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Europe Moves Into a New World After a Crippling Energy Crisis

Europe Moves Into a New World After a Crippling Energy Crisis

January 21, 2024
This month, a cold front swept across much of Europe and giant tankers that carry fuel through the Red Sea were rerouted to avoid escalating violence. That should have pushed gas prices higher. Instead, they just kept falling.

Source: Bloomberg

Even if it’s a step too far to give Europe the all-clear, it’s a strong sign that the worst of the nightmare that sent energy bills soaring and pushed inflation to multi-year highs is in the past.

Europe is benefiting from having amassed record gas reserves last year, along with help from renewables and a relatively mild winter — some cold snaps aside. Sluggish economic growth is also playing a part, capping demand for energy in major industrial powers such as Germany.

That’s been enough to boost confidence across trading desks that the region is on a stable-enough footing to get through the rest of the winter with gas to spare. Benchmark European prices are currently trading under €30 a megawatt-hour, about a tenth of the peak levels in 2022.

Still, having scraped through the crisis, Europe has emerged into a new reality that has its own list of challenges.

It’s now relying more on renewables, and will have to deal with the intermittency of that power generation. With the loss of Russian gas, on which it was overly dependent before the invasion of Ukraine, it’s also had to look elsewhere to fulfill its fuel needs. That means vying for a share of foreign liquefied natural gas cargoes with other parts of the world.

“Just by looking at prices, it seems that the crisis is over,” said Balint Koncz, head of gas trading at MET International in Switzerland. “However, we are now reliant on global factors, which can change rapidly.”

“Prices could rise again, even in this heating season, if there’s a sudden supply disruption or an extended period of cold weather,” he said.

One key risk is the Middle East amid attacks on ships in the Red Sea, a route that Qatar uses to send LNG to Europe. Oil and gas tankers are avoiding the area, instead opting to go around the southern tip of Africa. On a typical day, roughly two to three LNG vessels would be using the passage, according to data from Kpler.

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