Natural gas importers across the globe are looking at the next few months with similar anticipation as fans of the next season of Game of Thrones. In both cases, winter is coming.
The prospects of a natural gas glut, which was commonly heard within the energy industry not that long ago, has vanished following last winter’s tight market, and is being replaced by concerns over security of supply.
One of the most striking signs of this concern has been the race to fill storages in recent month. Underground gas storage is one of the most efficient tools to mitigate seasonal demand fluctuations, and it was widely used last winter to compensate for the impacts of late cold spells on both sides of the Atlantic. As a result, storage inventories fell to a four-year low level in the United States by the end of last winter and reached record lows in Europe.
This situation prompted strong injections to replenish underground storages, and contributed to sustained levels of imports in Europe and high prices throughout this summer. Still, despite these efforts, inventory levels as of the end of September were slightly lower than last year’s levels in Europe, and almost 20% lower in the United States.
Enter the dragon
But there is more to this story. Just like last season’s cliffhanger, winter is also bringing along new major player in the natural gas game. China, for one, which experienced an unprecedented 14.5% growth of its natural gas consumption in 2017, supported by continuous economic growth and by a strong government push towards a cleaner energy mix. The high level of air pollution in urban areas triggered strong policy measures to “win the battle for blue skies.” This included massive conversion from coal-to-gas for small industrial and residential boilers. The resulting gas demand surge could not be met by higher domestic production or import capacity, or even short-term liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports. As a result, China experienced supply shortfalls over the winter.
There were multiple lessons from this episode. Beyond the immediate emergency measures to handle the shortfall, they triggered a wide range of investment decisions and policy measures since the beginning of this year to reinforce the country’s security of supply – further development and diversification of the gas supply portfolio, new investment in storage, pipeline and regasification capacity, as well as new policy guidelines and targets for natural gas development.
At the same time, China’s natural gas demand keeps growing. During the first half of 2018, China’s gas consumption increased by 17% year-on-year, while LNG imports, a growing source of supply for the country, grew by 45% year-on-year for the January to September period. Domestic production and import infrastructure development have also grown but they still struggle to keep pace, and some local stakeholders brace themselves for the eventuality of a second tight winter.
The strong increase in China’s LNG spot procurement in 2018 contributed to higher market prices in Asia, which stood at above $10/MMBtu throughout the summer, a level that was reached last year only during the coldest winter months. Asian high prices, combined with strong storage injection activity, also contributed to a continuous rise in European gas prices since the beginning of summer.
Across the narrow sea
Another point of recent concern is the availability of LNG tankers. Once seen as a purely logistical aspect in supply contracts, LNG vessels have become a central component of the emerging short-term LNG trade. Ship availability was not a concern less than two years ago, when the spot chartering price was around $30,000 per day and shipyards were struggling to find new orders to maintain activity. But this has changed today, with prices rising steadily over the past months and reaching $140,000 a day (as of October 23) and with the risk of more tension when temperatures drop.
This is almost as high as the all-time record ($150,000) experienced during the winter following the Fukushima nuclear incident of March 2011, when Japan had to procure LNG to compensate for its offline nuclear power generation capacity.
Of course, risk exposure is not the same for all markets. Mature markets in Asia, Europe or North America have storage, diversified power generation assets, demand response measures and other mitigation tools at their disposal – plus they are more likely to endure higher prices than buyers from emerging markets. At the same time, the LNG short-term supply pool, for which Japan, Korea and Europe used to be the sole buyers, has now to be shared with a growing number of buyers.
The night is dark and full of terrors … or is it?
In the end, for gas markets as for television series, the outcome is never certain and some twists and surprises are likely to happen along the way. For winter gas demand needs, it boils down to remembering that weather is highly unpredictable. This may seem obvious, and yet out-of-the-norm winters tend to have lasting impacts on market behaviour.
If the coming winter happens to be a mild one, market prices are likely to remain stable or even decrease in the most extreme cases. A side effect could be that gas in stock would not be used as expected; market operators who booked and paid for storage capacities would tend to see them as useless costs. Finally, the overall market sentiment could probably end up considering security of supply as not so necessary – until the next tight market episode. For it can also happen to be the other way around, with risks of strong price volatility, (much) higher market prices and, in the worst-case scenario, some physical supply issues such as last winter in China.
Highlighting the importance of security of supply issues and their potential consequences is not about fearmongering, of course. It is about raising awareness of market stakeholders and policy makers and underscore that once-in-a-lifetime weather or security events do happen – sometimes more than once.
Hydrogen Could Be A Key Player In The Recovery And Resilience Plan
Thanks to the contribution of vaccines, the Covid-19 pandemic is slowly beginning to abate and gradually lose its aggressiveness, with the consequent reduction of its impact on people’s health worldwide.
However, while the health effects of the pandemic appear to be fading, the negative economic effects of a year and a half of lockdown and forced closure of many businesses are being felt heavily at a global level and seem bound to last well beyond the end of the health emergency.
With a view to supporting and encouraging the “restart” and revival of the economy, the European Union has launched a “Recovery and Resilience Plan”, allocating a huge amount of funds that shall be used in the coming years not only to help countries in difficulty with contingent measures, but also to stimulate economic and productive growth capable of modernising production models with specific reference to environmental balance, which is increasingly facing a crisis due to the use of non-renewable, highly polluting energy sources.
Italy will receive over 200 billion euros in European funds to develop its own projects to get out of the economic-pandemic crisis and rightly wants to use them not only to plug the leaks caused by the various ‘lockdowns’ in the national productive fabric, but also to implement a series of strategic projects capable of making not only the productive sectors, but also the public administration and the health and judicial systems more efficient.
In short, the “Recovery and Resilience Plan” that is currently coming to the fore may prove to be a powerful driving force for Italy’s development and modernisation.
The projects submitted by Italy to the EU institutions include an initial allocation of over 200 million euros – out of the 47 billion euros planned for the next decade – to promote research and development in the field of renewable energy and particularly in the hydrogen sector.
Hydrogen is potentially the most abundant source of “clean” energy in the universe. It is versatile, safe and reliable; when obtained from renewable energy sources, it produces no harmful emissions to the environment.
Nevertheless, it is not available in nature in its gaseous form – which is the only one that can be used as an energy source – as it is always bound to other elements, such as oxygen in water and methane as a gas.
The traditional processes used to “separate” hydrogen from oxygen in water and from methane use up large amounts of electricity, which makes the processes not only very expensive, but also highly polluting, with the paradox that, in order to produce a clean energy source, the environment is “polluted” anyway, especially if – as has been the case until recently – the electricity needed is produced with traditional non-renewable energy sources (coal, gas and oil).
The best source of hydrogen in gaseous form is the sea. Electrolysis can easily separate hydrogen from oxygen and store it in gaseous form for use as an energy source.
The electrolytic cells used to develop the process use up large amounts of energy and, fortunately for us, science is finding a way to produce it without polluting, using solar, wind and, above all, sea wave energy.
The use of marine energy creates a sort of “circular economy” for hydrogen production: from the practically inexhaustible primary source of ocean water, hydrogen can be extracted with the energy provided by wave and tidal motion.
Forty per cent of the world’s population live within 100 kilometres from the sea and this shows the potential of sea wave and tidal energy as an engine for sustainable development in economic, climate and environmental terms.
Nowadays modern, non-invasive tools are available to extract electricity from sea waves, such as the “penguin”, a device manufactured in Italy, which – placed 50 metres deep – produces electricity without harming marine flora and fauna.
Another example of Italian scientists’ intelligence and creativity is the Inertial Sea Wave Converter (ISWEC), a device housed inside a 15-metre-long hull which, occupying a marine area of just 150 square metres, is able to produce 250 megawatts of electricity a year, thus enabling to cut emissions into the atmosphere by 68 tonnes of CO2.
With these devices and the other ones that technology will develop over the next few years, it will be possible to power electrolytic cells for the production of hydrogen in gaseous form on an industrial scale, at levels that – over the next 15 years – will lead to the production of at least 100,000 tonnes of “green” hydrogen per year, thus enabling to reduce air pollution significantly, with positive effects on the economy, the environment and the climate.
In the summer of 2020, the European Union launched a project called the “Hydrogen Strategy”, with a funding of 470 billion euros, intended for research and production projects capable of equipping EU countries with electrolysis tools to produce at least one million tonnes of “green” hydrogen by the end of 2024.
The fight against CO2 emissions continues unabated: in the United States which, after Trump’s Presidency, has reaffirmed its commitment to reducing emissions; in China which, in its latest five-year plan, has forecast a 65% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by the end 2030; in Europe, which has always been at the forefront in the creation of devices for producing wave and tidal energy and exports its technologies to the United States, Australia and China.
According to the Hydrogen Council, an association of over 100 companies from around the world that share a common long-term vision for a transition to hydrogen, in the future Europe and China will compete and cooperate in the production of sea wave and tidal energy and in the related production of “green hydrogen”.
With its 14th five-year plan, China, in particular – after having been for decades, during its whirling economic development, one of the main sources of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and of global pollution – has undertaken the commitment “to develop and promote the harmonious coexistence between man and nature, through the improvement of efficiency in the use of resources and a proper balance between protection and development”, as clearly stated by its Minister of Natural Resources Lu Hao.
It might sound like the sweet-talk and set phrases of a politician at a conference.
In the case of China and its Minister of Natural Resources, however, words have been turned into deeds.
As part of the Roadmap 2.0 for Energy Saving Technology and New Energy Vehicles, China has set a target of one million fuel cell vehicles and two million tonnes of hydrogen production per year by the end of 2035.
The China Hydrogen Energy Industry Development Report 2020 forecasts that, by the end of 2050, hydrogen energy will meet 10 per cent of energy requirements, while the number of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will rise to 30 million and hydrogen production will be equal to 60 million tonnes.
With a view to giving substance to these prospects, China has established the “National Ocean Technology Centre” in Shenzhen and developed – with the Italian “International World Group” – the “China-Europe cooperation project for energy generation and hydrogen production from sea waves and from other renewable energy sources”.
These are concrete projects in which – thanks to Italian creativity and Chinese rationality and pragmatism – we must continue to invest and work, not least to give the third industrial revolution a cleaner face than the coal-stained one of the second industrial revolution.
These projects appear to be in line with those envisaged both at European and Italian levels by the ‘Recovery and Resilience Plan’, which should guide us out of the economic doldrums of the pandemic. They deserve to be financed and supported as they can not only contribute to the recovery and revival of the economy, but also to the reconstruction of a cleaner and more liveable world (thus showing that good can always come out of evil).
The ‘energy crisis’ and its global implications
A particular news caught my attention this morning regarding energy crises. Before going into the depth of the news, I would like to introduce you to the concept of energy crisis and its global implications. As introduced by Garrett Hardin in 1968; the tragedy of commons that the resources of world are limited, if the resources are used excessively soon there will come a time when they will become scarce. These resources can only be sufficient through cooperation of people among each other; there’s no other solution. The tragedy of commons is the best way to explain the concept the energy crises.
Now, the population world is growing at an exponential rate and with the growing population there is a need to provide a better lifestyle to the upcoming generations. In a struggle for raising that standard of living, more and more resources of developed world are being utilized. The McKinsey Global Institute forecasted that by 2020 developing countries will demand 80 percent more energy which proved to be true as is evident in recurrent fuel shortages and price hike globally. A MIT study also forecasted that worldwide energy demand could triple by 2050.
Besides petrol, there is also a rise in demand for natural gas with only few reliable reserves all over the world. The natural gas reserves are mostly unreliable because they are usually found in deep oceans and mere accessibility can cost a lot of expense. Henceforth, the supply is limited, the price has fluctuated greatly and recent technological development has reduced dependence upon natural gas by providing alternatives such as fuel efficient or electric cars. Similarly, electricity supply systems are also not very reliable because there have been power blackouts in the United States, Europe and Russia. There have also been chronic shortages of electric power in India, China, and other developing countries.
If we specifically observe the Iraqi oil crises to understand the whole energy crises shebang, then according to today’s news in TRT World, in Iraq alone, $150bn of stolen oil cash smuggled out since 2003. Iraqi oil exports are even 30-40% below prewar levels. The acting president of Iraq is furious because insane amount of corruption is being carried out in Iraq where substantial quantity of oil is being smuggled. President Barham Saleh presented a legislation to parliament, where, under law any transaction over $500,000 would be scrutinized. This step, if materialized, can be very crucial in preservation of oil reserves in Iraq after the Saddam Hussein regime.
In United States, presidents have constantly been avoiding energy problems because they are very controversial. The recent Texas electricity outrage was a one that had been warned about. Before the Arab Oil Embargo Nixon in 1970’s was reluctant about energy and said ‘as long as the air conditioners are working normally, there is no energy crisis’ but after this incident Nixon began to change his tone and said on television that “energy is number one issue”. Then came Carter, who got a number of legislations passed on the issue of energy even when his own party was against it. In the 1970’s the prevalent thought for United States was that the world would run out of energy resources very soon so they started investing more in nuclear armament as an alternative. In 1990’s the combined cycle plants that used natural gas to create electricity were really efficient and economical that even gas at a high price could be competitive, also ethno-industry was crated at that time.
Then, the threat of climate change is also one of great relevance in the context of energy crises. The nonrenewable energy resources such as oil, water and coal must be used carefully and lack of which can be hazardous. It can cause drought, famine, disease, mass migration that will eventually lead to a conflict such as explained in the tragedy of commons theory. The now developed nations exploited natural resources to build its wealth. The resources such as wood, coal, oil and gas where on one hand are very economical, on the other hand they can be the originators of carbon emissions. Climate change also led to loss of biodiversity as well as environmental hazards.
Even though the developed world i.e. north provides a significant amount of assistance to the global North i.e developing countries, they cannot be a replacement for the shortage of resources. Also, they also face extreme price hike in the energy resources even though the developing nations are the ones owning the resources such Iraq for oil. Besides expensive resources, these developed nations also give rise to domestic and political tensions in the third world countries. Organizations like Al-Qaeda have openly declared their intent to attack oil facilities to hurt the interests of US and its close allies.
All in all, the pertaining threat of energy crisis has global implications. One person’s’gain is another person’s loss but this can be made inevitable if cooperation takes places. Sharing is caring and in this context sharing can prevent from future wars and hurricanes, floods and droughts and famines. The extent of seriousness of the problem must be taken into consideration not only be academicians but by policy makers as well.
Stay in Oil or Race to Green Energy? Considerations for Portfolio Transformation
Oil and gas (O&G) companies face a conundrum: capture the remaining value in hydrocarbons, or decide if, when and how much to invest in new, low-carbon energy business models.
The global O&G industry has the opportunity to redeploy as much as $838 billion, or about 20% of cumulative capital expenditures over the next 10 years, to further optimize their hydrocarbon business and/or pursue new growth areas including new energy ventures.
Of low carbon business models, market sentiment is currently strongest for renewable power with growing interest in green hydrogen and carbon capture as well.
Why this matters
In the wake of COVID-19 disruptions and an accelerating energy transition, O&G companies face a conundrum: stay and capture the remaining value in hydrocarbons or embrace new energy business models. Deloitte’s new “Portfolio transformation in oil, gas and chemicals” research series provides valuable insights into portfolio transformation and offers key considerations for companies making capital allocation decisions and exploring future business models.
Finding the right recipe for portfolio transformation
While companies understand the imperative to change, they are grappling with how much to invest and most vexing, in which green technologies? After all, while the high-growth phase of the oil market may have come to an end, oil demand is still projected to remain above 87 million barrels per day by 2030, even in accelerated energy transition scenarios.
How much to redeploy? $838 billion may be a starting point
To determine how much capital to redeploy, O&G companies could start with capital that is not earning the desired return. Deloitte analyzed 286 listed global companies and revealed that in a base case scenario, these companies could have the opportunity to optimize up to 6% of future O&G production which may not generate a 20% return at an average oil price of $55 per barrel. In other words, about $838 billion, or about 20% of future capital expenditures (CAPEX) across the global industry could be redeployed to optimize these projects and/or pursue promising green ventures. The findings suggest that the opportunity to redeploy will not decrease, but rather increase if oil prices stay above pre-pandemic levels. Among the company groups, supermajors, on average, have a potential to redeploy up to 36% of their future CAPEX.
Where to invest? Solar and wind most frequently mentioned
After performing text analytics and sentiment analysis on thousands of news articles to glean a directional sense of which low-carbon and new energy solutions are attracting the most media attention, the study found renewable power (solar and wind) had the highest share (47% among all green energy models). The tide also seems to be turning for green hydrogen (8% share of mentions).
“A confluence of factors, including climate, the pandemic, supply-demand imbalances, changing trends in end-markets, and growing appetite for sustainability investments, has given oil, gas and chemicals companies the need to progress faster around portfolio transformation. Many companies are eager to act but are seeking guidance on the speed and extent to which they expand into new, potentially high-growth areas, be it in new regions, markets, products or technologies. By taking a strategic, purpose-driven approach, companies can sustainably and profitably build a future-ready portfolio.”- Amy Chronis, vice chairman and U.S. oil, gas and chemicals leader, Deloitte LLP
Debunking myths: Turning hindsight into foresight to navigate portfolio transformation
While many O&G companies have transformed their portfolios over the years, not every change has been successful. The Deloitte analysis dispels conventional wisdom about strategic shifts and offers insights and important considerations about portfolio building in the O&G industry.
Myth 1: Agility and flexibility always deliver gains
- Reality: Of the more than 286 upstream and integrated companies analyzed, only 16% of companies that made frequent changes to their portfolios delivered top-quartile financial performance.
Myth 2: Being big and integrated guarantees success
- Reality: Only 28% of big (revenues above $10 billion) and integrated companies figured in the top-quartile.
Myth 3: Oil has lost its luster
- Reality: Oil still delivers significant value for many. Two-thirds of oil-heavy portfolios deliver above-average performance.
Myth 4: Every “green” shift is profitable and scalable
- Reality: Of portfolios that have become greener, 9% delivered top quartile financial performance, underscoring the importance of a strategic, purpose-driven approach to portfolio transformation.
Myth 5: Shale’s pain makes onshore conventional plays an obvious choice
- Reality: Between 18-45% of non-shale portfolios analyzed delivered below-average performance.
Keys to building a future-ready O&G portfolio
There are four components of a forward-looking portfolio: growth engines, cash generators, profit maximizers, and divestment of value strains. Optimizing the energy transition is not just about selecting the correct technologies in which to invest; it also involves upgrading business models to incorporate new metrics, dynamic planning and AI-based analytics to become more agile. Companies should also consider strategic alliances to maximize their strengths and gain from others.
Chemicals and specialty materials (C&SM) face similar urgency for transformation
As the chemicals industry navigates its own portfolio transformations, focus is key. Deloitte’s analysis of more than 200 chemical companies over a 20-year period showed that focused companies — those that prioritize certain end-markets and product categories and derive at least 60% of the total revenue from that category — outperformed diversified chemical companies. In fact, focused chemical companies organically grew revenues at twice the rate, generated 70% higher return on invested capital (ROIC), and delivered 60% higher shareholder returns.
The top-performing chemical companies typically change their portfolio mix more frequently than others —usually changing their portfolio once every business cycle and remaining focused on their over-arching business strategy, be it low cost, differentiated products, or exceptional service.
Keys to building a future-ready C&SM portfolio
The study recommends C&SM companies make critical portfolio choices that create value. The ongoing disruption in end markets requires leaders to make conscious decisions about their competitive advantage and play in products and service categories where they can build and maintain that advantage. Moreover, given the growing emphasis on sustainability, chemical companies should consider investing in recycling technologies and incorporating renewable and recyclable materials in their product offerings.
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