New study shows that B.C.’s renewable and low carbon gas supply could be double current gas use by 2050
Surrey, B.C. ̶ March 2, 2022: By 2050, the province’s gas system could be completely supplied by made-in-B.C. renewable and low carbon sources. A study released today showed that, by 2050, the potential of renewable and low carbon gases1 could be as high as 440 petajoules (PJ) per year—roughly double what currently flows through FortisBC’s gas infrastructure to British Columbians.
The joint study commissioned by the Government of British Columbia, FortisBC Energy Inc.(FortisBC’s) and BC Bioenergy Network (BCBN) examined the potential production of renewable and low carbon gases using solely B.C. resources by 2030 and 2050, as well as examining overall potential production in Canada and the United States. If the renewable and low carbon gas industry continues to grow, in both capacity and technological innovation, the province has the potential to produce up to 50 PJ of renewable and low carbon gases annually by 2030 and up to 440 PJ by 2050.
The study highlights the importance of renewable and low carbon gases to the province’s energy future and meeting the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of the CleanBC Roadmap. Replacing conventional natural gas with renewable and low carbon gases can help homes and businesses across the province to decarbonize efficiently and affordably. The existing gas system plays an integral role in meeting the province’s energy needs by delivering reliable, affordable energy to heat B.C. homes and businesses, power industry and to meet heavy demands brought on by cold weather peaks. Using the more than 50,000 kilometres of transmission and distribution lines in FortisBC’s gas system to move growing amounts of renewable and low carbon gases instead of conventional natural gas can significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the building, industrial and transportation sectors.
“As the first utility in North America to provide Renewable Natural Gas to our customers over a decade ago, we’ve been on a journey to transform B.C.’s renewable and low carbon gas sector. Understanding the enormous potential the province has to produce renewable and low carbon gases shows a clear path forward to scale up the decarbonization of our gas system,” said Joe Mazza, vice-president, gas supply and resource development at FortisBC. “As a utility that also delivers clean hydroelectricity, we’re excited to advance a decarbonized gas system working alongside the electric system to maintain a provincial energy system that meets all of the needs of British Columbians efficiently and affordably.”
In 2018, both the Government of British Columbia and FortisBC set a target of 15 per cent of the gas supply being renewable or low carbon by 2030. With the desire for faster and deeper decarbonization, it’s expected that target may grow and the most recent projections from FortisBC show that the company should exceed that number, as the momentum of bringing on new sources of RNG is steadily growing. The company tripled its supply of RNG through 2021 and expects to, at minimum, triple its supply again in 2022. FortisBC’s vision for renewable and low carbon gas is to have roughly 75 per cent of its total gas supply be renewable or low carbon by 2050 to meet the province’s 80 per cent GHG reduction target.
“As a growing producer in the province’s renewable and low carbon gas sector, this study confirms our belief in B.C.’s ability to become a North American leader in RNG and other low carbon gases. EverGen will continue to grow its production of RNG in B.C. and across Canada to help provide homes, business and industry with an effective and affordable way to decarbonize,” said Chase Edgelow, CEO of EverGen, a leading Canadian renewable energy company.
Renewable Natural Gas sourced from biogas is only one of the renewable and low carbon gases expected to play a role in the province’s energy future. Hydrogen also offers immense opportunity for a lower-carbon B.C. Using B.C.’s renewable electricity and its natural gas reserves with carbon capture technologies could open new opportunities to reduce emissions in B.C. and abroad. The study also noted low carbon gas production from wood waste has significant potential for future supply through more research and development to unlock the resource on a large scale.
The study notes an expected growth of renewable and low carbon gases as a whole across North America moving forward. National and international competition for this growing supply is also expected to increase so, while purchasing RNG from the larger market may help meet shorter term supply targets, it is important for the province to develop its domestic capacity—building resilient communities and positioning B.C. as a world leader in advancing a low-carbon economy.
“This was a remarkable collaboration involving the BC Government, FortisBC, BCBN and ENVINT Consulting,” said Dr. Scott Stanners, Executive Director at BCBN. “We are pleased by the dedication of our expert working group to advance the low-carbon economy in B.C. It is partnerships such as these that bring us closer to the target in the CleanBC Roadmap to 2030 and result in a greener future.”
Renewable and low carbon gases are a key element in reaching the GHG emission reduction goals of the Province’s CleanBC Roadmap, which aims to reduce GHG emissions in the buildings and industry sectors by 47 per cent overall. With a heightened expectation on gas utilities to reduce carbon emissions, decarbonizing the gas system by increasing renewable and low carbon gas supply will help B.C. have a more resilient energy system. Following a path that utilizes both gas and electric systems, can reach the same level of GHG emissions reductions as an electrification strategy and meet the province’s emissions reduction targets.
1 FortisBC uses the term renewable and low carbon gas to refer collectively to the low carbon and carbon neutral gases or fuels that the utility can acquire under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Clean Energy) Regulation, which are: Renewable Natural Gas (RNG or biomethane), hydrogen, synthesis gas (from wood waste) and lignin. Depending on their source, all of these gases have differing levels of lifecycle carbon intensity. All gases would meet the proposed B.C. carbon intensity threshold for low-carbon gases of 36.4 g CO2e per megajoule set out in the 2021 B.C. Hydrogen Strategy.
<FortisBC is working to advance a diversified pathway to help British Columbia reach the goals of the CleanBC Roadmap. By using the gas and electricity systems together to meet the needs of homes, businesses and industry, FortisBC believes the province can meet growing energy demands effectively and affordably while still meeting aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets. A key to the success of the diversified pathway is the continued development of renewable and low carbon gases, including Renewable Natural Gas.
Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) is a sustainable, certified carbon neutral energy that is key to a lower carbon future for British Columbia (B.C.) as it helps reduce GHG emissions. It’s derived from decomposing organic waste, making it carbon neutral and not a fossil fuel. Renewable Natural Gas is produced in a different manner than conventional natural gas. It is derived from biogas, which is produced from decomposing organic waste from landfills, agricultural waste and wastewater from treatment facilities. When bacteria break down organic waste, it produces a biogas mostly made of methane, a greenhouse gas. The biogas is then captured and cleaned to create carbon neutral RNG. FortisBC works with local farmers, municipalities or energy companies to capture and purify this methane, which would otherwise escape into the atmosphere, to create RNG for its customers. As RNG mixes seamlessly into the existing natural gas infrastructure, it displaces equivalent volumes of conventional natural gas and lowers greenhouse gas emissions overall.
Renewable Natural Gas that is captured and purified is injected into the local gas infrastructure (be it in Alberta, Ontario or the United States) and the RNG is then sold to FortisBC at one of our trading hubs in B.C. The gas system in North America is interconnected and because gas molecules are indistinguishable, interchangeable and comingled in the pipeline system, purchasers of conventional natural gas or RNG generally do not physically receive or consume the same gas molecules that they purchase from a specified source of production. This replacement of the gas molecules purchased with other molecules being referred to as ‘displacement’. Electric systems operate in a similar fashion as, once power enters the grid, it is impossible to distinguish where a particular unit was generated. Both systems can allow low-carbon energy to move to customers using the same transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Ultimately, by adding more RNG to the system, we reduce the amount of conventional natural gas being used and therefore reduce greenhouse gas emissions accordingly.
Demand continues to grow for carbon neutral energy and FortisBC is currently on pace to meet or exceed its target of having 15 per cent of its gas supply being renewable and low carbon by 2030 and working towards having roughly 75 per cent of its supply being renewable and low carbon by 2050.
FortisBC is currently receiving RNG from eleven existing projects.
FortisBC’s regulator, the British Columbia Utilities Commission, has approved an additional 16 projects with two more projects currently under review. These are not yet delivering RNG to FortisBC.
With changes to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Clean Energy) Regulation (GGRR), FortisBC is able to invest in the purchase, transportation and production of hydrogen gas. Hydrogen produces no GHG emissions when burned and can be moved and stored in similar ways to natural gas. It will play an important role in expanding FortisBC’s portfolio of renewable and low carbon gases, both through possibilities in blending hydrogen with natural gas to lower emissions and dedicated hydrogen use in certain industrial settings or in fuel cells for transportation.
While the province’s hydrogen sector is still in its early days, tapping into the potential of hydrogen can provide a sizeable new source of low carbon energy. FortisBC is supporting research with the University of British Columbia Okanagan to better understand how hydrogen may work within our gas system safely and reliably.