Last week, I was delighted to address the Utility Week Congress in Birmingham, and to talk about how we run and maintain a resilient national critical infrastructure.
When we talk about national critical infrastructure, many people forget about the gas network, and how vital it is to our everyday lives. Not only is the gas network essential for millions of people to heat their homes and cook, but it is relied on by many of the UK’s largest industries to produce the heat they need. Furthermore, the gas network is essential to so many other national services – including our hospitals and schools – and the people that they serve .
Running and maintaining this national critical infrastructure brings its own unique challenges. Many parts of our gas network are over 100 years old. The streetscape above many of these pipes has changed beyond recognition since they were installed, and we have even had to move rivers to keep them safe. Even the materials used differ greatly – our teams are constantly replacing old metal pipes, or wood or asbestos pipes, with modern plastic pipes that are fit for the future.
However, it is just not our network that we have to respond to – we also have to meet our customers’ needs and expectations. Our network must be safe and secure for the communities we serve, and be able to support peak demand and one-off events, such as ‘the Beast from the East’. Customers also expect the least possible disruption. Our network must deliver at low cost for the consumer, and we have to consider all of our customers, including those in fuel poverty.
At the same time, we are looking to the future and making sure that the gas network will deliver on customers' needs and expectations for years to come. Our day-to-day work, looking at securing our IT systems, monitoring our pipes and responding to emergencies, is all ensuring that this national critical infrastructure is fit for the future, while our gas mains replacement programme is ensuring that our network can transport greener gases. We are promoting innovative ways of working, for instance using robotic technology to minimise disruption from roadworks. Finally, we are looking carefully at the future role of gas – helping to get more biogas onto our network, and leading the way in demonstrating the crucial role hydrogen will play in the future.