Destabilisation of Sustainable Energy Transformations: Analysing Natural Gas Lock-in in the case of Germany

Working Paper
  • Published 23/05/19

STEPS Working Paper 106
by Louise Fitzgerald, Isabell Braunger and Hanna Brauers

In recent years, natural gas has seen increased support in the context of climate change mitigation. Described as a ‘bridge fuel’ it is seen as aiding in the low-carbon energy transformation process. This is puzzling, given the high global warming potential of natural gas, which is composed almost entirely of the greenhouse gas methane. In this paper, we seek to explain the factors underpinning the political processes surrounding natural gas support, despite its unsuitability for climate mitigation. Drawing guidance from the pathways approach, and drawing on the broader institutional and regime literature, we analyse the role of actors and their networks, interests and politics as well as discourses and narratives. Our central claim is that support for natural gas is a result of institutional and incumbency lock-in, and has resulted from strategies that incumbent fossil fuel actors have deployed to secure their interests in the context of decarbonisation. We focus on liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure in Germany, a representative case study for understanding the dynamics of natural gas support.

The paper concludes by highlighting further avenues of research. In particular, we note specific misperceptions that need to be more openly contested in the discourse surrounding natural gas, in order to address the issue of natural gas lock-in.