Loose gas creating tight margins in the power market

Gas has led the way, particularly in the balance of winter contracts. These falls have come partly due to the very high levels of storage but also because of all the spare capacity that could be called upon if required. As a result, power prices have fallen due to the lower fuel cost.

LNG has been the main game changer with the deluge of tankers flooding in to Europe over the last year. Increased export capacity in the US and Russia has led to the increase in extra imports to Europe. It is also a symptom of the global oversupply in the worldwide market place. The liquid commodity markets and high import capacity make the UK an ideal location to offload any excess supply. LNG terminals are currently operating at 75% of their capacity, with all the extra gas being sold into the NBP pushing prices lower.

 

LNG imports graph

LNG imports graph

European imports have been virtually non-existent throughout the winter but more gas could be attracted through these pipes. There is a potential capacity of 94 MCM/d to come over the BBL and the Interconnector. To start attracting this gas the premium over TTF would firstly have to rise above the NBP entry charge of 1.56p/th and then cover the cost of using the pipelines. This means that if prices increase their premium over the continent to more than 2p/th additional gas will start coming to Britain.

 

IUK flows with Belgium
IUK flows with Belgium

 

Given the competition between supply sources, storage just cannot make it onto the grid, even on higher demand days, and this capacity overhang is weighing on prices.

 

Gas spare capacity graph

Gas spare capacity graph

However, the falls in prices for power have been less substantial and purely driven by the falling cost of fuel. Fundamentally the UK grid is seeing some of its tightest conditions in years. With nearly 3GW of coal capacity having retired in the last 12 months. The remaining coal units are now running as baseload and all flexibility is coming from gas. There remains spare capacity but this is the least efficient or most costly plant.

On windless, cold days we are seeing some stress on the system. Currently Monday, 18 November, has a negative margin with 300MW still required to meet anticipated demand. This has pushed power prices to their highest since February at £54.50MWh.

 

Power capacity graph
Power capacity graph

 

On Wednesday evening we saw the highest demand of the winter so far, of 45.2 GW. The above chart shows where generation was coming from at the peak on the left, with remaining output available for Monday on the right. While this shows the potential generation that could come on at the current price levels, it isn’t expected to on Monday, hence the negative margin.

So far Monday’s price reaction has been relatively muted, but it has occurred at a time when the gas systems oversupply is weighing heavily on the whole energy market. If it was happening amidst different market conditions the price outlook would be very different.

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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.

How will Brexit impact on the energy industry?

More than three years have passed since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Debate is still ongoing over the process of our departure, any possible “deal”, payments or a transition period. However, following his appointment to Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has hardened the UK’s negotiating position, promising that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October 2019, deal or no deal. Here we attempt to provide some insight into how this may impact various facets of the energy industry.

The energy sector in the UK had already seen significant changes with the Energy Act 2011 and various proposals for reform of the electricity market. The possible impact of Brexit on the UK and global economy could be far-reaching. However, the direct impact on the energy industry is likely to be more muted. Oil and gas markets are traded on an international level and the EU has little influence over the make-up of a member state’s energy mix. There will be no danger of blackouts or supply shortages and in the short-term you may see little day-to-day change. However, the longer-term outlook for post-Brexit energy may be altered, with one of the major issues being the UK’s relationship with, or role within, the EU’s Internal Energy Market (IEM).

The EU Internal Energy Market (IEM) – will Britain stay a part?

The IEM is a borderless network of gas and electricity transfers between EU member states. Common market rules and cross-border infrastructure allow for energy to be transferred between countries tariff-free.

Post-Brexit, Britain is likely to have less influence over EU energy regulation but will be able to adopt a different, potentially lighter, framework for its energy polices. The extent to which the UK still adheres or follows the EU energy regulation will be dependent on any ‘deal’ reached before the deadline.

Continued access to the IEM is a key priority for the UK Government in its Brexit negotiations. This would allow the country to continue to take advantage of various benefits associated with the IEM including increased security of supply, market coupling, cross-border balancing and capacity market integration.

Having recognised the benefits of the IEM the Government is seeking to retain as free as possible access to internal market and to maintain a strong influence on energy within the EU.

Plans to increase interconnectivity with the Continent are continuing and enhancing with many new interconnector links currently in development (see below). Irrespective of negotiations, this will require close co-operation with the EU Internal Energy Market going forward.

However, there are some inconsistencies in regards to UK plans encompassing full membership of the IEM. Continued participation is likely to involve the UK adopting various European legislation, which may not tally fully with UK judicial ambitions unless the UK remains part of the institutions which handle EU energy regulation (ACER, ENTSO-E and ENTSO-G for example).

Will Brexit impact on connectivity between the UK and Europe – what about interconnectors?

The ongoing negotiations regarding the UK’s 2019 exit from the E U, are having no real impact on developments, with four new interconnector links now under construction.

The Government wants to see all the current planned projects through to operation, the majority of which will not be completed until after the UK has left the EU in 2019. Former Business Secretary Greg Clark had indicated he was keen for the UK to remain in the EU’s I E M, although the final result will depend on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.

Regardless of the outcome, the UK’s energy networks’ connections to the EU will remain in place. The Government recently posted guidance on the trading of gas and electricity with the EU if there is no Brexit deal. The publication highlights that there are only small changes expected to interconnector operations. Interconnector operators have been advised to engage with relevant EU national regulators to confirm any requirements for the reassessment of their access rules.

The main area that may see impact is for proposed interconnectors, which are still in stages of project development, without final financial decisions. Uncertainty caused by Brexit, surrounding commercial, regulatory and operational impacts, will likely see planning stages re-visited to adjust for these challenges.

The UK may lose access to the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) going forward. The CEF help to provide funding for interconnectors across Europe through targeted infrastructure investment. The Government have confirmed that any commitments that have already been made by the CEF regarding interconnectors into the UK will be safe following the UK’s withdrawal. However, it is not clear whether companies in the UK will be able to seek investments for new projects.

How will Brexit impact on the carbon market? Will the UK be part of the EU ETS?

The Government has published plans for the implementation of a UK carbon tax in the case of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Under a ‘no deal’ scenario, the UK would be excluded from participating in the EU ETS. This would mean current participants in the EU ETS who are UK operators of installations will no longer take part in the system.

In this instance, the UK government will initially meet its existing carbon pricing commitments through the tax system. A carbon price would be applied across the UK, with the inclusion of Northern Ireland, starting at £16/tCO2, less than the current EU ETS price, maintaining the level of carbon pricing across the UK economy post-Brexit.

The tax would be applied to the industrial installations and power plants currently participating in the EU ETS from 4 November 2019. The aviation sector would be exempt from this tax.

Will EU state aid rules still apply to the UK?

Unless the UK remains part of the European Economic Area (EEA), then the EU state aid rules would no longer apply. The Government has said it will transfer existing EU state aid law into domestic law after Brexit. The Competition and Markets Authority will take over responsibility of state aid enforcement. Going forward UK rules may diverge from the EU but the extent of this will be limited by the terms of a future UK-EU trade deal. In the immediate aftermath of Brexit, no significant change to state aid rules are expected.

How will Brexit affect the nuclear sector?

The UK indicated its intention to withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the associated treaty (the Euratom Treaty) on 29 March 2017 as part of the Article 50 withdrawal process.

A report from the House of Lord’s energy sub-committee in January 2018 highlighted the potential for this withdrawal to impact UK nuclear operations such as fuel supply, waste management, and research.

However, the Government has made clear withdrawal from Euratom will not affect nuclear security and safety requirements. A Nuclear Safeguards Bill was introduced to Parliament in October 2017, highlighting how this will be achieved by amending the Energy Act 2013.

The Government will also continue to fund nuclear research in the UK, through programs like the Joint European Torus, Europe’s largest nuclear fusion device. Going forward, the UK will negotiate nuclear cooperation terms with other Euratom and non-Euratom members.

Will Brexit affect the UK’s climate change targets?

The UK passed law in June to reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. The country’s climate change targets will remain unchanged, regardless of whether a Brexit deal is reached. However, there are expectations that potential economic impact from a no-deal Brexit may act as a significant hindrance to decarbonisation efforts.

Additionally, there are several international issues in this area which will need to be settled. The UK’s emissions reduction target forms part of the EU target under the Paris Agreement and this will need to be withdrawn. The UK would also need to submit its own Nationally Determined Contribution under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes. It is yet to be determined whether the UK will continue to participate in the EU ETS post-Brexit but plans under a no-deal scenario were outlined in the October 2018 budget.

The House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has strongly recommended remaining in the EU ETS at least until the end of Phase III in 2020. The UK’s 5th carbon budget adopted in 2016 assumes continued participation in the EU ETS, and will need to be altered if the UK leaves the EU ETS.

What about renewable energy?

After Brexit, the UK will no longer be obligated by renewable energy targets as part of the EU Renewable Energy Directive. Additional freedom from state aid restrictions has the potential to allow the Government to shape renewable energy support schemes.

The development of large scale projects may be impacted by the availability of funding from EU institutions such as the European Investment Bank. However, renewable and low carbon energy will remain a focal point of UK energy policy post-Brexit, with national and international decarbonisation obligations unaffected by their relationship with the EU.

As part of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 EU legislation will be initially transposed into UK law from 31 October 2019. For some elements of the EU law, the UK will need to reach an agreement with the EU in order to maintain the status quo.

Will coal plants stay open?

Coal-fired power plants in the UK are required to adhere to the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) which places conditions on such plants in order to control and reduce the emissions and waste generated by these power plant. Strict emissions limits often require substantial investment in technology to reduce pollution. Several plant determined this was not cost effective, and will close down. All but one coal plant has chosen not to adhere to the new regulations and will close by 2023. The Cottam plant announced it will shut down at the end of the summer, while Fiddlers Ferry will close its remaining units in March 2020. Despite Brexit, these unabated coal plant will close. The Government has confirmed its policy to remove coal from the fuel mix entirely by 2025.

The Medium Combustion Plants Directive 2015 (MCP) operates in a similar manner, limiting the emissions of harmful pollutants. The UK has adopted both the IED and the MCP into its European Union (Withdrawal) Act, meaning that in the short-term these regimes will continue beyond October 2019. In the long term, the UK and EU will need to agree on common standards following Brexit.

What about EU investment in energy projects?

Several EU initiatives promote investment in energy infrastructure which encompasses funding towards UK projects. The European Investment Bank (EIB) for example has invested over €13bn into UK energy projects since 2010.

The draft EU Withdrawal Treaty anticipates this funding will continue, at least for projects approved by the EIB for investment before 29 March 2019.

After withdrawal from the EU, the UK will not be eligible for specific financial operations from the EIB which are reserved for EU member states. New projects may be supported by the EU depending on the nature and whether it aligns with the EU’s own energy policy. Cross-border projects, such as interconnectors and pipelines, may be available to non-member states.

The UK Treasury has sought to boost funding certainty and has vowed to underwrite all funding obtained via a direct bid to the European Commission and has also confirmed Horizon 2020 projects will still be funded.

What about the gas market, will supplies be affected?

The UK already operates a diverse import infrastructure, consisting of interconnectors and LNG terminals to allow for the import of gas, mitigating against supply risks. Operations and gas flows are expected to continue as normal, irrespective of any Brexit.

A more significant impact is likely to come from the expiry of long term supply contracts and restrictions which allow for selling capacity on a long term basis. The tariff network coderestricts the price at which interconnectors can sell their capacity. With Brexit it is unclear whether interconnectors will continue to be bound by these restrictions.

Other benefits like the Early Warning Mechanism and the Gas Advisory Council may be lost unless the UK can negotiate to retain its role in these.

For Brexit to have a significant impact on gas prices (barring any substantial currency moves) then the withdrawal from the EU would need to lead to export tariffs on EU gas flowing to the UK.

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UK and Europe strengthen electricity links against backdrop of Brexit uncertainty

The UK continues to press ahead with plans to significantly increase its Interconnector links with Continental Europe.

Negotiations over the UK’s exit from the European Union, currently scheduled for 29 March, have been turbulent to say the least, with the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal twice rejected by the House of Commons. However, this is having no real impact on energy infrastructure, with new developments strengthening electricity links across the Channel. More information on the impact of Brexit on the energy industry can be found here.

The first electricity link connecting Britain with Belgium became operational on 31 January 2019. The 1GW power link had been under construction since 2016, with funding provided by a joint venture between Britain’s National Grid and Belgian system operator Elia.

The Government wants to see all the current planned projects through to operation, the majority of which will not be completed until after the UK has left the EU. Business Secretary, Greg Clark had indicated he was keen for the UK to remain in the EU’s Internal Energy Market, although the final decision will depend on the conditions of any final withdrawal agreement.

 

No alt text provided for this image

 

Following on from the Belgium link, two more links with France are under construction – ElecLink and IFA2 – with both scheduled to be operational by 2020. A North Sea Link with Norway is also progressing, expected to be fully commissioned in 2021.

As a consequence, over the next three years, Interconnector capacity between the UK and Europe is expected to more than double to over 8GW.

This will provide the British power market with access to greater supplies and improved flexibility in meeting peak demand. Tight surplus power margins triggered sharp spikes in Day-ahead power prices last winter, particularly during the Beast from the East cold snap. The threat of cold, windless days will remain a problem for the UK going forward. The incentive for investment in increased interconnection for the UK is clear.

 

Interconnectors

The UK now operates five interconnector links, including the Nemo Link. Three are with mainland Europe via France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and two are with Ireland. Total capacity across the links is now 5GW, with the completion of Nemo. A further 3.4GW of interconnector capacity is currently under construction.

 

UK links target France and Ireland

In addition to those under construction, a further four additional interconnectors with France are in the pipeline. A new 1.4GW FAB cable to Devon was granted planning approval earlier last year. The 2GW AQUIND Interconnector, planned for Portsmouth, received approval from energy regulator Ofgem in September 2017. Further connections include two 1.4GW projects, the GridLink Interconnector in Kent and the Channel Cable. Both are hoping to be online by 2022.

Developers are also looking to take advantage of high renewable availability in Ireland. Utilising the short distance between Wales and the Republic of Ireland, four interconnectors are planned across the Irish Sea. The GreenConnect, Greenlink and Greenwire North and South developments could add 3.5GW of transmission capacity between Britain and Ireland. Ireland is also planning its own direct link with France, but the Celtic Interconnector is only in the early planning stages.

 

Scandinavian connections

The UK also has early plans to tap into the Scandinavian energy market, hoping to take advantage of high levels of installed renewable capacity as well as hydropower reserves in the region. Two interconnector links are in planning with Norway. These will run to Peterhead in Northeast Scotland and Blyth in northern England – both with a capacity of 1.4GW.

A further 1.4GW Viking Link is in planning that will connect the UK with Denmark. Just last week the UK Government gave final approval of the project, which is scheduled to come online in 2023. Developer National Grid Viking Link Limited (NGVL) has explicitly stressed that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union “does not influence the plans to build and operate Viking Link between the UK and Denmark.”

An ambitious 1,000km IceLink interconnector is also in planning and will connect Scotland with Iceland. However, the €3.5bn project is only at the concept stage and it is expected to be at least ten years until this link could be operational.