It’s a very exciting time to be part of the gas industry in Northern Ireland, according to Mark Davidson, the newly appointed Head of Engineering at SGN Natural Gas.
As the newest gas distribution operator, SGN Natural Gas is helping consumers plan for a more sustainable energy future. The network can ultimately play a vital role in decarbonisation, removing millions of tonnes of CO2 from the west of Northern Ireland where oil and solid fuel use is prevalent.
The project ensures there is now a clear pathway to a fully decarbonised, hydrogen-ready future for Northern Ireland. SGN Natural Gas is ideally placed to lead the way, its parent company SGN is already pioneering a world-first zero carbon hydrogen-to-homes project in Scotland.
Mark Davidson, a native of Scotland, says: “It’s a very exciting time to be part of the gas industry in Northern Ireland, with the possibility of biomethane and hydrogen as sustainable fuel alternatives. We will be watching the SGN H100 project in Fife with particular interest in terms of any similar projects that may be undertaken in our network.”
The B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Glasgow, takes over the reins as Head of Engineering from David Butler who was appointed Director of SGN Natural Gas in October last year. Mark started out his career as Assistant Planning Engineer, and then as a supervisor for a contractor, now part of the Kier Group, on SGN’s network in Scotland. He made Northern Ireland his home six years ago, settling with his wife in Co. Tyrone.
After moving to Northern Ireland, Mark worked as an Engineering Officer for Phoenix Natural Gas in the greater Belfast area and then as Network Operations Manager in Network Development before joining SGN Natural Gas in 2016.
Like many future engineers, Mark was interested in how things worked from an early age, taking items apart and enjoying the challenge of being able to put them back together again! “At school my favourite subjects were Physics and Technology studies so a career in engineering seemed to be the right choice.”
No bigger challenge then, than joining the project team developing the brand-new energy infrastructure bringing mains gas to key towns in the west of Northern Ireland for the first time.
The project representing an investment of over £250million, has the potential to meet the energy needs of up to 40,000 homes and businesses across Counties Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry~Londonderry. The final piece of the new network was commissioned in December 2019 with natural gas now available to all the key towns.
Approximately 500 jobs were created during the construction phase which was applauded for its technical innovation including traversing almost 50 rivers and significant roads including the M1 motorway. Widely regarded as one of the most significant energy infrastructure projects carried out in Northern Ireland for a generation, it is anticipated that when fully completed almost 600kms of pipeline will be in the ground in the wider network area.
Recalling the key highlights of the main construction phase of the state-of-the-art network, Mark says: “Crossing the River Mourne in Strabane was especially memorable as it was the first town to go ‘live’ and it couldn’t have been done without that piece of work being completed on time.”
As the project has expanded further into the west, Mark was Team Manager delivering the network build in 2019 under extremely tight time constraints. Over 211kms of Medium Pressure and Low Pressure mains was constructed since 2017 across the eight main towns.
Asked what he is looking forward to most in his new role, it is undoubtedly continuing to expand the network. Mark explained: “There are some challenging pieces of work still to be completed on the distribution network which I am looking forward to, including a number of specialist crossings”. These include a significant river crossing in Enniskillen scheduled to take place in the coming months which will enable the remainder of the island town to have access to a natural gas connection."
Thanking his colleagues for their ongoing support, Mark said: “They have already overcome a lot of challenges to get us this far. They all continue to work hard to make natural gas available to as many business and domestic customers in the licence area as possible.”