Why is it so hard to say goodbye (to gas)?

Having a close look at the European gas package



Marie Royer

Publication date

December 15, 2022

After an abnormally warm autumn, winter is finally here, bearing the dreaded question: will we be able to heat our homes this year? And the next one?

The European Union is trying to tackle (yet another) crisis by diversifying the energy supply and exploring new strategies, but still hasn’t put forward the idea of completely getting rid of gas (and fossil fuels in general). Yet, decarbonising our heating systems would result in increasing both our energy security and well-being!

The EU gas exit strategy: everything must change if we want everything to stay as it is

The European Commission’s gas package initially aimed at setting the legislative base to decarbonise gas markets and establish a (competitive) hydrogen market. A few improvements could be made, but with the ongoing energy crisis, it might as well be outdated before being voted! In fact, the Commission has lowered its ambitions, now emphasizing the need to Save Gas for a Safe Winter, with a plan to reduce gas demand by 15% by Spring 2023…

Switching from fossil fuels to renewable gases in heating systems is often presented as a straightforward solution (and process): cities would simply have to trade natural gas for green gases (such as hydrogen). But, on the one hand, switching to green gases to heat our homes would require changing the existing infrastructure, and on the other hand, it would utterly be counter-productive as, according to experts from Decarb City Pipes 2050 for instance, if we are to use green gases in a wise way, we should exclude them from purposes such as heating and cooking.

Find out more on the role of hydrogen in cities in our publication Hydrogen: everything a city needs to know

Who will pay the exit bill?

We need a comprehensive European Green Gas Strategy to prioritise the use of green gases in hard-to-abate sectors only, and realistically plan domestic production (and imports from third countries). More importantly, we need clear integrated long-term planning and investment security to avoid a lock-in effect: the investments we make today will still have an impact 20 years from now.

Debunk the misconceptions on fossil gas and renewable heating technologies in our myth buster paper

Furthermore, if we are to achieve a planned cost-effective transition, we can’t let individuals have a freedom of choice in terms of heating energy. We should put in place a clear framework at EU level to establish plans for gas grid decommissioning areas.

Finally, we must ask ourselves who will pay the (gas) exit bill. Gas networks are financed in proportion to the gas they transport: with less gas circulating in pipes, the distribution costs (for the remaining gas consumers) will rise. How do we deal with this issue? Should we explore the possibility of decommissioning parts of the gas networks? Can national governments bear at least part of those cost increases?

Find out more on the importance of data and heat planning for cities to achieve their heat decarbonisation

In Grenoble, with gas consumption decreasing, gas distribution prices went up by 40%. To reduce the network costs, the Metropolis and the distribution company are starting an experiment to close the pipe sections which deliver low gas quantities. However, to keep reasonable distribution costs while reducing energy consumption in buildings, cities will need more ambitious gas network adaptation plans.

Interested in this topic? Join our Fossil-free districts & buildings Hub to stay in the know of European developments on buildings’ & heating & cooling decarbonisation!