“How can gas contribute to the successful transformation of our energy systems? We are working on making gas more environmentally friendly and are transforming our gas infrastructure into a large-scale green-electricity storage system.”
Dr Jörg Heinen works on the future of the gas infrastructure
Our gas grids ensure energy security by supplying natural gas, but they also have the potential to store green electricity for long periods of time to facilitate the energy transition.
Our natural gas comes from the steppes of Russia, the expanses of the Norwegian part of the North Sea or from the Netherlands. Hidden pipelines run underground, transporting the natural gas from the deposits to the consumers. Our gas infrastructure includes highly modern distribution grids consisting of around 100,000 kilometres of pipelines, measuring and control stations as well as underground natural-gas storage facilities.
These grids are becoming increasingly important in the context of the energy transition. Biogas that has been processed to natural gas quality can be fed into the grids, which then deliver this “green” gas to end customers. Gas grids will be connected even more closely with power grids in the future. For example, surplus power generated from renewable energy sources can be converted into gas, which is then fed into the natural-gas grid. This process is referred to as “power to gas”. The power-to-gas process makes it possible to store green electricity in the existing gas infrastructure either seasonally or over the long term, as needed. Alternatively, the green electricity can be used flexibly in other areas, for example, to fuel cars or to supply heat. This makes it possible to use green electricity for other fields of application. This form of connection is also referred to as “sector” coupling.
We do not only answer the question how gas can be transported safely and efficiently in the future. We also safeguard the contribution of gas to the successful transformation of our energy systems and to the efficient use as well as operation of our gas infrastructure.
Safety of gas pipelines. Operators of gas grids have to inspect their pipelines on a regular basis. This is the only way to detect potential leaks and damage to the critical safety areas early on. Inspectors have a lot to do when walking along thousands of pipeline kilometres. This is why we are currently exploring various methods and tools for remote inspection as part of a research project. High-pressure pipelines of the distribution grid operators GasNet (Czech Republic) and WestNetz (Germany), both of them innogy subsidiaries, are in the focus of this project.
In the project, we are exploring the potential of inspection from the air by drone, helicopter and aircraft as well as by satellite from space. In this context, we are testing existing applications of image and pattern recognition as well as the subsequent data analysis to determine their respective potential for pipeline inspection. This involves radar and laser technology as well as infrared cameras, for example. They can be used to detect changes of vegetation. They can point to leaks in gas pipelines that would be hard to detect even by walk downs of inspectors. The project aims to find the right mix of remote sensing methods to make the inspection of gas pipelines significantly less labour-intensive and costly, and even more reliable in the future.
Pros and cons
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“Natural gas from different sources will never be the same. Depending on its origin, gas virtually has its own DNA. Our aim is to decipher this as quickly and as thoroughly as possible for the reliable and efficient operation of our infrastructure.”
Dr Vladimir Onderka is our researcher in the Czech Republic to explore the analysis potential for natural gas
Gas analysis. Natural gas from different sources is never the same. In our underground storage facilities in Germany and the Czech Republic we store gas from all over the world. The diversity has increased even more since natural gas has come to be transported no longer just by pipeline, but – in liquefied form – also by tanker to ports around the world.
EU regulations require the operators of gas storage facilities to always be able to establish the origin of the stored natural gas mix. This transparency involves benefits also for the operators, e.g. when it comes to detecting potential leaks.
The clear identification of the source of origin requires the exact knowledge of the gas composition. innogy Gas Storage now uses an innovative technology for gas analysis. It works with laser light and can determine the unique fingerprint of the gas faster and more precisely than before. In the Czech Republic, we are currently testing the new method in the field.