Weekly Energy Market Update 23 September 2019

Gas

Gas prices saw high levels of volatility last week as the market digested the three unexpected ‘black swan’ developments of the previous week, which had triggered significant price spikes. An attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia led to a further price rise, as over 5% of global oil supply was shut down. The October gas contract hit highs of 40p/th, with the Winter 19 market at two-month highs of 52p/th. However, some of the uncertainty surrounding supply and demand was tempered, prompting prices to reverse some of those gains. EDF reported just 6 of its nuclear reactors are affected by welding issues, believing power stations do not need to close.

Russian gas flows via the OPAL pipeline, saw little change, despite the tighter restrictions. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia vowed to return its oil output to normal levels by the end of the month, quicker than initially feared. Short-term supply-demand fundamentals are also weighing heavily on the front of the gas curve, with October prices dropping to 32p/th. The Langeled gas pipeline is to return from maintenance tomorrow, boosting Norwegian flows to the UK.

Meanwhile, LNG sendout is expected to remain strong next month as the UK confirms three tankers already booked for October. Above seasonal-normal temperatures are also forecast for the next two weeks, slowing the typical rise in heating demand ahead of the winter season. While winter supply risks have been somewhat tempered, contracts from Winter 19 onwards remain elevated amid uncertainty over French nuclear power, Russian imports and tensions in the Middle East which are supporting oil prices. As a result, seasonal gas contracts are holding in the middle of their summer range, between their July highs and September lows.

Gas Graph

Power

Power prices mirrored movements in the gas market, with short-term contracts falling sharply across the week. The rest of the electricity curve remained elevated. Short-term contracts were highly volatile following three black swan developments. An additional oil attack in Saudi Arabia provided further price support as prices moved to fresh highs early last week.

Seasonal power contracts hit six-week highs. Prices eased after EDF reported only six reactors are affected by welding issues and indicated no power stations need to close. However, the outcome of an investigation by the regulator ASN is still unknown and that body will have the final say on plant closures. Oil prices corrected quickly as Saudi Arabia promised a return to full production by the end of the month.

Short-term power prices fell further, in line with declining gas contracts, which were weakened by the current healthy supply-demand fundamentals. Day-ahead gas prices fell 22% with front-month prices down 13%. The equivalent power contracts also moved lower on the weaker gas costs, but overall declines were more gradual across the week. Longer-dated electricity contracts were marginally higher week-on-week, despite giving back some of their early gains. Prices are still underpinned by elevated carbon costs, with the price of allowances remaining above €25/tCO2e. Seasonal contracts are holding in the middle of their summer range, above the early September lows, and below the peaks from July.

Electricity Graph

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What has caused September price swings?

Concerns over supply, demand and flexibility within energy markets ahead of the highest demand period of the year were highly price supportive.

Black Swans

In less than a week of trading, front-month gas prices climbed 25%, and the corresponding power contract rose 15%.
The Winter 19 power contract spiked £4.55 in just one day, while Winter 19 gas jumped over 6p/th, the largest daily move on a seasonal contract since at least 2008.

gas season prices

The initial price spikes were triggered by the simultaneous discovery of three ‘black swans’, an industry term describing unpredictable events that go beyond normal expectations of the situation.

season power prices

A fourth such event occurred a few days later when rebels attacked Saudi Arabian oil facilities. Brent and WTI crude oil prices saw the highest within-day spikes in 30 years, with both markets gaining more than $8/bbl in one day. The jump in the oil market provided more bullish support to the wider energy mix, with longer-dated gas and power contracts moving to new highs on the back of the increased oil costs.

crude oil prices

As these unpredictable events have developed, energy prices have given back some of the exceptional gains. However, prices remain elevated across the month, above the lows seen in early September. Here we explain what these issues were and how they are impacting on the energy market.

Groningen Gas

The Dutch Government reported that the production cap at its Groningen gas field will be lowered to 11.8bcm for the upcoming gas year from 1 October 2019. The state also confirmed that the site – previously Europe’s largest – would close entirely by 2022, eight years earlier than expected.

groningen gas production

Production at the field has been gradually slowing for seven years after drilling led to a series of earthquakes, forcing legislation to limit output. In 2013 the field was producing 54BCM/y, declining to 11.8BCM for 2019/20. While the reduced supply from Groningen was somewhat expected within the market, supply was expected to be available for another eight years. This curtailment helped to support a sudden price rise across the curve.

dutch gas production

The loss of production has been reflected in the loss of flexibility within Dutch gas supply, and therefore reducing the ability to respond to spikes in demand or other supply issues. Five years ago Dutch gas production was able to ramp up to 277MCM/d in response to high demand on a cold day. However, production last winter peaked at just 164mcm, while output so far in September 2019 has averaged under 50mcm/d.

OPAL Pipeline

The OPAL pipeline in Germany connects the Nord Stream pipeline with connections in central and western Europe. This month the European Commission overturned a ruling in 2016 which had effectively allowed Russian giant Gazprom a near monopoly of the volume of the pipeline, with 90% access. A complaint from neighbouring countries, led by Poland, saw this ruling challenged and the Russian transit through the link must now be cut to 40%.

The OPAL pipeline had allowed Russian gas to reach central Europe via Nord Stream and onwards, without transiting war-torn Ukraine. The EU decision will see Gazprom’s access cut by half, potentially reducing the availability of Russian gas to enter Europe, unless other transit routes are made available.

French nuclear power plants

EDF reported welding issues with at least five of its nuclear reactors, which could force shutdowns of the power stations. This would greatly reduce available power supplies for France, where 80% of its generation is supplied by nuclear and the majority of domestic heating is electric. Demand for imports will increase as will demand for more expensive and less efficient gas and coal plant, which also increases the consumption of carbon.

The UK’s interconnection with France sees imports from France provide the marginal supply to Britain, ensuring the countries’ pricing is closely aligned. Issues with French nuclear manufacturing had previously occurred in autumn 2016 when over 40% of France’s nuclear fleet closed down. This caused record spikes in UK power prices, with the Day-ahead market at over £150/MWh, and the front-month contract doubling from £40/MWh to over £80/MWh.

UK day ahead power prices

The potential loss of nuclear generation adds significant risk to the coming winter, particularly if tighter power supplies coincide with cold, windless weather conditions when gas demand is already at its highest levels for the year.
Since the initial announcement, EDF Energy has confirmed just six nuclear reactors are affected by the welding issues identified. The company believes no immediate action is required, an announcement which triggered a pull back in prices. However, the ultimate decision on whether to close nuclear plants for repairs lies with the French nuclear regulator ASN.

Saudi Arabia oil attack

The last piece of news impacting energy markets in September was a series of rebel drone attacks on major Saudi Arabian oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and oil fields at Khurais. The United States has blamed the attack on Iran, but Tehran claim no involvement. US-Iranian tensions were already heightened after a failed nuclear power agreement last year and attacks on oil tankers in the Middle East.

The rebel attack in Saudi Arabia forced around 7 million barrels per day of production offline, halving the country’s output and impacting on more than 5% of global oil supply.

However, Saudi Arabia confirmed it met customer orders by tapping into substantial storage reserves. Furthermore, the affected facilities would be back to pre-attack volumes by the end of September. Tensions remain heightened in the region but the swift return to operation of the affect facilities prompted oil prices to drop back from the earlier peaks.

Price Outlook

Uncertainty lingers over these issues, despite fresh developments so the potential for further price spikes remains in play. However, within the recent volatility on energy contracts, prices across gas, power, oil, coal and carbon remain within a sideways range. In fact, the majority of contracts range-bound since the start of the summer season.

The threat of a break below this range has been mitigated by the recent price spikes. However, the highs reached in July have yet to be tested. How the energy market breaks out of this range will determine future price action.

Ofgem publish update to Targeted Charging Review proposals

In the meantime, the regulator has released a letter detailing guidelines on residual charging proposals and renewables modelling.

Residual charging proposals

In the ‘minded-to’ consultation, published in November 2018, Ofgem proposed two leading options for reform for residual electricity network charges. The options were; a fixed charge, or an agreed capacity charge. Ofgem indicated that they preferred a fixed residual charge.

Most respondents to the consultation also expressed support for the fixed charge. However, there was some disagreement with the structure of the proposal, predominantly with user segments associated with this pricing option.

Some respondents expressed that the fixed charges should take more account of the diversity of non-domestic users, pointing out that individual bands could contain a wide range of different user sizes. It was also highlighted that Ofgem’s proposed basis for segments could be seen as arbitrary.

In light of this feedback, Ofgem’s refined proposal for non-domestic customer segmentation is that:

  • total allowed residual revenue would first be apportioned between voltage levels, on the basis of net volumes, as set out in the November 2018 minded-to consultation;
  • non-domestic segment boundaries would be set in terms of agreed capacity levels for users at higher voltages where this data is widely available, and net volume levels at Low Voltage (LV). This is in place of segmenting these users on the basis of the line-loss factor classes (as set out in the November minded-to consultation).

Ofgem has identified five national level charging bands for Low Voltage non-domestic users and five each for High Voltage (HV) / Extra High Voltage (EHV) non-domestic users. The banding is the same for HV and EHV customers, but their share of the residual charges is calculated at voltage level resulting in fifteen charges in total.

The refined band thresholds would be applied on a consistent basis across the country. Users would be allocated on a historic basis and updated in line with price controls. Incentives are expected to be reduced in a bid to change behaviour in response to residual changes.

The option for agreed capacity has been left open by Ofgem. The regulator has stated that where more users collect agreed capacity data there could be the opportunity to transition charges to an agreed capacity or more appropriate basis.

The Targeted Charging Review

EIC has a more detailed breakdown of the Targeted Charging Review that can be read here.

The end of CRC

The final reporting period for the Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme (CRC) concluded in March this year. Qualifying companies now only have to manage the final elements of the scheme: ensuring they have purchased and surrendered sufficient allowances to finalise Phase 2 reporting.

The CRC scheme ran for eight years, from April 2010 to March 2019. It covered approximately 10% of the UK’s carbon emissions, and raised roughly £790 million annually for the exchequer.

Qualifying businesses

Qualification criteria for CRC Phase 2 was determined as organisations with at least one half-hourly meter using 6,000 megawatt hours or more of qualifying electricity. This was a simpler method of working out relevant organisations and was implemented following Phase 1 feedback that the system was too complex. The seemingly sensible criteria did a good job of identifying significant energy consumers with a test that was simple.

An issue arose however with qualification being considered only in the period April 2012 to March 2013, and then lasting for all subsequent years in the phase. As time went on, there was an increase in companies who qualified, but had subsequently sold off the (usually industrial) sites that made them qualify for the scheme. This left comparatively low energy users stuck in a scheme for which they were no longer suitable. The qualification criteria became less effective over time. We learnt that rolling qualification criteria for schemes helps to avoid this problem and keep qualifying members relevant.

The impact of ‘greening the grid’

The CRC scheme also changed significantly due to the “greening of the grid”. The government’s electricity conversion factors, which denote the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions associated with consuming a fixed amount of electricity, fell approximately 15% year on year over the last three years of the scheme.

This meant that in three years the number of allowances required to cover a fixed amount of electricity, halved. Some members of the scheme were caught out by this, and held a large number of prepaid allowances which were no longer needed due to the drop in conversion factors that was not forecast. This also had a big impact on the total tax revenue generated by CRC, and if the scheme were to continue, we would expect this to be addressed in a review. We learnt that if part of a carbon scheme’s purpose is to raise tax, then there are factors that can unexpectedly influence this.

The future of compliance

Now the CRC scheme is closed, we see a new future opening for carbon compliance. The tax-raising component of CRC has been incorporated into the Climate Change Levy as an increased flat rate across business energy bills in the UK for firms who pay 20% VAT. This is charged per kWh of energy, and so tax revenues are easier to forecast and less likely to change. However, this has shifted the tax burden initially placed on high emitters to being evenly spread across a wider group of energy bills.

The reporting side of CRC has been followed by the new Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) scheme. This has a larger footprint of approximately 11,000 qualifying firms, and the new qualifying criteria is attached to accounting standards which is both simple and applicable year on year. We welcome the increased attention on emissions that will be generated by the SECR scheme.

Talk to the EIC team

EIC can offer a full review of your organisation to assess your legal obligations and compliance status. We offer ESOS, SECR, Air Conditioning Inspections, Display Energy Certificates and much more, see our full suite of services here. We’ll provide you with a Compliance Report that will summarise our findings, explain the legislation, and outline your next steps.

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