinnaiuk.com and visit 5C26 at InstallerSHOW.
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