If the current energy crisis in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has taught us anything, it is that gas is not only an environmentally damaging source of energy, but it is also highly unreliable from an energy security perspective.
Despite the lies by the fossil fuel industry to market gas as a “cleaner transition fuel” that ensures security of supply, it is far from it. When including methane emissions – methane has 80 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide for 20 years – gas is on par with coal for climate change or worse.
In Europe, the epicentre of the gas crisis, gas prices went up by 1000 per cent compared to prices in previous decades, which not only forced people to choose between heating or eating, but also had large global economic consequences that are ongoing.
Globally, gas is the largest energy source for heating in buildings, accounting for 42 per cent of the heating demand in 2022. The buildings sector has mature and cost-effective technologies that can easily and rapidly replace gas, which also has with safety and health risks.
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Heat pumps, for example, are a solution for heating and hot water production in buildings in various climates, providing higher efficiencies than gas heating even in temperatures down to -30°C.
An analysis of gas boilers in Germany, which had the highest dependence on Russian gas, shows that with targeted efforts, up to 60 per cent of gas from Russia can be substituted by 2025 with heat pumps and grid expansions while still allowing the phase-out of coal and increased e-mobility.
There are also district heating and cooling solutions that have been used successfully around the world and can run on renewables. In many countries, new buildings require much less heating and cooling that heat pumps can easily supply, thanks to stricter building codes.
Electric stoves have been widely used for decades and with the falling costs induction stoves are up to three times more efficient than gas stoves.
Gas heaters and stoves have a lifecycle of around 20 years and longer depending on usage, locking many into an environmentally damaging and unhealthy fuel with volatile prices. The International Energy Agency reported that higher shares of renewables were correlated with lower electricity prices in the regions most affected by the recent energy crisis, which was caused mainly by the skyrocketing gas prices.
Banning gas connections to new buildings, where they could be easily replaced by other alternatives, is the first step towards a gas phase-out in the buildings sector and then the energy system. Several European countries have already imposed bans or restrictions on residential use of gas in various forms. In Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria have announced bans on new connections of gas, while councils in New South Wales use planning powers to circumvent the state government’s inaction by banning new connections. In the United States, New York banned gas connections in new buildings.
Governments must act now to ban gas in new buildings and introduce ambitious and inclusive policies to retrofit buildings with widescale renovation programs. It is also essential that these policies introduce a ban on new gas appliances and support the uptake of non-fossil alternatives to gas by households of all income levels.
We are losing over 20 years with each gas boiler or stove installed in buildings and risk limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C – it is time to act!