The RePowerEU will provide an important boost to the ecological transition, as the targets set for 2030 envisage that around half of the 155 billion cubic meters of Russian gas imported into the EU will be replaced by biomethane and hydrogen.
The role of gas DSOs and gas distribution networks is strategic in contributing to the achievement of these goal. Thanks to their extensive reach - approximately 2,000,000 kilometres across Europe – gas grids are a fundamental asset that have to be ready to receive the incremental shares of renewable gases, thus also playing a key role in fostering their widespread production.
To do so, the technical precondition is the digital transformation as it enables networks to receive and distribute renewable gases such as biomethane, synthetic methane and green hydrogen. On this front, Italgas Group is a benchmark because it started its digital transformation journey in 2017 and now it is close to completing the digitization of its whole infrastructure (around 75,000 km) in Italy.
A fully digital network is capable of collecting data, transmitting them in real time to a control centre, receiving instructions and acting remotely, so it allows to effectively manage the service and to know in real time the composition of the energy mix delivered to customers.
In Sardinia, Italgas has almost completed the construction of 1.100 km of “digital native” networks. Until two years ago, Sardinia was the only Italian region not reached by natural gas. With investments of around 300 million euros between 2018 and 2021, the Italgas Group has built in Sardinia the most cutting-edge gas networks in the country with integrated sensors and remote control. These “digital native” networks today distribute natural gas and tomorrow will be able to receive also biomethane and green hydrogen.
On the Island, thanks to these new distribution networks, Italgas is also implementing a Power to Gas pilot project to produce hydrogen from renewable sources, testing its possible uses in urban areas. The aim of this strategic project is to create a residential energy community powered by a mixture of green hydrogen and natural gas. The first step of the project envisages the use of green hydrogen mixed with natural gas to serve domestic and industrial users and pure green hydrogen to serve public mobility (buses); the second step also involves the production of synthetic methane, combining H2 and CO2, to supply households, industry and the mobility sector. The plant is expected to be in operation by 2023 and it will be composed by a 1 MW photovoltaic plant, a 0.5 MW electrolyser, a 300 kg hydrogen storage system at 40 bar and a refuelling station (up to 300 kg/day, equivalent to 10 buses per day) for a total project area of 25,000 square meters. Expected hydrogen production is approximately 21,000 kg per year in the initial phase, rising to 34,000 kg by 2028. For the realization of the Power to Gas project, Italgas is collaborating with important research institutes in the energy sector, among them the Politecnico di Torino and CRS4 (Research Centre of Sardinia Region); it will be built in Sestu, close to Cagliari, and envisages an investment of around 15 million euros.
Italgas is already working on the development of a new latest generation meter, a cutting-edge tool, equipped with remote control devices and safety sensors, and compatible with blends of methane, biomethane, hydrogen and synthetic gases. The launch on the mass market is scheduled for 2023.