09 Apr 2024, 13:55
Benjamin Wehrmann

First German city pushes ahead with plans to phase out gas grid for heating

Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung / Tagesspiegel / Clean Energy Wire

The first major city in Germany, Augsburg, has announced plans for ending the use of natural gas in its heating system and informed customers of its intention to cut off the gas grid within the next years, newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung reported. The city in southern state Bavaria has mulled over an end to its supply of natural gas for years but so far has not set a clear timetable by what year the gas grid will become obsolete, local utility’s spokesman Jürgen Fergg told the newspaper. About 200 customers, mostly commercial users, have been informed of the plans throughout recent years, he added. Gerald Linke, head of gas industry association DVGW, warned against a “dismantling-orgy” of the gas grid. He called to not rule out any particular heating technology, and for a greater focus on hydrogen-based heating, the newspaper added.

Heating system producer Stiebel Eltron, which has invested greatly in heat pump production, said new gas heating systems often are financially disadvantaged. “Besides rising gas prices, utilities will gradually lose gas customers as they transition to climate neutrality. This means operating the grid will become increasingly expensive for the remaining customers – or grid operators will make a loss,” said Henning Schulz, engineer at the company. The step announced by Augsburg’s local utility confirmed this trend, Schulz said, adding that an end to natural gas use in the city would likely come within the next ten years.

A federal law based on the aim to make Germany climate neutral by 2045 regulates the gradual replacement of fossil-based heating systems with more sustainable alternatives, such as district heating and heat pumps. The law was introduced in 2023 following a raft of controversial debates about the impact on customers, but Augsburg’s decision was made independently of the national debate, the article stressed. Already in March, newspaper Tagesspiegel reported that a paper released by Germany’s economy ministry (BMWK) included a proposal to “deny or cancel” gas grid connections for customers “on grounds of the transformation,” which triggered gas providers over the question of how to proceed with grid development. As cities adapt their heating systems to other technologies, the gas pipeline network is set to become largely obsolete, energy and climate think tank Agora Energiewende said last year. It added that the country needed to ensure an orderly retirement of its gas distribution grid to avoid enormous costs for consumers and billions of euros of stranded assets for operators.

Other German cities and regions are also pushing ahead with plans to replace fossil fuels in their heating systems. Energy company EnBW earlier this week launched a large new heat pump with a capacity of 24 megawatts in the southwestern city of Stuttgart, capable of heating about 10,000 homes through district heating. The installation uses waste heat from a neighbouring waste incineration plant, a measure that will reduce the annual carbon footprint in the city by about 15,000 tonnes, EnBW said. The company currently is also building a hydrogen-ready gas power plant on the same site which will fully replace coal-fired district heating in the city by 2026. The city administration said the new installation marks an important step for achieving Stuttgart’s aim to become climate-neutral by 2035.

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