National Grid has a vision for fossil-free heat
All-electric option in many cases is too expensive
FOR THOSE INCLINED to reference Greek mythology when discussing Massachusetts energy policy, the attributes of Greek architecture may provide a better blueprint.
Striving towards precision and excellence, the architects of ancient Greece practiced a methodical, systematic style that appropriately balanced aspiration with sound architectural order for enduring results.
At National Grid, we have embraced a similar approach in putting forward an architecture of integral solutions – that balance innovation with practicality – to reach the Commonwealth’s critical and ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
National Grid’s vision for fossil-free heat is built on four pillars, offering up a balanced and diversified path that is the most practical, expedient, and cost-effective for the homes and businesses we serve. Our vision is grounded in the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while remaining affordable, preserving customer choice, and ensuring that no customers are left behind.
- We are leading with robust energy efficiency in buildings. This should be familiar to most as our Mass Save programs are among the top energy efficiency programs in the country.
- We support hybrid heating systems that pair electric heat pumps with existing gas heating appliances, permitting the continued use of gas appliances until they reach their natural end of use.
- We are encouraging targeted electrification and geothermal in our gas service territory for customers where it is more cost effective. We are in the process of undertaking a geothermal pilot program to evaluate the potential for networked geothermal energy systems to provide highly efficient space heating and cooling, helping to eliminate leak-prone pipe from our gas network.
- For those remaining customers for whom electrification is either not possible or practical, we’re working to create a 100 percent fossil-free gas network to deliver renewable natural gas and green hydrogen to our customers for decades to come. Earlier this year, we formally circulated a request for information to better understand the availability of RNG and hydrogen.
Massachusetts is leading the nation on greening our electric system with renewable energy from wind and solar, and it only makes sense that we should likewise decarbonize our gas system through RNG and hydrogen. Hydrogen is already safely and successfully heating homes in the United Kingdom and trials are underway in Australia. For those who would say green hydrogen requires daunting amounts of energy, it pales in comparison to what would be needed for a full-electrification scenario – where massive and costly upgrades would be necessary for the regional and local transmission and distribution grids.
The federal government recognizes the potential that green hydrogen holds for achieving net zero across critical economic sectors. The US is rapidly investing in green hydrogen technologies to bring it to scale. The Department of Energy has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to accelerate innovation that would scale up the hydrogen economy over the next decade.
That is something for the future.
In the present, we know it’s cold in the Northeast. Between 80 and 90 percent of our customers adding heat pumps to replace their cooling systems still need to keep gas as a backup, so-called “hybrid heating” to provide year-round comfort. Compare that to the tremendous amount of infrastructure that would be needed to attempt to realize the one-path option of all-electric heating in Massachusetts.
Regarding affordability, our studies show electricity rates in a hybrid scenario are expected to be 10-15 percent lower in 2050 because our pathway doesn’t require a significant level of infrastructure buildout. Compare that to our projections that show that in 2040, using the one-path/all-electric option, a typical customer’s total annual energy spend would be $800 higher than hybrid heat and $1,000 higher than 100 percent fossil-free gas. Our vision enables customers to keep their existing appliances, whereas a pricey swap is required in an all-electric scenario. At this time of rising energy prices and cost of living increases, it’s clear how important this will be.
To make our vision happen, we will dedicate the next few years developing pilots to demonstrate the viability and scalability of a fossil-free network while advocating for legislative and regulatory policy changes that allow us to procure a portion of our gas supply with clean fuels.
Many of those pilots will focus on hydrogen, which can be transported and managed safely. Studies show that a 20 percent blend of hydrogen by volume is doable with our existing system and customer appliances and that higher levels are possible for the future. Hydrogen is a critical clean energy component as it can be used to decarbonize difficult sectors of our economy – such as manufacturing and hospitals which rely on natural gas to power machinery.
From 2030, we will invest in the additional infrastructure needed to deliver fossil-free gas and in the 2040s, as hydrogen is brought to scale, we will adopt fossil-free heating solutions, including blending green hydrogen and RNG into our network. These steps will allow us to deliver 100 percent fossil-free fuel by 2050.
Just as each component of a Greek building is integral to its overall structure, each of the four pillars of our vision are necessary to fully eliminate the Commonwealth’s reliance on fossil-fuels for heat for less cost and hassle for customers. It requires significantly less generation, transmission, and distribution investment than the alternatives. By leveraging existing infrastructure, it reduces the daunting challenge of achieving Net Zero.
Ancient myths touting trickery or deception to advance an agenda aren’t helpful – they only perpetuate more myths. We encourage the public to review our proposals, ones that have been constructed in a robust, transparent fashion intended to withstand the test of time.
Stephen Woerner is president of National Grid New England.