Panel: 2. Future and innovative policies

The gas grid hurdle in the race to system efficiency

Meeting energy and climate targets requires phasing out the use of fossil fuels in the heating sector, demanding an extensive overhaul of infrastructure. The expansion of district heating and electricity distribution grids will be essential for this transition, while parts of the gas distribution network will become redundant. Regional and municipal heating plans, mandated by the EED and the decarbonised gas and hydrogen market package, require planning that should involve identifying areas where gas distribution networks will be decommissioned or dismantled in the future. The process will be accelerated by phasing out or introducing efficiency regulations for heating installations.

How should the efficient and orderly transformation of the gas network be accomplished? To this end, we compare the status-quo as well as recent the developments of gas grid infrastructures across four European countries, namely Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. Additionally, we analyse the current regulations for gas distribution networks, heat planning and heating systems. Our findings indicate that the current grid planning to meet end use needs for heating and cooking is misaligned with climate targets. Furthermore, the efficiency of the overall energy system is hardly considered. For instance, national regulations compel distribution system operators to connect consumers to the gas grid despite clear evidence demonstrating that gas is neither the most efficient solution from an end-use perspective nor from a system perspective. Nevertheless, regulation provides little incentive for the decommissioning and/or dismantling of gas networks. We recommend aligning the regulatory framework as well as heat and infrastructure planning with the climate targets in such a way that the transformation can take place in a system-efficient manner.