Implementing the climate goals: Changes ahead for the gas infrastructure in Germany

May 09, 2019

Implementing the climate and energy objectives will lead to a significant decline in the demand for gas in Germany in the coming decades. For natural gas, which is the most important gaseous energy source today, this means: the more ambitious the targets are, the lower the demand for gas. This will have major impacts on the gas infrastructure in Germany. In particular, not all the gas distribution networks will continue to be economically viable.

Natural gas is less harmful to the climate than coal, but Germany committed itself to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible in the Paris Climate Agreement, which is why natural gas has to be substituted as an energy source in the long term. The study (in German) "Gas roadmap for the energy transition – A sustainable climate contribution of the gas sector", compiled by Fraunhofer ISI for the German Federal Environment Agency, examined what implementing the climate objectives means for Germany’s gas industry and infrastructure. The study analyzed scenarios from the literature and modeled the demand for infrastructure and the associated costs based on this..

Probable decline in the demand for gas

There will be a substantial decline in the demand for gas, especially in buildings. In certain regions, this decline can result in the costs for maintaining the gas network rising so strongly that its operation is no longer economically viable. In addition, implementing the climate targets favors the development and deployment of alternative energy sources such as hydrogen or renewable methane. “Regardless of any possible decommissioning, this will require technical modifications to the gas infrastructure and distribution networks”, says Jakob Wachsmuth, coordinator of the project at Fraunhofer ISI.   

Every third gas distribution network could be uneconomical

Under an ambitious climate protection strategy (reducing greenhouse gases by 95 percent relative to 1990), the scenario analyses indicate potentially decommissioning at least one third of the gas distribution networks. Depending on the region involved, this figure may be higher still. Even when reducing greenhouse gases by 80 percent, one in five distribution networks could still be decommissioned. The transmission network is affected much less strongly and will be needed in the future to a similar extent as today. 

Decommissioning part of the gas infrastructure can help to advance the deployment of other technologies or energy sources. Therefore, the study recommends not completely dismantling surplus gas infrastructure. “As much as possible within the regulatory requirements, we advise reversible sealing of pipelines”, says Jakob Wachsmuth. “This keeps the option open to re-use the elements at a later point in time, for example for hydrogen.” In principle, a flexible and adaptable design of gas infrastructure and gas supply is required, for which the study developed a roadmap in the form of a series of policy guidelines.

About the study

The study “Gas roadmap for the energy transition – a sustainable climate contribution of the gas sector” was compiled by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI on behalf of the German Federal Environment Agency. Fraunhofer ISI received support for the model calculations from the DVGW (German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water) Research Centre at Engler-Bunte-Institute in Karlsruhe.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.