Home is where the heat is

Consumer preferences must be considered as the EU strives to become a leader in tackling climate change and the new European Commission is devising a Green Deal for Europe. The role of consumers in decarbonising the heating sector is especially important as the new EU legislative cycle begins, writes GasTerra's Anton Buijs.
credit: Eurogas

By Anton Buijs

20 Feb 2020

Recently, Eurogas launched its heating campaign. It was in a way non-typical, because, usually, industry associations like Eurogas base their exchanges with EU officials, lawmakers and (critical) friends on their own insights and positions. Not this time.

The heating campaign is based on what EU citizens think about climate change and on what they believe they can do about it.

A poll commissioned by Eurogas and carried out by Savanta ComRes – a leading market research agency – shows that most Europeans acknowledge that, individually, they share a responsibility with their authorities and industry to combat climate change.


They also understand that home heating is one of the most important contributors to carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, when considering an upgrade of their heating system, they admit that environmental concerns are not the main factor that drives decision making – costs are – but they do play a role.

Around Europe, gas is the most prevalent type of home heating. And although natural gas is a fossil fuel, many EU citizens want to stick with or consider switching to gas.

They appreciate the comfort, cost, energy efficiency and relative environmental friendliness of gas systems. Others favour 100 percent green energy, notably solar power, but also other sources of electricity.

Of course, the EU citizen does not exist. Circumstances in EU member states are diverse. Take the Netherlands.

This country, being self-reliant for its gas needs since a huge onshore natural gas field was discovered in the northern province of Groningen in 1959, has traditionally depended almost exclusively on natural gas for its heating needs. More than 90 percent of the country’s households use gas to heat homes.

"Around Europe, gas is the most prevalent type of home heating. And although natural gas is a fossil fuel, many EU citizens want to stick with or consider switching to gas"

Industry uses natural gas both as feedstock and as a fuel. Gas-fired power plants are the backbone of Europe's power production. Nevertheless, gas has lost its good reputation in recent years. The production from Groningen causes earthquakes, which in many cases are heavy enough to damage houses and other buildings.

This has forced the government to phase out the extraction of gas from Groningen; with productio scheduled to stop in 2022. Because many people point to natural gas as one of the sources of climate change, a majority of politicians support a complete overhaul of the heating system and a switch to non-gas solutions.

Remarkably, according to the Eurogas poll, most Dutch citizens are still attached to their gas fuelled home heating. They fear the high costs of switching to all electric systems with heat pumps, which require perfectly installed insulation in their homes, while most older buildings are simply not energy efficiency enough.

So, slowly, more and more people are starting to realise that the gas age is not over yet. The interest in renewable gases – bio-methane and green hydrogen – is growing.

Compare this with Germany. The Energie Wende has created a considerable flow of new renewable energy. However, as we all know wind and solar power are intermittent sources, so the need for a reliable backup system is stronger than ever.

German authorities understand, after a period in which gas basically was either opposed or ignored, that presently gas is the solution to this issue. The existing lignite fired power plants definitely are not.

Moreover, to curb carbon dioxide emissions even further, households are encouraged to switch from heating oil to gas.

These two examples show that the success of the EU’s green ambitions will be strongly influenced by the situation in individual member states and within these countries by local circumstances. Whether transition programmes can be effective is to a great extent determined by the attitude and preferences of citizens.

The Eurogas heating poll shows that the majority of them, in all selected Member States, see gas as a practical, cost efficient and environmentally acceptable choice and therefore a logical option to start or continue heating their homes.

That is the core message of Eurogas’ heating campaign.