Natural Gas Prices in Europe Fall Due to Warm Winter Conditions

by Wall Street Rebel - Michael London | 01/04/2023 9:44 AM
Natural Gas Prices in Europe Fall Due to Warm Winter Conditions

The unseasonable warm weather affecting Europe, and the availability of gas from other sources outside Russia, are taking the pressure off of a continent-wide energy crisis. However, both consumers and businesses continue to face the possibilities of limited supply and excessive pricing in the future.


Fortunately, favorable weather and prompt response have mitigated European Union concerns about rolling blackouts caused by Russian energy export cutbacks in the midst of Moscow's conflict in Ukraine. In response to a mild heating season beginning in October and November, the European Union reduced its use of natural gas and stocked up on supplies for the coming winter. Meanwhile, due to the falling Chinese demand due to COVID lockdowns, LNG ships formerly destined for Asia were redirected to the bloc.

Officials from the European Union (EU) also played a role by urging member states to reduce consumption, increase efficiency, and increase alternative energy sources to compensate for the shortage.

The achievement of the European Union in securing alternatives to Russian gas, widespread conservation measures, and a very mild winter all contributed to natural gas prices in Europe falling to levels substantially below those seen before the start of the conflict.

The announcement was made during a period in which both the economy of Europe and the energy demand were showing signs of weakness. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, warned on Sunday that half of the European Union would likely be experiencing a recession this year.

According to the benchmark Dutch T.T.F. futures contract for February, the wholesale natural gas price in Europe was around 76 euros per megawatt-hour on Tuesday. This price was determined by comparing it to the price of the contract. When Russia attacked its neighbor in February of last year, the day before the invasion, the asking price for the contract was around 88 Euros.

Because Russia is the European Union's biggest supplier of natural gas, accounting for more than 40 percent of the bloc's consumption in 2021, Moscow greatly influences the energy industry in the European Union.

After its catastrophic invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia wasted no time using this newfound influence to weaken Western solidarity and support for Kyiv by drastically cutting gas deliveries to the union and sending prices soaring. The goal was to split Western support for Ukraine and hurt Kyiv.

It is anticipated that the amount of natural gas exported by Russia to the EU through the pipeline will decrease to around 60 bcm this year, down from 140 bcm the previous year and roughly 200 bcm in the pre-Covid year of 2019.

Even though ties between Moscow and the West are at their lowest point in decades, Russia continues to transport LNG to the EU and provide the EU with gas via pipelines that go through Ukraine and Turkey.

Just a few short months ago, there was widespread concern that Europe might run out of gas before the end of the winter season because Russia had reduced and subsequently stopped exporting the majority of the fuel to Europe. As a consequence of this, prices hit an all-time high in the month of August, reaching almost 340 euros per megawatt-hour. This is more than five times what they are right now.


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Even though Russia used to provide approximately 40 percent of Europe's use of gas, which is extensively used to heat homes and businesses and operate enterprises, these fears have mostly been alleviated. 

According to Henning Gloystein, the energy, environment, and resources director at Eurasia Group, a political risk organization, "We currently have a well-supplied European gas market, even without Russian gas." "That is reflected in the pricing that is now being offered," he continued.

The shift from worry to something resembling confidence is a reflection of a combination of quick steps taken by both the European Union and governments in countries like Germany to promote the conservation of gas and secure supplies from other sources. These steps have led to the shift from worry to something resembling confidence.

In addition, Europe has benefited from favorable weather patterns during the winter, when gas use often reaches its highest levels.

Following the invasion, Europe wasted no time in getting the United States, Qatar, and other exporters to commit to providing it with cargoes of liquefied natural gas. In addition, Europe moved quickly to construct terminals for the reception of liquefied gas, overcoming a significant number of the customary administrative hurdles and environmental concerns.

The construction of the new terminal in Eemshaven, in the Netherlands's northern province of Noord-Holland, has already begun. On Tuesday, a storage facility in Wilhelmshaven, northwest Germany, received its first entire L.N.G. shipment, a cargo from the United States. These comprise a larger trend of investment in new gas-receiving infrastructure by European governments and businesses.

In response to a combination of high pricing and government prodding, European industry and consumers have reduced their gas usage by around 20 percent. This reduction is in addition to the acquisition of new sources of supply.

Because of these significant changes on both the supply and demand sides, gas storage facilities, which were filled to nearly capacity in the fall, are still quite high. There was a considerable jump from the 52 percent occupancy rate that facilities throughout the European Union had at the same point in time the previous year to the 84 percent that they averaged to be full as of the beginning of January. A daily tally of gas reserves revealed that on Sunday, numerous nations increased the amount of gas stored in their facilities rather than decreasing the amount of fuel they pulled out.

The price of natural gas is sometimes determined largely by whether or not there is adequate gas in storage to assist in meeting the high demand throughout the winter. According to analysts, the huge purchasing that occurred in the autumn of last year, which maintained prices at absurdly high levels, may not have been required by the time Europe finishes the winter with high enough storage levels.

According to Massimo Di Odoardo, vice president for gas research at Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy business, "It's a lot better than many people thought, and it might imply that prices will be lower this year than in 2022."

The energy cost in Europe remains a source of worry, notwithstanding recent reductions. Even though European gas prices have dropped significantly from their most recent highs, they remain among the highest on record. Furthermore, they are still high enough to make it challenging for industries that use a significant amount of energy, such as steel and glass, to compete with their counterparts in other regions or even continue operating.

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The price of natural gas in the United States is almost five times higher than the benchmark price of gas, which is nearly five times more than the price of gas that was in effect two years ago.

The marketplaces for many alternative energy sources are still unreliable. The European Union started an embargo on Russian oil last month, and in February, that prohibition will expand to Russian oil products. This decision is likely to push up diesel fuel prices, which is essential in the transportation business since diesel fuel prices directly impact fuel costs.

Even if wholesale gas prices have dropped, individuals and companies who are struggling with high energy costs will not get any immediate respite from this development. Due to the fact that utilities utilize hedging methods in order to obtain their natural gas supply in advance, it may take a number of months for the decreased prices, supposing that they persist, to make their way through the system and onto the bills of individual users.

The price of energy was a significant contributor to the sharp increase in inflation seen throughout Europe in the previous year, which in many countries reached its highest level in more than four decades.

Affect on Europe and Russia

According to Elina Ribakova, an economist at the Institute of International Finance in Washington, DC, approximately 10 percent of Russia's federal budget revenue came from the sale of gas, while oil and refined products accounted for roughly 34 percent of the country's total revenue this year.

It is anticipated that Russia will record consecutive budget deficits in 2022 and 2023 of approximately 2 percent, which would require the Kremlin to use its so-called "rainy day reserve" to make up the difference in funding. If this prediction comes to pass, Russia will be the first country in the world to do so.

According to what Weafer said in an interview with RFE/RL, Russia "will require at least current gas export levels because it will need to try to maintain the budget deficit as low as feasible."

However, the dependence still works both ways, at least for the time being.

According to Weafer, while Europe and Russia "had managed to minimize gas reliance on the other this year," quantities are already down to crucial levels. "Neither can afford for gas flows to decrease any more from Russia to Europe in 2023, and probably also in 2024," the article states.

Since it had difficulty finding alternatives to Russian pipeline gas, the EU bought even more LNG from Russia in 2022 than it had the year before.

"It is politically more acceptable for Europe to import LNG from Russia because it enables Brussels to assert that it has alternatives and is not trapped with Russian risk. The truth is more complicated than that, "Weafer remarked.

The European Union overcame the gap in gas supply from Russia, which was 80 billion cubic meters, to a considerable extent by increasing its LNG imports from the Middle East and the United States, switching to coal, and increasing its energy conservation efforts.

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According to the IEA, however, skyrocketing energy costs destroyed around 10 billion cubic meters of industrial demand.

Competition in the LNG Market from China

The European Union increased its imports of LNG by around 50 billion cubic meters in 2022 to compensate for the decrease in the amount of gas that Russia supplied through pipeline. If China hadn't put restrictions on its economy to fight COVID, accomplishing this goal would have been far more difficult.

China became the top importer of LNG in the world in 2018 because the country more than tripled its LNG imports between 2016 and 2021. It had been anticipated that it would import even more in 2022; however, the lockdowns ultimately resulted in a reduction of demand by 20 bcm, which made it possible for LNG cargoes to be diverted to the EU.

In the year 2023, Europe could not have such good luck. Experts believe that since China has relaxed some of its restrictions on imports and exports of natural gas liquids (LNG), its demand for LNG may recover to the levels it had in 2021, which would lead to rivalry with Europe for spot cargo.

According to Carlos Diaz, an analyst with the Oslo-based Rystad Energy, speaking to RFE/RL, "We might see Europe failing to attract sufficient quantities of LNG to replenish the storages ahead of the next winter."

According to Diaz, the situation will worsen in 2023 since there won't be any expansion in the non-Russian pipeline or LNG supply.

According to him, important exporters of pipeline gas to the EU, like Norway, Azerbaijan, and the nations of North Africa, are already running at or near capacity and are close to reaching it. And it will be another two years until the United States of America and Qatar start significant new LNG export projects.

The European Union (EU) could be able to meet part of its natural gas demand in 2023 with a rise in the production of hydropower, but Diaz warns that the expectations that nuclear power would also come back might not come true.

According to him, EU consumption is highly reliant on the weather; thus, the degree to which things will be difficult over the next winter depends on the temperature range that will prevail for the remainder of this winter.

As a result of an abnormally warm fall, the EU had high storage levels of natural gas entering into the month of December, but a brief period of below-average temperatures later in the month did reduce those reserves.

According to him, the European Union (EU) would have to acquire a greater quantity of fuel in a supply-constrained market to adequately prepare for the winter of 2023-2024 the lower the gas storage levels come spring.

According to him, if the remainder of the winter season continues to be "normal," then the EU will finish the heating season with adequate quantities in storage, which will "make it simpler to replenish to a reasonable level by the start of the following winter." The European Union may still be in for a bumpy ride if it is colder than usual.

Despite the fractures generated by nations largely reliant on Russian energy, particularly Hungary, the political coherence of the EU has been preserved. At the time of this writing, Europe's gas storage is higher than the average for the last five years, gas consumption has declined, and prices have stabilized at high but manageable levels. Expect the European Union to expand its sanctions on Russia to include the shipping and insuring of Russian oil, and then ultimately gas, if the Russian government does not fall or end the war.

The effects of the oil crises in the 1970s were a decline in economic activity and a broadening of the sources of supply. In 2022, politics once again turned their attention to energy, and concerns about supply constraints sparked the much-needed diversification of energy sources toward renewables. In 2023, this problem will not go away.

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                       European natural gas prices drop back to pre-Ukraine war levels | DW News


                       January temperature records smashed across Europe

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