Will you still have natural gas if the power grid goes down?

The key question is this: ‘how does the natural gas supply work from the producer to the burner?

The first side question is: ‘which parts of that supply chain are dependent on electricity?‘.

The second additional question is: ‘is the necessary availability of that electricity guaranteed?‘.

Everyone knows that Belgium is dependent on the outside world for natural gas. But we produce electricity in Belgium itself. What few people know is that the gas enters the houses under an overpressure. But how do you get that overpressure? And how can it disappear?In this post, I give my own opinion, not that of any organization
Author: Manu Steens

Where can the natural gas supply stop due to electricity shortage?

Normally, the supply of gas can stop wherever the gas supply depends on electricity. So, strictly speaking, we just have to go through the entire supply chain and ask ourselves the question everywhere: ‘how does this component depend on electricity, and how can it therefore fail due to shortages?’

But the additional question is, ‘what type of power outage are we considering?’

Types of power outages

Brown out

In contrast to a blackout, where the power supply is completely interrupted, a brownout still involves a (reduced) voltage. The electricity load-shedding plan, which can come into effect in Belgium in the event of a shortage of electricity, is not a brown-out in the classic sense. It’s not a blackout either

Possible causes:

The most obvious are the technical issues. This can be damage to cables or transformers or other parts of the grid.

A quasi-technical, quasi-human possibility is grid overloading. After all, if there is too much demand for electricity, the voltage can drop.

In addition, there are the natural causes. Weather conditions, such as lightning strikes or storms, can play an important role due to their direct technical effects.

Finally, there are the human errors. Due to improper operation of the power grid. But actually, cybercrime also belongs here.

The severity of a brown out can vary.

In most cases, a brown out is short-lived and the power supply is quickly restored. In the meantime, it can lead to various problems, such as:

  • Dimmed lights.
  • Sensitive devices, such as computers, can be damaged or lose their data due to sudden shutdowns.
  • Some electronic devices may fail or stop working properly.
  • Engines may temporarily run less powerfully.
  • Traffic lights may fail, which can lead to traffic chaos.

Black out

A blackout is a complete power outage in an area. Unlike a brownout, a blackout can last for days or longer.

This can have several causes:

Due to power shortage, with a domino effect. If one network component fails in a region, other network components are also more likely to fail as a domino effect because of the interconnection of the various electricity networks in Europe. In the event of a blackout, producers remove the ‘fallen’ networks temporarily from the network of networks to stop the domino effect.

Technical problems may be at the root of the problem, such as damage to crucial components.

Human error is here to stay and must always be taken into account. This concerns errors by grid operators, such as errors during maintenance work or operating errors.

Natural causes cannot be ignored here either. Due to extreme weather conditions, such as lightning strikes or storms, power outages can occur, usually in a smaller area.

A typical external human problem is cyberattacks. Hackers can shut down the computer systems of grid operators, making the electricity grid unmanageable.

Effects of a blackout:

  • Darkness: All lights go out.
  • Silence: noisy devices fall silent.
  • Disruption of communication.
  • Traffic chaos: traffic lights and barriers of the trains no longer work. Barriers remain relevant for diesel trains. They can continue to drive without electricity in the cable network.
  • Disruption of society, especially in areas where the power supply is interrupted for a long time.
  • Danger to vulnerable people: people who are dependent on medical equipment.
  • Disruption of essential services: traffic lights, hospitals, water treatment plants, etc.

For this blog, I’m reasoning with the effects of a blackout.

What is the technical architecture behind the gas supply?

The technical architecture is important in this line of reasoning, because it involves a sequence of technical measures, each of which can form a point of failure. This architecture is complex and includes the following components:

Extraction, transport, storage, pressure control, consumption, meters and the most well-known safety.

Here I first discuss the components of the architecture, then their dependence on electricity.

The architecture components:

1. Extraction:

One estracts natural gas from underground reservoirs, either through drilling or by fracking. After extraction, the gas is purified.

An alternative is biogas, which one obtaines by fermenting organic matter.

A second alternative is synthetic gas made from hydrogen and CO2.

2. Transportation:

Transport is mainly over pipelines, under both high and low pressure depending on the purpose. High pressure is for long-distance transport. Low pressure is safer for distribution to homes and businesses.

One needs different types of pipelines:

  • Main transport lines are in use for high-pressure transport. Usually up to the storage.
  • Regional pipelines are in use to transport the gas from the storage facilities over shorter distances to distribution networks. These are in use to distribute gas to cities and towns.
  • The distribution networks transport the gas from the terminus of the regional pipelines to the homes and businesses. These are the local networks.

3. Storage:

Storage is necessary because the demand depends on the time. There is a so-called peak demand. That is why one stores gas in underground gas storage sites or tanks, for seasonal balancing, among other things. These could be depleted gas fields or salt caverns or LNG terminals. The latter take care of the storage and conversion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) into gaseous form.

4. Pressure Control:

In order deliver gas safely in to homes and businesses, one needs a delivery at lower pressure. To this end, gas pressure regulating stations exist along the routes of pipelines.

5. Consumption:

The types of gas consumers are:

  • The households that need gas for heating, cooking, and hot water for multiple purposes.
  • The companies that use gas for heating in processes, as a raw material and for generating electricity for their own needs.
  • The power plants that use gas to generate electricity.

5. Meters:

Meters are in use to be able to charge the gas consumption of households or businesses at a later date.

6. Safety:

Basic safety features in the architecture include leak detection systems and leak sealing systems, shut-off valves, and overpressure protection to ensure a safe gas supply. In addition, there are strict safety regulations to ensure the safety of the users. To do this one inspects the pipelines and provides safety facilities on the pipes. And of course by raising awareness of the risks.

Finally, there are emergency facilities: Back-up systems to guarantee the gas supply in the event of an emergency.

How does this architecture depend on electricity?

1. Drilling, production:

The question here is how is the dependence on natural gas on land and at sea on electricity.

On oil rigs, there are drill motors, pumps, and other equipment.

Electric pumps to bring the natural gas, which is often located deep underground, to the surface.

Power sources to generate this electricity are diesel generators on the platforms, or cables from land. One increasingly uses the energy yields of wind farms.

2. Compression & Transportation:

Compressors are in use to compress the natural gas after extraction for long-distance pipeline transport. One cools the gas to liquefied natural gas (LNG) to -162°C to make it easier to transport. This process is liquefaction and is very energy-intensive. One continuously compresses the gas to keep it flowing through pipelines over long distances. Compressor stations are therefore in use along the route of the pipelines.

3. Processing:

Because natural gas contains impurities and water, the gas is first processed to remove them. Electrical installations take care of the separation, filtration and cleaning of the gas

4. Storage and distribution:

Compressors inject the natural gas into underground reservoirs and tanks.

At LNG terminals, storage and conversion of LNG require electricity for cooling, pumping, and evaporation.

In the distribution networks, pumps regulate the gas pressure. Electrically driven compressors help to reduce the gas pressure.

In colder climates, it may be necessary to heat the pipes to prevent the gas from condensing and clogging the pipes. For this purpose, electric heating cables are in use

In the distribution pipelines, one regulates the pressure of the natural gas to ensure a safe and efficient supply. This is done with the help of pressure control stations. (see above)

5. Security & Monitoring:

One of the most important detection systems is leak detection. These are sensors for gas leaks with associated electronics that run on electricity.

The gas platforms and pipelines are equipped with multiple sensors and an associated data infrastructure for pressure, temperature, gas flow measurements, etc.

There are other security systems in place. Natural gas extraction and transport require, among other things, alarm systems, cameras and access control, fire alarms, extinguishing systems and other safety equipment.

6. Maintenance and inspection:

On platforms and in pipelines, automated inspection and maintenance robots on platforms provide maintenance and inspection. These systems collect data about gas extraction and infrastructure that data analysts process using data centers.

Note: Dependence on electricity varies by location and extraction process

Extraction in shallow fields is less energy-intensive than in deep fields.

Electricity needs are often lower on land than at sea, because transport requires less energy.

At sea, the drilling platforms use electricity. Diesel generators or wind turbines are in use for this purpose.

Reliability of the energy supply is crucial in both situations, because disruptions in the electricity supply can significantly disrupt gas extraction. Therefore, alternative technologies for the development of new methods of gas extraction that are less dependent on electricity, such as methane hydrate extraction, are becoming increasingly important.

What measures can deal with the possible consequences if the storage facilities are deprived of electricity?

Possible measures that can limit the consequences of a power failure at the natural gas storage sites are:

  • Emergency power supply to guarantee that there is power.
  • Creation of a strategic reserve of natural gas to meet demand during periods when the usual storage facilities are not available.
  • Reduce dependence on natural gas by investing in renewable energy sources and other energy sources.

If there is the impossibility of storing gas because the electricity failed, what does this mean for measures to limit the impact?

The impact of reduced storage capacity on the natural gas network can be reduced by:

  • Reduce the demand for natural gas. Do this by taking energy-saving measures and by switching to renewable energy sources.
  • Exporting natural gas to other countries. This is a measure from the EU’s natural gas scarcity plan. This can help stabilize gas supplies, but it can also lead to a higher reliance on countries with larger supplies.

How long will it take before gas can no longer be supplied?

The exact time before gas can no longer be supplied depends on complex factors:

  • The amount of gas in the storage facilities.
  • The actual demand for natural gas over time.
  • The temperature and the season because there is more demand in cold weather.
  • The use of other energy sources.

In general, natural gas is still available to some extent for a few days to weeks. However, the exact timing is difficult to predict.

How does the delivery point depend on electricity

Finally, the gas pipelines end at delivery points, such as homes and businesses. These delivery points also have equipment that runs on electricity, such as gas meters and control valves and central heating boilers.

Most central heating boilers, which use natural gas to produce hot water for heating and tap water, require electricity. The boiler uses power for:

  • Ignition.
  • The circulation pump pumps the hot water around.
  • A fan ensures the supply of fresh air and the safe removal of combustion gases.
  • The electronic control regulates the temperature, the operation of the pump and the like.

Gas cooktops usually don’t require electricity. Gas ovens usually do require electricity.


The most important question here is: ‘Are there many points of failure?’. There are quite a few of them. But through a good risk analysis and management and BCM implementation, one reduces the number of breakdowns to such an extent that customers hardly notice it. Except, perhaps, in price increases.

The dependencies on electricity are huge in natural gas production, storage, and supply. Not only for production and transport, but also for inspections, maintenance, monitoring and data processing. Natural gas is therefore a product that is intensively dependent on electricity along the entire route.

A solution to the natural gas shortage is provided by building up emergency stocks, by reducing demand and by developing a contingency plan for natural gas scarcity by the various countries of the European Union.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields.

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