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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Europe cannot compete with Chinese dash for LNG

European storage started this summer at its lowest levels on record following the impact of the ‘Beast From the East’. This should have encouraged very strong injections right through the summer, ensuring there is enough supply to deal with winter demand.

 

Storage across Europe has been filling, and overall levels are closing in on the average seen over the previous five years.

 

European storage

 

However, when we look a little deeper, we can see that injections were very strong in June. As the summer has progressed the rate of injections has remained fairly constant, while in previous years the rate increased as we moved further into summer. Industrial shutdowns and school holidays in August freed up gas for increased injections.

 

Average daily storage injections

 

This August has only seen a moderate increase on July’s levels and, possibly more importantly, a slower rate of injections than last year. This is despite the need to put more gas into storage.

 

Why is less gas going into storage?

Demand and piped supply have remained at similar levels to previous years but the biggest difference is coming from Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Looking at total LNG send out across Europe we can see a significant reduction in volumes. The difference is almost the same as the equivalent reduction in injections.

 

Average daily LNG

 

The lower levels of LNG are because fewer cargoes are coming to Continental Europe and the UK.

This is due to prices elsewhere being much higher. Looking at the volume of LNG received in the UK, along with prices in the UK and the Far East, it’s clear to see when the difference between the prices has an effect on our level of imports. Suppliers will send the gas to the area they will make the most profit.

 

UK and Asian LNG price

 

Prices in Asia have such a large premium over Europe due to China’s insatiable demand for gas.

As the Chinese government looks to clean up the environment, it’s switching thousands of homes and businesses away from coal and onto gas. This has seen demand for LNG double in the last two years:

 

China by imports BCM

 

For UK consumers, as the gas market becomes ever more global, increased competition for gas will likely put pressure on prices, pushing them down. However, in the shorter term, if the UK needs extra gas (for instance due to a cold snap or supply issue) prices will have to at least match the Asian price to attract supplies for one of the UK’s three LNG terminals.

With Asian LNG prices for the coming winter over 20p/therm higher than in the UK this is an early indication of the cost of meeting higher demand in the heating season. This issue of reduced flexibility is particularly prevalent this year in the light of the Rough closure and the scaling back of Groningen production.

 

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