Wholesale Energy Prices – December Bullet

Very sharp recent price increases have prompted this update from our economist, Dominic Whittome. Prices are up another 30% this month. The financial impact on commercial and industrial buyers will be serious if such price levels are sustained for much longer or as the April Year buying round draws closer.

Gas Prices

Day-ahead gas prices momentarily traded over £2.50 p/th this afternoon. (7th December, 5pm).

The market driven higher amid reports of surge-buying by power generators, electro-intensive industrials and concerns about an imminent Russian incursion into Ukraine as well as US sanctions or other action affecting exports all coming to a head at once.

Consequently the Over The Counter (O.T.C.) market saw risk-premiums ratchet up along the curve. There had been some rest-bite for gas, conferred by a comparatively tame oil market.

Oil Prices

15-Day Brent traded around a relatively tight $70 – 75 /bbl range. Aided by news last week that the OPEC+ cartel was still looking to make good on its earlier promise to increase oil exports by 0.4 million barrels a day from January onwards. In spite of ebbing demand expectations with the latest Covid variant threatening to suppress demand once more. However it proved short-lived as fundamentals relating to physical gas availability itself predominated.
Although bullish sentiment was abetted by news of new strike action planned for existing UK North Sea platforms and now future UK platforms bought into question by Shell’s decision to pull the plug on its 1.7 million barrel Cambo project West of Shetland. With question marks lingering over its nearer-term (2024) Jackdaw field as well there is plenty to dishearten the bears just now.

Electricity Prices

Likewise forward electricity prices have soared again with April Year contract volumes changing hands at near-term record highs; in excess of £140 MWh (14 p/kWh) this afternoon albeit shy of the £180/MWh ‘super-peaks’ we saw late September.
French Nuclear

The prompt market meanwhile was jolted by warnings late yesterday by French nuclear operator, EDF over anticipated performance of its reactors over the coming months. Readers of issues of Energy Highlights over the past 7 years will recall periodic references to the problem of France’s ageing nuclear fleet, currently supplying a mammoth 60 GW across Europe. Not only are nearly all 56 of France’s reactors of identical design, many were also built at roughly the same time during or close to the decade of the 1980s. Most of them are now operating at or – in most cases – beyond their original design lives. With a far greater propensity now for things to go wrong or for preclusive reactor closures, shutdowns or emergency maintenance to shut supply unexpectedly. Amid the market turmoil elsewhere, it is not hard to see how warnings concerning reactor-availability by the operator itself will have rattled the O.T.C. market in the way that they have.

January is trading well north of £300/MWh as we go to the wire – a far cry from the “£70/MWh to £90/MWh” price range for the Q4 or Q1 periods, to which perhaps too many traders had grown accustomed.

From a pure mark-to-market perspective, selling electricity to retail or commercial customers at current commodity prices must rack up significant losses per customer, possibly excess of 15 p/kWh once operating expenses, inflation-indexed network charges and non-recoverable taxes & green levies are added to the commodity prices prevailing on the O.T.C. We will just have to wait and see how demand evolves, regional renewable power generation performs and geo-political events unfold as we move deeper into winter.

A late January update will follow. We anticipate much change between now and then.


Update – 8th Dec, 11.30am.

The curve continued climbing this morning; April Year gas and power contracts are up another 10% with no obvious resistance level in sight.

About the Author

Dominic Whittome is an economist with 25 years of commercial experience in oil & gas exploration, power generation, business development and supply & trading. Dominic has served as an analyst, contract negotiator and Head of Trading with four energy majors (Statoil, Mobil, ENI and EDF). As a consultant, Dominic has also advised government clients (including the UK Treasury, Met Office and Consumer Focus) and private entities on a range of energy origination, strategy and trading issues.

Prospect Law is a multi-disciplinary practice with specialist expertise in the energy and environmental sectors with particular experience in the low carbon energy sector. The firm is made up of lawyers, engineers, surveyors and finance experts.

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