A city makes the switch A municipal utility in a small town in the north of Germany is a pilot project for the German Network 
Development Plan. It is the first city to switch its 
gas supply from L-gas to H-gas.

The conversion of the gas grid is planned to be completed by 2030. The Federal Network Agency and transmission system operators determine which areas will make the transition and when. Illustration: Maria Suckert

Executive Summary

1. Gas production
in Germany is declining. Soon less gas will also be flowing from the Netherlands to Germany. By 2030, one-third of the required quantities must therefore be covered by imports.

2. In the future, required gas quantities will be compensated through further imports from Russia, Norway, and other sources. This H-gas has a higher gross ­calorific value than the L-gas which has been used to date.

3. For H-gas, technicians will have to convert 
approximately 5.5 
million appliances in homes and industrial facilities over the next few years. The total costs are likely to amount to some 
€1.68 billion.

4. The conversion of the grid to H-gas affects north and west Germany. In Schneverdingen in Lower Saxony, the local utility company has been preparing to convert the gas appliances in its municipality.

When Jörn Peter Maurer goes to the supermarket in Schneverdingen, Lower Saxony, people know and recognize him. He’s the director of the municipal utility company in Schne-verdingen-Neuenkirchen, which provides the small city with local heat, lights the streets, and operates the public baths and sewage treatment plant. Being well known here has its advantages for the 45-year-old managing director. As of October 1, the municipal utility is switching its grid to a different quality of gas – from L-gas to H-gas. Ensuring all goes smoothly not only requires a good plan, but also well-informed customers.

The transition from L-gas to H-gas is currently Germany’s biggest infrastructure project.

In Germany, natural gas is -mainly found in Lower Saxony, in the northwest of the country. Some 96.7 percent of German natural gas is produced here, but quantities are declining. Between 2008 and 2013 production levels dropped by one-third. According to a business report by WEG, the German oil and gas industry association, the amount will continue to decrease. In addition, supply contracts with the Netherlands, which until now have been covering one-quarter of Germany’s natural gas supply, are expiring. By 2020 the Netherlands will be significantly reducing its natural gas production. Apart from the decline in gas reserves in Groningen, the largest natural gas field in Europe, earthquakes in the region have further limited production.

Before the nozzles in homes can be replaced, the work must be put out to tender and the public be informed. Illustration: Maria Suckert

Over the next 15 years, one-third of Germany’s gas supply will need to be sourced from elsewhere, and this will be achieved with H-gas from Russia and Norway. This step has wide-reaching consequences. The gross calorific value of H-gas is higher than L-gas, which means that over 5 million gas appliances need to be converted, not to mention industrial plants, biogas plants, and gas-fired power plants. It will also be necessary to further develop the H-gas grid. This market area conversion is Germany’s biggest national infrastructure project, and the costs will run into the billions. Which grid areas will make the transition and when will be decided by the Federal Network Agency and the transmission system operators.

Millions of households will soon be assessed. Specialist companies are being certified and technicians trained to convert gas heating systems and ovens.

A total of 57 utilities in western Germany are switching over to H-gas. Eastern states and regions such as Berlin have been H-gas areas for decades. Other cities such as Soltau and Hamelin have already taken the initiative and switched over their grids by themselves. “We wanted H-gas, the most common quality of natural gas in Europe, in order to make full use of the competition in the deregulated gas market,” explains the former managing director of the municipal utility in Hamelin, Klaus Arnold. Schneverdingen and neighboring Neuenkirchen have to convert just 7,500 appliances in homes (mainly heating boilers) as well as five plants for large industrial customers. The relatively small scale is why these utilities were asked whether they wanted to be the first to make the transition and act as a pilot project for the German Gas Network Development Plan.

Managing director Jörn Peter Maurer and his colleagues were prepared to do this, but decided they could not tackle the task alone. “We looked for companies that could help us.” The project advertised for bids across Europe. The tasks of these companies were divided by the municipal utility into individual project stages. First step is the survey. How many gas appliances do our customers have? Which models are they, and how old? Second step is the conversion process. As a rule, one nozzle needs to be replaced and the air intake adjusted. Maurer and the nearby utilities of Böhmetal von Walsrode and Fallingbostel prepared a joint call for tenders, as they are next up for the transition. 
Third step is the quality control phase, which is implemented with random spot checks. The entire process is being planned and coordinated by an external project management company. 
Maurer is a lawyer and knows that poorly formulated calls for tenders can have legal consequences. So he engaged Kanzlei Bommert, a legal firm specializing in European public procurement law. In addition, the conversions and quality checks will not be carried out by the same company.

Following a precise time plan, all gas appliances will be fitted with new nozzles. Very old appliances will be completely replaced. Illustration: Maria Suckert

Maurer says the most important aspect is the project management. Gas- und Wärme-Institut Essen e.V. (GWI) is handling this. The project manager is Sabine Roemer, who has been dealing with conversions for 15 years. “It all needs to be organized in a logistically sensible way,” she says. The process began with a comprehensive communication campaign. In February, the municipal utility sent information brochures to its customers, and set up a natural gas office to answer questions about the transition. The local newspapers wrote articles on the subject. “It became a local topic that everyone talked about,” says Maurer, and the project benefited enormously. Each of the 6,000 households supplied with natural gas will have to open their door at least twice for the technicians. Mauer explained that metropolitan centers or larger areas may need a different communication concept. “For example, we didn’t have any language barriers to overcome.” To prepare for the conversion in larger cities – Bremen began the process, Cologne and Frankfurt are to follow – Mauer says that information in several languages will be necessary. Residents of Schneverding have been informed that technicians from non-local companies will be inspecting their gas appliances and will be properly identified. The municipal utility logo will be on their jackets and their vehicles will also be labeled. It will take some 30 minutes to inspect and document each gas appliance. “And very importantly, the people know that the technicians are not permitted to ask for money,” explains Maurer. “This is a security measure to thwart would-be con artists.”
Roemer makes it clear just how important a precise survey will be. “There are 16,000 different heating system models on the market,” she says. The inspectors will document the appliance’s manufacturer and model, check for defects, and assess whether the appliance can be converted for H-gas. The utility companies in the pilot project know they are generally on the safe side here. Their gas grid was only established in the 1980s and the appliances to be converted will be of a similar age. According to the analysis, only eight will need to be replaced. For these customers Maurer is offering a “heat contracting model” – the utility will provide a replacement and retain ownership of it.

The lion’s share of the work will begin after the switchover to H-gas. Although one-fifth of appliances are capable of handling both types of gas and can be adapted in advance, 80 percent will need to be converted after the H-gas service has begun. This needs to be done within a six-week time frame. Working in Schneverdingen during this peak period will be approximately 20 technicians who have long been entrusted with the task. For commercial and industrial plants, experts from the appliance manufacturers are responsible.

A natural gas office will be set up to answer customers’ questions. Illustration: Maria Suckert

In other areas it could be more difficult, suspects Maurer. “Large companies will just have to hope that there are enough personnel to deal with it,” he says. For grid operators this is an issue of 
concern. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft Erdgasumstellung (Arge EGU), an alliance of 30 distribution system operators dedicated to the issue of the natural gas switchover, warned this spring “of a shortage in professional technicians in external L- and H-gas conversion companies.” They are anticipating this personnel shortfall in 2018 or earlier, even if the companies hire more workers by 2017. Arge EGU 
estimates that, from 2020, the annual requirement for personnel will be 310 technicians and 29 
technical project management staff. The GWI 
calculates that as many as 400 technicians will be needed, each for two months per year. The German 
Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water (DVGW) estimates that there will be 450,000 conversions per year. Technicians are currently undergoing training, and companies are being certified for this task. Whether or not these new technicians will be prepared to move from city to city to handle conversions in larger conversion areas remains to be seen.

On top of all this, it is more difficult to calculate 
the amount of time that will be required for converting larger networks – for example, when there are far more customers than in rural areas such 
as Schneverdingen who ignore letters from their 
local utilities or fail to be at home on the requested dates. Empty apartments that require the building owners or management companies to be found and open them will also present a problem, reckons 
Sabine Roemer.  

The gas industry is starting a massive project. Five million gas appliances need to be converted across Germany to accommodate the change in gas quality.

The first surveys are already being followed by the first quality checks. Experts will check in at least 10 percent of all cases whether the gas appliance information that has been recorded is actually correct. After the gas appliances have been converted, technical inspectors will check the work with random tests, again for at least 10 percent of all appliances.

According to the Federal Network Agency, the market conversion will cost some €250 per household and €2,500 per company. The total cost will come to around €1.7 billion for the entire conversion area. In the Network Development Plan an additional €1.7 billion is estimated. Among other tasks, the transmission system operators must lay 300 kilometers of new lines to transport the H-gas, and new compressor stations need to be built or extended. The German Energy Act states that the costs must be shared between all gas supply networks within each market area. In Germany there are two market areas comprising the supply areas of a total of 13 transmission system operators who have formed two joint ventures: -NetConnect Germany covers the west and south, Gaspool the north and the east. The change in gas quality will affect both market areas. The Federal Network Agency estimates that, for consumers, the two initial levies will amount to a maximum of one euro for the average household.

Schneverdingen accounts for a comparatively low amount of the total costs – the conversion of the municipal utility will cost €2 million in 2015. This sum will be covered by the market area conversion levy. The Schneverdingen-Neuenkirchen utility calculated its conversion costs and notified its market area supplier Gaspool of the figures last year. The transmission system operator Gasunie finances this sum in advance by transferring a monthly installment of one-twelfth of the annual costs to the 
utility. From this and other amounts submitted by the other natural gas grid operators, Gaspool calculates a levy for the following year that all grid operators in its market area will pay. It is based on the utilized capacity. For 2015 a total of €5.7 million 
has been calculated.

On October 1, at precisely six o’clock in the 
evening, H-gas from the Am Südring transfer station will begin to flow through Schneverdingen’s pipes and displace the L-gas. Maurer is pretty sure that customers won’t notice any difference. However, during the conversion phase, he is expecting many calls to the natural gas office – for example, from customers wanting to change their scheduled conversion dates. Here, too, he thinks about the 
wider situation: “Larger cities will probably have 
to set up call centers so that they are able to talk to their customers.”

Text: Carola Rönneburg

What is L-gas, and what is H-gas?

L-gas (low calorific gas) is natural gas with a methane content of 79.8 to 87 percent. Its net calorific value is between 8.2 and 8.9 kilowatt hours per cubic meter. One kilogram of L-gas is equivalent to the energy content of 1.2 liters of gasoline or 1.1 liters of diesel. It contains slightly more nitrogen and CO₂ than H-gas.

H-gas (high calorific gas) has a methane content of 87 to 99.1 percent, and a low level of nitrogen and CO₂. Its net calorific value is between 10 and 11.1 kilowatt hours per cubic meter. One kilogram of H-gas has an energy content equivalent to 1.5 liters of diesel. Whether L-gas or H-gas is produced depends on the location of the deposit.

Interview with Dr. Michael Kleemiß

»France and Belgium will also switch«

Transmission system operator Gasunie drew up a 
transition schedule in cooperation with the municipal utility 
in -Schneverdingen-Neuenkirchen. Dr. Michael Kleemiß (48), 
Manager Marketing, explains the main tasks involved.

Find out more

Our magazine

Read more selected articles from the GASWINNER online here.

Read current issue