Technology the Key to Gas as Player in Our Smart Energy Future
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Technology the Key to Gas as Player in Our Smart Energy Future

By Johnny Johnston, Chief Operating Officer, Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp.

Johnny Johnston, Chief Operating Officer, Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp.

For years, gas was seen as a bridge to the low-carbon future. But as coal power gives way to wind and solar as viable alternatives from an economic and environmental lens, more questions are raised about whether we are reaching the end of gas’s bridge period. Various high-profile gas safety incidents over recent years have amplified these concerns and some policymakers are implying a future without gas is on the near horizon.

"Technology will not only have a critical role in new renewable gas production facilities but will also help grid operators balance their systems with more dynamic sources of gas than they ever have before" 

Liberty Utilities believes that while our industry is due for some changes, gas has an essential role to play for the foreseeable future. As renewable gas technologies continue to develop, gas will remain an important part of the total energy mix, even in a net carbon-neutral economy – especially as a source of low or no-carbon heat that many communities need through the winter.

Technological change within the gas industry has moved at a slower pace than in the electric industry but, we’re now seeing several innovations that are critical enablers for gas as an important player in the smart energy future in the following areas:

Safety – Gas smart meters or safety meters that detect gas leakage or abnormal usage patterns offer the ability to isolate dangerous situations while remotely informing safety personal to take action. This technology will of course give our customers better visibility of their usage and the information to make choices that make the most sense to them. But the safety benefits will be a real game-changer as well as the biggest enhancement to gas safety since the scent was added to natural gas in order to detect leaks with our noses.

Operational Excellence – As we better insulate our homes, we can expect individual customers to be using less gas each year, putting more pressure on the overhead of running the gas system. So leveraging technology and data to find better ways of meeting our customers’ needs in more efficient ways is going to be a key for all gas companies as they compete for customers who will have increased choice on where to purchase energy.

Renewable Natural Gas – Similar to the beginnings of wind and solar renewable natural gas technology struggles to be competitive.  But with the right regulatory support, as volumes increase prices will come down. This is a hugely exciting prospect as it gives a long-term future for the industry and uses for the trillions of dollars of gas infrastructure that customers have invested. Technology will not only have a critical role in these new renewable gas production facilities but also in helping grid operators balance their systems with more dynamic sources of gas than they have in the past.

So, while the gas industry is going through what some would call an identity crisis, looking forward, there is a clear path for a greener, safer and more cost-efficient gas system that will continue to provide the vital services that customers enjoy today. That path is very much enabled by a technology revolution.

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