Gas as a fossil fuel for heating

Together with oil, gas is one of the most important primary energy sources in Germany. It is not only industry that needs a lot of gas. This fossil fuel is also indispensable for heating residential buildings and apartments. Official statistics show how important gas is in the heating sector: According to these, gas heating systems are among the most frequently used heating systems. Around two thirds of all heat generators use gas.

Gas as motive power and feedstock for heating systems

The most popular heating system in this case is gas heating. It burns the fuel and thus generates heat. It is able to burn the fuel not only in gaseous form, but also in liquid form (liquefied gas). However, it is by no means the only type of heating system that uses gas as an energy source. Combined heat and power plants, for example, burn gas to drive a turbine, which in turn generates electricity and heat. Heat pumps also use either electricity or gas to drive a compressor. A special type of heating is fuel cell heating. It also uses gas as an energy source to generate heat and electricity. The trick here is that it does not burn the gas, but separates it chemically. In this case, the actual fuel is not the gas itself, but the hydrogen reformed from it.

The picture shows a plant for processing the fuel gas.

Origin and occurrence

The formation of gas, in this case natural gas, is very similar to that of crude oil. Both raw materials were formed several million years ago from organic substances and are stored in sometimes huge deposits. Natural gas itself is a mixture of methane, nitrogen and other hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane and butane. It can be extracted from the depths by drilling, among other methods. Just a few years ago, natural gas was usually flared off as a byproduct of oil production. This is not only a waste of resources, it also pollutes the environment in the long term. In the meantime, governments in the producing countries have passed laws prohibiting flaring.

Since the primordial oceans covered a large part of our planet millions of years ago, natural gas is found in almost all regions of the world. According to the study, the Middle East has the largest reserves, followed by Europe and Eurasia. However, the list of countries with the largest production volume is headed not by Saudi Arabia, but by the United States of America. Germany also has natural gas reserves of around 123 billion cubic meters. Most of the gas is produced in Saxony-Anhalt. Gas can also be produced from renewable sources. The well-known biogas is produced from biomass such as corn, sugar beets or other energy crops in specially built plants.

Reserves and resources

When it comes to the question of whether gas supplies are guaranteed in the coming years, a distinction must first be made between reserves and resources. Reserves refer to the quantities already discovered, while resources only mean deposits that are not yet economically exploitable. A report by the British oil company BP states that it will take 55.1 years for natural gas reserves to be completely depleted.

The prerequisite for this is that consumption remains constant. The company has taken the figures from 2014 as the basis for this calculation. According to these, just under 4,000 billion cubic meters of gas were consumed worldwide. Compared to the reserves already available, the number of scientifically not yet recoverable resources is considerably high. The German Association for Natural Gas, Petroleum and Geoenergy (Bundesverband Erdgas, Erdöl und Geoenergie e.V.) assumes that the range of natural gas is up to 260 years.

The fuel gas can also be produced regeneratively.

Advantages of gas use

The use of gas has many advantages for both the user and the environment. Due to its high energy content, system owners heat extremely economically - all the more so if the boiler uses condensing technology. You can read about what makes this technology so special in the section on the advantages of gas condensing technology. One thing is certain: compared to other fossil fuels, gas burns very cleanly. It emits less CO2 than petroleum, for example, and produces hardly any pollutants such as nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide. This reduces the burden on the environment.

Industry also relies on this fuel. Gas plays a particularly important role in power generation. Compared with conventional power plants, natural gas power plants can be flexibly ramped up and down. They are therefore often used to balance peak loads quickly and reliably. Another advantage is the very well developed distribution network. This provides an ideal basis for the use of power-to-gas technology. This refers to the conversion of (ecologically clean) excess electricity generated by wind farms, for example, into usable gas.

Gas conversion and condensing

A switch from L-gas to H-gas is currently taking place in northwestern Germany. The costs for this are borne by the gas supply company or the Federal Network Agency. Owners of a gas heating system simply have to observe all the letters, notices and deadlines they receive from their energy supplier. The aim of the changeover is, on the one hand, to guarantee the supply and, on the other hand, to standardize the type of gas. This is because the calorific value, i.e. the energy content, of gas is not always constant. For L-gas, for example, it is between eight and ten kilowatt hours per cubic meter. For H-gas, it is already ten to twelve kilowatt hours per cubic meter. If you want to find out the calorific value of the gas you have bought, you can take a look at your gas bill. It is usually noted there. If not, it is worth asking the gas supplier.

Anyone who already owns a Viessmann condensing boiler with the intelligent Lambda Pro Control is not affected by the changeover. This is because the combustion control automatically adapts to the gas composition and can burn the energy-rich H-gas without any problems.