Researchers at the Technical University of Munich have developed a new calculation model that reveals the greater climate impact of heating and cooking with natural gas, contrary to common beliefs. Lead author Florian Dietrich explained that their goal was to compare the climate-friendliness of gas versus electricity for heating and cooking, taking gas leakage into account.
In collaboration with other institutions, including ETH Zurich, the University of Utrecht, and the Dutch Organization for Applied Research in Natural Sciences TNO, the researchers employed a high-tech measurement station to capture carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide. Laser spectrometers were used for on-site methane measurements, and all variables were incorporated into a specially designed calculation model.
During the 2019 Munich Oktoberfest, the researchers observed that 1.4% of the gas used was lost, resulting in the release of 2,500 cubic meters of unused gas into the atmosphere. Dietrich highlighted that their calculation model considered these amounts of escaped natural gas, providing a comprehensive emission factor for evaluating the use of natural gas for heating and cooking purposes.
However, the researchers emphasized that the power mix plays a decisive role in determining whether natural gas or electricity is the more climate-friendly option. A high share of renewables in the power mix reduces the emission factor for electricity, while reliance on sources like coal-fired power stations has the opposite effect.
By incorporating these factors into their calculation model, the researchers created a quantitative basis for identifying countries where electricity is already a more climate-friendly choice than natural gas. They also outlined the necessary steps for other countries to reach this point. The study suggests that incorporating leakage and incomplete combustion indicates a smaller share of renewable energy sources in the electric power mix is needed compared to previous assumptions.
Looking at individual countries, the research indicates that Canada, with its high share of hydroelectric power, could already transition entirely to electricity for heating and cooking from a climate protection standpoint. However, in countries like China, where coal dominates the power mix, electricity results in higher CO2 emissions than gas, assuming identical energy output.
In the case of Germany, despite the increasing share of wind and solar energy, electricity is not yet definitively superior to gas. Likewise, in 18 out of the 25 countries evaluated, including Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, and Australia, electricity is not yet the more climate-friendly alternative. Nevertheless, the study highlights that ongoing expansion of renewables will soon make electricity the more climate-friendly option in many of these countries.