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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How the clock change impacts UK energy demand

The clocks are scheduled to go back one hour this Sunday 27th October. The change will cause an obvious shift in usage of the electricity system as evenings draw in earlier in the day.

It also accelerates the seasonal trend towards higher demand during the colder, darker winter months, placing increased pressure on power margins. This can lead to spikes in electricity prices, should supplies struggle to meet the higher demand.

 

Jump in demand decreases as overall downward trend continues

As forecasts currently stand, the average peak demand for the week following the clock change will be 4.4% higher than the week before. Consumption is expected to rise by almost 2GW as lighting usage increases during the traditionally higher post-work demand period.

 

Average Weekday Peak Demand Weekly average before Clock Change (GW) Weekly average after Clock Change (GW) Difference (GW) Increase (%)
October 2019 (Forecast) 38.9 40.6 1.7 4.4%
October 2018 40.0 43.6 3.6 9.0%
October 2017 40.7 43.7 3 7.4%
October 2016 42.2 44.8 2.6 6.2%
October 2015 43.9 45.2 1.3 3.0%
October 2014 43.0 44.0 1 2.3%

 

However, the forecasted rise in average peak demand in 2019 is lower than in recent years. Notably 2018 which saw the highest percentage change, as consumption rose by almost 4GW week-on-week.

Overall peak power demand has been dampened marginally this year, with consumption after the clock change peaking at 40.6GW on average, 3GW lower than last year. This reduction can be attributed partly to half-term school holidays, which fall on the week either side of the clock change depending on school catchments. Higher renewable levels have also contributed to reductions in demand.

The ongoing trend in reduced energy consumption year-on-year continues, meaning that demand is rising from a far lower base. Improvements in energy efficiency have been helping to reduce electricity use over the last ten years. A large part of the reduction in peak demand has been the use of new technology, resulting in smart and more efficient appliances, able to do more with less.

Expected demand before this month’s clock change is 5GW lower than the highest peak in 2015. Furthermore, the forecasted post-clock change peak is the lowest on record.

 

Graph displaying electricity demand during the clock change

The role of renewables

The increase in wind and solar capacity in recent years has contributed to the overall demand reductions. Higher volumes of on-site renewable capacity allow more generation to be provided off-grid as homes and businesses generate their own electricity supply during windy or sunny spells. This reduces demand on the national transmission system. The high levels of solar availability during the summer season were a particularly strong influence on demand levels this year as on-site solar panels increased embedded generation. This reduced demand requirements for the transmission network.

Wind power continues to deliver a growing percentage of the UK electricity mix. By the end of September 2019, the UK’s fleet consists of over 10,000 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of over 21.5GW. Overall wind generation in the UK has so far been 33% higher through 2019 than over the same time period last year.

 

Graph showing monthly wind generation

What happens when there’s no wind?

While high winds have the capability of cutting power demand, one of the biggest dangers to the National Grid electricity network is a high demand scenario, at a time when wind output is very low.

Lighting has a bigger impact on electricity demand than heating, as the majority of home heating is gas-fired. However, during severe cold snaps, electricity demand does spike as additional heating is needed to cope with the very low temperatures. This scenario occurred during the Beast from the East cold snap in February last year. However, robust winds provided high levels of low cost electricity to the grid.

A lack of wind would see supply margins placed under significantly more stress during a similar cold snap this winter. This would require additional supply being provided by gas and coal plant or imports to make up for the increased demand. Such a scenario is likely to require significant price rises in the Within-day and Day-ahead markets.

The National Grid’s Winter Outlook for 2019/20 expects that there will be a sufficient supply margin to accommodate a wide range of security of supply scenarios. However, the organisation’s statistical 1-in-20 peak demand forecast predicts a demand of 499mcm/d, greater than the highest recorded gas demand. This is an unlikely scenario, but demonstrates how a period of high demand and low renewable availability could coincide to increase short-term prices.

An end to the clock change?

There have been proposals dating back to 2015, from members of the European Parliament, to end summer time observance. In September 2018 the European Commission proposed an end to seasonal clock changes, asking that member countries decide by March 2019 which time they would observe year round. The proposal was approved in March 2019, by 23 votes to 11. However, the start date has been postponed until 2021 to allow a smooth transition.

The United Kingdom is due to leave the EU before the reform becomes effective, meaning that it would be left to the government to make their own decision on observing summer/winter time. If continued, Northern Ireland would have a one-hour time difference for half the year with either the Republic of Ireland or the rest of the UK. The House of Lords launched an inquiry in July 2019 to consider the implications of this, with a call for evidence ongoing.

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The Energy Awards Shortlist Success

Category 1 – Energy Buying Team of the Year

We’re here to simplify the process of buying and managing energy. We match clients with the right contract for their business. The Energy Awards recognised our success in this field and have shortlisted EIC for Energy Buying Team of the Year for our flexible procurement offering.

Flexible Procurement

Our flexible purchasing solutions begin with a strategy development workshop with our clients. We conduct a detailed discussion of the client’s business objectives and appetite for risk, seeking to identify their key priorities for the contract. We also review their current situation and any upcoming projects that could affect their portfolio or consumption.

Public Sector Portfolio

Our Public Sector Portfolio is an OJEU compliant group flexible purchasing solution. It adds value by removing the administrative burden faced by public sector organisations when procuring contracts, and reduces the timeframes when securing their supply agreement. This has proven a real hit with universities, councils and NHS Trusts.

A team effort

There are multiple teams working collaboratively to make the flexible procurement service a success. Our clients are fully supported throughout the procurement process with a dedicated Account Management team. Traders work within the parameters of a client’s strategy making decisions based on insight from our Market Intelligence team.

Trading success

In just one week our flexible procurement traders locked in a massive £343,000 for our flexible procurement clients. In fact in a single month – March 2019 – savings topped £771,000. What’s more, calendar year savings have exceeded a staggering £2.1million for the period January – August.

Category 2 – Energy Data Collection and Analysis

Our shortlist for the Energy Data Collection and Analysis award focuses on our 360 Strategic Energy Review along with our Triad model and alerts.

360 Strategic Review

Our 360 Strategic Review is a powerful data tool created to unearth hidden savings potential for our clients. We take half-hourly data and analyse it on a site-by-site basis. We focus on where reductions in usage can be made and the associated cost savings. It looks at shifting consumption to avoid the peak Distribution Use of System (DUoS) charges, reducing consumption in the winter to mitigate Transmission Network Use of System (TNUoS) charges, and assessing usage against operational hours to identify out of hours wastage. On average we’ve identified savings of £130,639 per customer so far.

Triad model and alerts

National Grid identifies three Triads each year in order to calculate the Transmission Network Use of System (TNUoS) charges an organisation will incur. Such transmission costs can be reduced if demand is decreased when a Triad is expected. Our Triad model and alerts help clients plan their electricity usage around these dates in order to lower their energy bills.

Our model used from 1 November to the end of February,  identifies which days and what time periods on those days could be a Triad. We then inform our clients using our alert service whether they need to take action to reduce demand and avoid a Triad. We have issued an alert on all three Triad dates for the past 7 years. Last year we issued 24 alerts compared to suppliers who had similar results issuing on average 29 alerts. It’s vitally important for us to issue as few alerts as possible to avoid any unnecessary client interventions.

Awards Ceremony

Our teams work really hard every day to ensure our clients get the right solutions for their businesses. It’s great to have been recognised for our efforts. We’re looking forward to the awards ceremony which take place on Thursday 21 November at the London Hilton on Park Lane. We’ll keep you posted on our success.

 

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.

Winter energy price cap level to see bills fall

The impact on customers

The new level will see the default price cap fall from £1,254 to £1,179 (over a 6% drop). The pre-payment meter cap will fall from £1,242 to £1,217 per year (around a 2% drop).

Ofgem expect energy bills to fall this winter for around 15 million households. Exact savings for each household will depend on; the cost of their current deal, how much energy they use and whether they use both gas and electricity.

The justification for this decrease has come from a significant fall in wholesale prices between February and June 2019. Healthy market fundamentals, record gas storage stocks, and periods of low demand across the last winter all contributed to this.

Households are able to cut their bills further by comparing tariffs to find the cheapest that will suit them.

The price cap moving forwards

Ofgem plans to update the level of the cap in April and October every year in order to account for the latest costs of supplying electricity and gas.

The price cap is a temporary measure, to be in place until 2023 at the latest. This allows Ofgem time to implement further reforms to make the energy market more competitive, enabling it to work more effectively for all consumers.

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Our Market Intelligence team keep a close eye on the energy markets and industry updates. For the most timely updates you can find us on Twitter and LinkedIn Follow us today.

Visit our webpage to find out more about EIC Market Intelligence and how we keep our clients informed at a frequency to suit them.

 

 

Net Zero UK

The action will require the UK to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to nothing over the next 30 years. This is a more ambitious target than the previous, which was at least an 80% reduction from 1990 levels.

The decision follows the Net Zero report, by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which was commissioned by the government to reassess the UK’s long-term emissions targets. The report recommended the 2050 net zero target for the UK, while issuing a 2045 target for Scotland and a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 for Wales.

Representatives of the Scottish and Welsh governments have already announced intentions for the nations to aim for these targets, with the Welsh government aiming to go further than the CCC advice; targeting net zero emissions no later than 2050.

Is this achievable?

The report by the Committee on Climate Change states that the net zero target is possible with known technologies, alongside behavioral and societal changes in people’s lives. The organisation has forecast that that the target is also within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when legislating the previous 2050 target under the Paris Agreement.

The report does come with the caveat that net zero is only possible if clear, sensible and well-designed policies to enable reductions in emissions are introduced across the country in a strict timeline. The CCC highlights that current policy would not meet even the previous target.

STAY INFORMED WITH EIC INSIGHTS

Our Market Intelligence team keep a close eye on the energy markets and industry updates. For the most timely updates you can find us on Twitter and LinkedIn Follow us today.

Visit our webpage to find out more about EIC Market Intelligence and how we keep our clients informed at a frequency to suit them.