A crucial step on the net-zero path

ATCO is adapting its infrastructure vital for Western Australia’s net-zero journey through renewable gases.

As Australia works towards net-zero by 2050, a pertinent question is how to innovate existing infrastructure traversing suburbs, towns and regions around the country that have been delivering the energy requirements of households and businesses for decades.

In many industries, changes in technology has created new ways of operating and businesses have accepted the transition which has led to the development of new, more sustainable assets.

Within the energy industry, one company is viewing its pipeline infrastructure, that has serviced Western Australian households and businesses for more than three decades, as part of the solution in the transition to net zero and long-term sustainability.

ATCO owns and operates more than 14,000 km of pipeline within Western Australia which has been providing natural gas to around 800,000 homes and businesses across the Perth greater metropolitan area, as well as Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Bunbury, Busselton and Albany in the regions.

According to ATCO Gas General Manager Renewable Fuels, Jim Richardson, the company’s 14,500 km of pipeline buried under Perth’s greater metropolitan area is a significant investment that can be leveraged to be part of Australia’s emissions reduction targets.

“We don’t necessarily need to build new infrastructure to play a part in reducing emissions, but rather we can innovate and adapt existing infrastructure,” Richardson says.

“Through our existing network, ATCO has the opportunity to repurpose the infrastructure to provide customers renewable energy and help reduce their carbon footprint.

“With renewable and lower emissions gases blended into our natural gas network, the infrastructure can indeed play an important role as a critical and integrated part of a cost-effective sustainable energy future.”

Repurposing its network for the transition to blended renewable gas has been part of ATCO’s plans for a number of years.

In 2019, with the support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), ATCO began testing the introduction of renewable hydrogen into its network at its world-class Clean Energy Innovation Hub in the Perth suburb of Jandakot.

“At our Clean Energy Innovation Hub, ATCO has been supporting Western Australia’s transition to renewable energy through our clean energy testing facilities, our pilot Hydrogen Blending project, and using Hydrogen to power parts of our Jandakot operations through an on-site fuel cell,” Richardson says.

“With our pilot hydrogen blending project, we started blending small proportions of hydrogen with natural gas on-site at our Jandakot depot in blends of up to 10 per cent.

“This research is proving the reliability and safety of the blending process for the network and use within commercial and household settings.”

To transition from testing on-site to a functional pilot project ATCO worked extensively with WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) to develop in depth safety procedures that could validate and verify the project while ensuring all users would be safe.

The procedures cover system specification, identifiable risks, the regulations, codes and requirements that would govern the project, how ATCO would comply with each of those requirements, while also prescribing the continued proof and verifications reported for the life of the project.

From the close collaboration with DMIRS and its support, ATCO was able to successfully launch its hydrogen blending pilot project in December 2022.

“ATCO began the blending project mixing a two per cent renewable hydrogen blend with natural gas into around 2700 customers’ homes of a discrete section of the distribution network within the City of Cockburn – Glen Iris, Treeby and Calleya estate neighbourhoods,” Richardson says.

“This project is providing valuable insights into how our existing gas distribution infrastructure can continue to benefit customers through renewable gases as part of the future energy mix.

“ATCO will continue building on the pilot project’s success and finding solutions to reduce carbon emissions through renewable energy.”

Building towards net-zero

In addition to its pilot Hydrogen Blending Project, ATCO is also working towards a 30 per cent reduction of Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030.

A primary metric of ATCO Scope 1 emissions reduction for the gas distribution network is unaccounted-for gases (UAFG), which is the difference between the measured quantity of gas entering the gas distribution system from various supply points and the gas delivered to customers.

“One of the key aspects of our net-zero journey is how we reduce our own carbon emissions and help support our customers on this path,” Richardson says.

“We work very hard to make sure every molecule of energy that we transport through our network gets to where it needs to be.

“Currently, we’ve got UAFG of around 1.5 per cent of all the flow-through on our network. This is a very tiny amount compared to the volume of gas throughout our network.”

ATCO is also researching how other types of renewable fuels can reduce its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions.

“Whether that’s biomethane, hydrogen or something else, as long as it’s a renewable fuel, and suitable for our network, we’re looking at it,” Richardson says.

ATCO isn’t just looking at what is transported through its gas distribution network, but how the network is utilised, saying one option is to repurpose the pipeline to enable renewable energy storage.

“We have this great existing asset that the community is already using, and that’s our gas distribution network,” Richardson says.

“This network can also perform another purpose, and that is essentially as a battery.”

The pipeline battery/storage concept is not new, and is known as the line pack within a network.

Line pack is the total volume of gas contained within the system, which can be “packed” – putting more gas into the pipeline than is being withdrawn.

Renewable hydrogen or other renewable fuels that are created through excess solar or wind energy in periods of low electricity demand can be held in the pipeline network as stored energy. When demand is high, the stored gas can be returned to the energy network to generate renewable energy.

Storage and use of renewable gases within ATCO’s network present a unique opportunity for the company to reduce carbon emissions in the future.

“By repurposing our gas network to store and transport renewable gases, we can enable the widespread adoption of these clean energy sources, reduce our carbon footprint, improve energy security, and create new economic opportunities for Western Australia,” Richardson says.

This article featured in the May edition of The Australian Pipeliner. Access the digital copy of the magazine here.

For more information on ATCO’s journey towards net-zero, visit ATCO at www.atco.com.au 

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