FortisBC’s Take: Why We Need Renewable Natural Gas
Since 2009, Scott Gramm, Senior Manager of Renewable Gas and Low Carbon Fuel Development, at FortisBC, has helped to shape nearly every aspect of FortisBC’s Renewable Gas (RNG) program. With longstanding expertise in biogas, Scott leads a team responsible for new RNG supply acquisition and project development.
We chatted with Scott to learn why FortisBC pursued an RNG program, how RNG is a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, and the ways innovators can support FortisBC’s journey towards a more sustainable future through Project Greenlight.
Why is FortisBC involved with Project Greenlight?
Many smart people in BC have innovative solutions to the challenges facing our industry, and we want to tap into their diverse skillsets to gather new ideas. Project Greenlight is an opportunity to connect with local entrepreneurs who could have interesting solutions for some of our most pressing business challenges.
Innovation is key to advancing an organization. Organizations need fresh ideas and new ways of unlocking growth and opportunity. In addition to our internal efforts and partnerships to pursue innovative technologies and advancements, we’re looking for new ideas that help advance the renewable and low carbon gas1 portfolio at FortisBC.
What is Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) and how does it help British Columbians?
Renewable Natural Gas2, or RNG, is gas that’s derived from above-ground organic waste, unlike conventional natural gas which comes from below the earth’s surface. When organic waste from places such as landfills, agricultural farms or wastewater treatment facilities decomposes, it releases methane into the atmosphere. We work with local farms, landfills, green energy companies and municipalities to capture and purify this methane, which would otherwise escape into the atmosphere, to create RNG for our customers.
Renewable Natural Gas is derived from organic sources and blends seamlessly into our existing natural gas system, displacing conventional natural gas. This makes it a “drop-in” energy, which means that customers can use RNG without having to retrofit their existing natural gas appliances or equipment (retrofits can be expensive!).
Natural gas has many strengths – it can meet energy in times of peak demand because it can be stored reliably and affordably. There’s also a lot of infrastructure already in place delivering energy throughout the province, reaching almost all British Columbians. However, as a fossil fuel, natural gas does create greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable Natural Gas helps decarbonize the existing gas system by replacing conventional natural gas, allowing us to move lower-carbon energy through existing gas lines. So, we get to continue to use the existing system with the same advantages of conventional natural gas, and we’re moving cleaner energy through it.
Why did you start the RNG program 11 years ago?
I can’t take all the credit! Back in 2007, the BC government introduced the Clean Energy Act to reduce emissions. At that time, the team at FortisBC started to look at ways we could decarbonize the natural gas system. We were sure that, as an organization that delivers both natural gas and electricity, we had a role to play. We understood the importance of both systems working in tandem to achieve climate action goals and we saw a natural link between sources of renewable and low carbon gas, and our customers, through our existing natural gas system.
RNG made a lot of sense. We’ll always have waste and, as a result, a source of methane. We looked toward Europe and saw a developing industry that was making use of repurposed methane in the natural gas system. In North America, there was also a new and developing industry. We thought, Why can’t we put it to use here? Since RNG mixes seamlessly with natural gas in the system, the more RNG we have, the less conventional gas we need. The more RNG we use, the less fossil fuels we use. So, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We established the business case, the initial program for our customers and suppliers, worked with government, industry and regulators, and created this innovative energy that continues to be a staple of our work today.
Despite the fact that many people were involved, I will gladly take some credit for building a diverse team of people who have a lot of passion for the work we’re doing with renewable and low carbon gases. We’ve persevered through a lot, and this team has helped us grow our RNG supply exponentially. There’s still a lot of hurdles and hard work ahead – we know that. But I’m confident in our ability to deliver.
Why should entrepreneurs pursue RNG innovation? What is FortisBC looking for?
It’ll take a team effort to advance a lower-carbon future. There’s a tremendous talent pool of innovators, scientists, engineers and others throughout BC who are constantly finding new and inventive ways to solve challenges – and climate change is a challenge. We want to work with innovators to continuously find better ways to provide British Columbians with safe, reliable, affordable energy that is also low carbon3.
Our RNG team is comprised of some of the most dedicated and competent people I’ve ever met, and they’re all experts in the field of renewable and low carbon gases. When you work with us, you get that wealth of experience at the table. You’re also connected with a large organization that has a history of supporting its customers and its partners.
We have high aspirations in RNG and other renewable and low-carbon gases, such as hydrogen, and want to work with people who are equally passionate as we grow and evolve.
What are FortisBC’s goals with renewable and low carbon gases?
Renewable Natural Gas is a viable avenue to help BC reach climate action goals by helping customers to reduce their emissions while using existing natural gas equipment. For this reason, we’re working towards a vision of having 75 percent of the gas in our system be either renewable or low-carbon by 2050. Based on our growth, we’re confident we’ll get there. I encourage those interested in learning more to read our Clean Growth Pathways to 2050 – it’s a good map on how we plan to reduce emissions safely and affordably.
Anything else you would like to share?
I want to reiterate that we’re really interested in hearing from entrepreneurs that can help push us forward. I want to thank the Vancouver Economic Commission and all the other sponsors for helping put Project Greenlight together. This is the kind of initiative that makes organizations, and societies, better, so thank you for your leadership.
Do you have a Renewable Natural Gas solution?
- 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.
- 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. The biogas is captured and cleaned to create Renewable Natural Gas (also called biomethane).
- When compared to the lifecycle carbon intensity of conventional natural gas. The burner tip carbon intensity of FortisBC’s current RNG portfolio is 0.29 gCO2e/MJ. FortisBC’s current RNG portfolio lifecycle emissions are -22 gCO2e/MJ. This is below B.C.’s low carbon threshold for lifecycle carbon intensity of 36.4 gCO2e/MJ as set out in the 2021 B.C. Hydrogen Strategy.