Despite progress towards a greener future, Britain remains dependent on natural gas.
In 2020, 35.7% of generated electricity came from gas-fired power plants. Additionally, the vast majority of British homes are connected to the gas network to power boilers that heat our homes.
The soaring energy cost in 2022 is directly attributable to a reduction in gas supply to the European continent.
So it’s fair to say that natural gas is important. In this article, we look at how gas distribution works in Britain.
Where does natural gas come from?
Let’s start with where Britain gets its natural gas. The vast majority of the UK’s natural gas is sourced from the North sea gas fields.
Until recently, it was thought North Sea gas output was in terminal decline. However, the 2022 energy crisis has spurred additional investment, most prominently, Shell’s development of the Jackdaw gas field.
Britain doesn’t have energy independence; we use much more natural gas than we are able to extract from the North Sea.
The UK relies on importing gas from the European continent through undersea pipelines to Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway.
The UK has recently invested in liquid natural gas (LNG) capacity to allow gas imports from the US and the Middle East.
LNG tankers transport natural gas across the oceans to regasification terminals that convert the liquid back to gas.
Britain currently has three LNG terminals, two in Milford Haven, South Wales and one on the Isle of Grain in Kent.
Where do we use gas in Britain?
A large proportion of our country’s natural gas goes directly to generate electricity. Gas-fired power plants burn natural gas to produce electricity.
Recent investment in renewable energy generation has reduced our dependence on gas-fired power plants, but unfortunately, renewable generation is unreliable.
On days when the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow, we remain reliant on gas-fired power plants to meet the electricity demand.
Britain currently has 32 active gas-fired power plants scattered across the country. The gas distribution network delivers these power plants’ large volumes of gas.
On top of this, most British properties are connected to the gas distribution network to power local boilers that heat buildings and provide a hot water supply.
But despite this being essential infrastructure, its use is expected to decrease as the UK tries to achieve net zero by 2050.
For instance, the government has announced that gas boilers will not be installed in new homes by 2025, which will rely on low-carbon alternatives like heat pumps.
How does gas distribution work in Britain?
The gas distribution infrastructure in Britain can be easily described as having several layers:
National transmission network – The high-capacity national pipeline connecting power stations to the North Sea, undersea pipelines and LNG terminals.
Regional gas distribution networks – regional gas pipelines connecting the national transmission networks to homes and commercial properties.
Independent gas transporters – Private companies that own and manage smaller gas pipelines.
National gas transmission network
The national gas transmission network is owned and operated by National Grid Plc, which also manages the high-voltage national electricity grid.
The national gas transmission network moves pressurised gas for long distances across the nation in pipes as wide as 48 inches across. The national network is approximately 8,000 kilometres long.
Regional gas distribution networks
The regional gas distribution networks are medium to low-pressure pipe networks connecting the national gas transmission networks to individual properties in the region. There are five regional gas distribution networks:
- Scotland, operated by SGN
- North of England, operated by Northern Gas Networks
- London, West Midlands and East of England, operated by Cadent
- South of England, operated by SGN
- Wales and South West England, operated by Wales & West Utilities
Who is your gas distributor?
The Energy Networks website keeps an up-to-date energy network operator database.
Add your postcode, and the tool will give you both your electricity and gas network operators.
What’s an independent gas transporter (IGT)?
Independent gas transporters are much smaller gas networks owned and operated by private companies. Here’s our complete guide to independent gas transporters.
Why do gas prices vary by region?
At AquaSwitch, we offer a business gas price comparison service that allows companies to get tailored gas quotes.
We only ask for the location of your commercial property to ensure we give you the suppliers that work in your area who move the gas through the national, regional and independent networks.
The fees that a business energy supplier incurs to deliver the gas depend on the distances the gas needs to travel and the networks used.