For countries with significant proportions of gas in their heating mixes that are looking to decarbonise and reduce exposure to gas imports, there is a major question around how to deal with existing gas distribution infrastructure in an equitable way which supports consumers. Yet this question has received only limited policy focus.
This briefing considers this problem for the United Kingdom, a country which has a well-developed gas distribution network with high coverage (85% of homes) which is both privatized, fully unbundled and split into regions — and which is looking to remove direct fossil fuel use in heating by 2050 at the latest.
The UK energy regulator, Ofgem, is imminently due to embark on a price control process to regulate the gas networks from 2026 onwards and the UK government is also expected to make a decision on the potential of a role for hydrogen in heating in 2026. We hope this briefing can support policy makers and regulators working on these processes.
If decarbonisation of heating by 2050 is successful, there is a high likelihood of stranded UK gas network assets. There will also be some costs associated with the physical disconnection of buildings and decommissioning of the gas grid. Ultimately, consumers bear the responsibility for and risks of these issues. The briefing proposes three options for the British government to manage better these issues on behalf of consumers:
- Business-as-usual wind-down with accelerated depreciation and the potential for a decommissioning fund.
- Evolutionary regulation to encourage gas networks into clean heating.
- Nationalisation with planned wind-down.
In addition to the above, we would encourage greater consideration of the issues of decommissioning, continued capital investment and the role for local area energy planning in gas network decision making. While regulation, governance and ownership vary between countries, many of the technical and regulatory challenges in countries with major gas distribution infrastructure will be similar to the UK.