US LNG: a long expected arrival for the European energy markets

In the last months, we have seen an important increase in the number of ships bringing US LNG to Europe.  8 ships unloaded US natural gas in Europe in the first two months, compared to 5 in the whole of 2016.

European energy markets have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of US LNG. In 2010 – 2012 the Henry Hub prices were pushed lower and lower towards 2 dollars per MMBTU. Seeing how they paid more than twice that amount for consuming gas in Europe, European energy consumers had a hard time grasping what was going on.

“Shale gas”, all of a sudden the magic word was pronounced in all corners. The perfection of the technology to produce gas from shale rock layers, the so-called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, caused US gas production to rise significantly. At first, Europe was hopeful that it could imitate that energy production miracle. Countries like Poland and UK started to explore the possibilities of producing shale gas from their soils. However, we haven’t seen much of European shale gas yet. Most projects faltered in a combination of geological and bureaucratic challenges.

And then the US started to talk about exporting gas as liquid gas, LNG. A strange turn of events, as a few years earlier, the US had started to construct terminals to import gas. Now, these projects were turned around and export terminals were planned, permitted and construction started. This sparked hopes in Europe that this US LNG could bring prices down to a level that is more in line with the US. Sabine Pass in Louisiana was the export project that made the most rapid progress.

As European energy companies signed contracts with US counterparts to import gas and the construction of Sabine Pass progressed smoothly, European forward gas prices turned euphoric. By the 7th of April 2016 the year ahead price on the benchmark TTF Hub dropped as low as 13,02 euro per MWh, their lowest level since December 2009. However, as of April, the bull trend seen in other energy markets hit the European gas markets as well, with a peak of 18,505 euro per MWh for year ahead TTF on the 30th of December.

What had happened? On the 24th of February, the first boat with LNG left Sabine Pass, to sail to Brazil rather than Europe. In hindsight, it makes geographical and economic sense for LNG ships leaving in Louisiana to sail to South-America rather than Europe. And so did most of them. Of the 45 cargoes that embarked from Sabine Pass in 2016, 26 had Latin-America as their destination, compared to only 5 for Europe (Source: Timera). The expected flood of shale gas hitting the European market didn’t materialize.

However, we see a remarkable reverse of this trend in 2017. In January & February, we already saw 8 ships with US gas. All in all we see an important increase in the total number of shipments, with a total of 30 in the first two months of the year. We clearly see the effect here of the fact that a second and third train are now available for exports. With 7 ships, Latin-American imports of US gas remain stable. The biggest winner of the larger amounts of gas in Sabine Pass is Asia with 12 cargoes coming their way.

The TTF forward price is dropping again, with 16,145 euro per MWh on the 21st of March. It’s always dangerous to pinpoint cause and effect in energy markets though. The gas market is dropping in line with other energy markets. However, it should be remarked that pricing in gas markets is made ‘on the margin’, a few boats of gas more or less can mean the difference between excess or shortage that has a heavy impact on the prices. It’s too early to call “Hurray”, but it definitely is a good thing that more US LNG is finding its way to Europe, if only from a diversification of supply point of view.

It should be remarked that further expansion of US LNG export capacity is planned, in Sabine Pass and other places. A total of 89 billion cubic meters (bcm) is due by 2021, compare that to the 4,2 bcm that the US exported in 2016. Will that drive prices in Europe lower? That’s obviously impossible to say. The LNG market has proven to be very versatile. Shippers easily adapt their routes when prices on another continent are more favorable.

And how about politics under the new Trump administration? It looks like Mr. Trump’s main economic policy goal is to restore the US trade balance. Producing large amounts of energy and exporting it, would be a great step towards that goal. His decisions regarding permits to produce seem to support that. However, how will protectionist Donald Trump react if increased exports towards the higher priced markets in Europe pushes up prices for US gas consumers?


Green energy supply: source or invest?

A growing number of companies adopts renewable energy goals and commits to green energy supply. Top of the bill might be Ikea, that has committed to produce as much renewable electricity as it consumes in its industrial sites, storage sites and shops by 2020. Apple is approaching the 100% renewable electricity supply rapidly, and was already at 93% in 2015. And here’s just a handful of famous company names that have committed to the symbolic 100% renewable electricity supply by 2020 target:

Swiss RE, Bank of America, BMW, British Telecom, Coca Cola, Goldman Sachs, ING, La Poste, Phillips Lighting, Sky Entertainment, UBS, Unilever

(These names and much more information on corporate renewable energy efforts can be found on the RE100 website.)

With a climate change denying Trump administration in the US, one could easily be pessimistic about the prospects of greening the world’s energy supply. However, I believe that the renewable energy revolution is a train that is rolling and can’t be stopped in its tracks:

  1. A large part of the public is convinced that climate change is a real problem. Companies feel a pressure to present green energy credentials to clients, current and future employees, investors, or they just go green because of an inborn sense of social responsibility.
  1. The costs of building renewable energy generation has dropped spectacularly. Energy from windmills now costs between 52 and 110 euro per MWh, according to Wind Europe. That is 48 to 102 dollars at the current exchange rate. Electricity from photovoltaics looks even more spectacular. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, a project in Dubai that was commissioned in May 2016 will produce power from the sun for a cost as low as 30 dollar per MWh.

In many places in the world, the all-in cost of consuming electricity from the grid is higher, making it profitable to generate on-site green electricity rather than buying from the grid.

For feeding the green electricity into the grid, the 110 euro per MWh needed for some windmill projects, might still be too high for the investment to make business sense. Subsidies and governments willing to grant them to windmills and solar panels might still be needed for the time being. But then the energy industry has always been subsidized. The UK will pay EdF 92,50 pound sterling per MWh for building a nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point, that’s a 107,54 euro per MWh. Isn’t that money more wisely spend on windmills?

Renewable energy is also playing a crucial role in bringing electricity to poor countries. Access to green electricity in remote regions, isolated from reliable grids, can be crucial for those regions’ development. The recent acceleration of growth of renewables in developing countries is likely to continue.

If Donald Trump thinks that his skeptic approach to greening energy supply is part of his businessman’s attitude to the presidency, then he is mistaken. A 21st century businessman integrates green energy supply goals in his corporate strategy, because they make business sense. As an energy buyer, the chances that you will be asked to buy green energy are increasing and they will continue to do so, whether Mr. Trump is in the White House or not.

Getting that question on greening the energy supply confronts the energy buyer with an important dilemma:

Will you go green by sourcing green electricity from the grid or by investing in your own green electricity production? To give an answer to this question, we have to make some considerations:

  1. The physics and logistics of electricity supply make it difficult to label

Many years ago, we researched the green energy options of a client of ours. One of their team members kept insisting that he wanted proof that the green electricity was coming from a particular windmill near their factory. Due to the physics of electricity it’s impossible to do this. You cannot produce MWh’s in your windmill and attach a label to them saying: “Electricity from windmill so-and-so, to be delivered to company so-and-so”.

Electricity supply works by keeping the tension on the grid at a constant level by injecting as much electricity into the grid as the end-consumers are collectively consuming. But there is nothing that is physically being moved from place A to B. Therefore, it is impossible to say where the MWh’s that you consume were produced.

To deal with this, systems such as the European ‘certificates of origin’, have introduced a double marketing system. Producers of green electricity in Europe receive a certificate of origin. This is a piece of paper that says that a MWh of electricity was produced by a windmill, solar panel, by hydro, geothermal, biomass, etc.

The green electricity producer will sell electricity twice. The product itself (often called the “grey electricity”) goes to the grid at market prices. Next to that, the producer will make some extra income by selling the certificates of origin in a separate market.

Energy suppliers buy these certificates and bundle them with the physical MWh’s that they supply in green electricity products. That doesn’t mean that the power you consume comes from a particular windmill or solar panel. It means that as a consumer you have made an extra investment to support renewable energy. Some consumers have taken the labeling logic a step further by buying certificates of origin themselves in quantities equal to their physical consumption.

  1. Green comes in many shades

More than 20 years ago, I read a book of which I vaguely remembered the title to be “Grass instead of atoms”. It envisioned a future in which all of the world’s energy would be supplied by biomass. The theory was that biomass is carbon-neutral, as the carbon dioxide produced by burning the plant material would be compensated by the CO2 sucked from the air by the growing plants. Green activists embraced the biomass idea heartily.

Twenty years later, the world and definitely the green movement has grown much less enthusiast about biomass:

  1. Due to its low calorific content, you need a lot of plant material to produce a reasonable amount of energy. This causes huge logistic problems.
  2. Not the least of it being the huge amounts of land that you need to produce sufficient biomass for supplying the world with energy. Land that in many cases could be used better to grow food. And land that was sometimes won by cutting down valuable, bio-diverse and more carbon-sucking rain forest. Next to that there are the environmental issues caused by monoculture. Very rapidly, we discovered that the world would not be better off if the whole equatorial zone was transformed into a massive palm oil plantation.
  3. The theory of the carbon-neutrality of biomass can be challenged, especially if you cut rain-forest to plant palm oil and when you ship your biomass halfway across the globe.

Many well-intentioned biomass projects have ended in a public relations nightmare due to the questionable environmental credits of burning plant material. To investors’ horror the environmental groups that push for more green energy are often the first ones to raise protest against specific projects. Think about the many times local green activists have raised protests against the construction of a windmill.

The certificates of origin are granted to any green electricity project, regardless of its real environmental merits. If you consider going ‘deep green’, you might make some extra investments by buying some higher quality certificates.

  1. Buying green electricity is very cheap

In Europe, you can currently buy certificates of origin. That is very cheap. The reason for this low price is simple: demand is lower than supply. Every MWh of green electricity produced in Europe gets a certificate. At this moment, 29% of all electricity produced in Europe is green (2015 data coming from Agora Energiewende). As long as all the citizens, companies, public authorities, etc. that buy green electricity consume collectively less than 29% of all electricity consumed in Europe, the demand for green electricity will be lower than the supply. Hence the low price of buying green electricity.

If your only interest in buying green electricity is “green-washing”, getting the paper on the wall to say that you buy green so that you can satisfy the customers that are asking for it, the low price of green electricity is good news. However, many customers have a more genuine interest, more serious intentions of making a valuable contribution to the environment. For them, just spending a few ten thousands of euros or dollars on certificate-buying will not be very satisfying.

Moreover, a public relations catastrophe is looming again. Environmentalists are increasingly aware of how easy and cheap it is to claim ‘100% renewable electricity’ by buying certificates of origin. Clients that involve NGO’s in their sustainability policy (e.g. through the WWF Climate Savers initiative), already feel that pressure to do something more valuable than buying 15 cent per MWh certificates of origin.

  1. Not all green electricity is good for the environment

Certificates of origin don’t work as a tool for putting pressure on energy companies to increase their green electricity production. But it works as a system for having companies with green intentions invest money in greenery. Unfortunately, that money isn’t always effective.

An effective investment in green electricity means that less carbon dioxide is emitted. Very often, the money you pay for certificates of origin goes to an old hydro power station or a windmill, solar panel or biomass power station that have been there already for many years. For hydro, wind and solar, the marginal cost of production is 0, meaning that their owners produce the electricity whenever they can. Bringing us to the startling conclusion:

Whether you pay for the certificate of origin or not, the green electricity would have been produced anyhow.

So, your effort to pay extra for the certificates of origin isn’t keeping a gram of carbon dioxide out of the air. You could solve this by buying higher quality certificates. However, if you invest every euro you spend to source green electricity in your own renewable energy production, you are effectively keeping CO2 out of the air. It will mean that a windmill, solar panel or other project gets built thanks to your efforts that pushes fossil-fuel fired MWh’s from the grid. As the investment costs to produce your own energy are so much larger than what you spend buying certificates, it might be financially impossible to achieve the symbolic 100% renewable goal. But the money is spent so much more wisely and with a net better effect on the environment.

  1. Sourcing means spending money without return, contrary to investing

Which brings us to a next observation. Spending money on certificates is just that, spending. Investing money means that you can expect a return on your euros or dollars. On-site renewable energy production is often developed by a third party with a power purchase agreement. In many cases you will receive a fixed amount of money for renting your terrain or rooftop. Next to that, you can buy the electricity at a price far below the price at which you buy from the grid. Such projects always lead to savings, and thanks to such third party arrangements without even having to invest the company’s money.

When you invest in off-site renewable energy projects, the return will depend on the particular set-up, and often on the subsidy arrangement. In many cases, renewable energy is an interesting investment as the return is relatively stable and reliable.

  1. What do you want to achieve with your green energy efforts?

As you can read from the observations above, greening your energy takes more reflection than just buying a green power product based on certificates of origin. Investing the money in your own green electricity production is a more valuable approach, both for the environment and for your financial bottom line. However, not every company might be ready to have such large amounts of cash flowing to green power investments.

As an energy buyer, your research of the energy markets can lead to more valuable choices for your company. To determine your approach, it is worthwhile to make a good preliminary analysis of what you want to achieve with your green energy efforts, e.g. through a stakeholder analysis. If you’re just greening to satisfy customers, you might be happy with the certificates of origin. If you also want to prove your green credentials to environmentalists, you might decide to go deeper.

La ola de frío hace estragos en el mercado energético español

Prefer the English version? Please find it here.

Los mercados energéticos españoles se comportaron de forma inestable la semana pasada. El jueves 19 de enero, el precio de la electricidad para el día siguiente cerró en 88 euros por MWh, este es el nivel más alto alcanzado desde el 6 de febrero de 2006. El nuevo Hub de gas natural, Mibgas, también alcanzó un máximo llegando a los 41,87 euros por MWh los días 12 y 13 de enero.

Hace frío en España y los turistas en busca de un clima agradable en invierno están siendo sorprendidos con tormentas de nieve y heladas. Las circunstancias siberianas son excepcionales y obviamente causan un pico en la demanda de electricidad y gas. El sistema eléctrico ha encontrado dificultades para hacer frente a este pico. En la Comunidad Valenciana 32.000 clientes se quedaron sin electricidad y la eléctrica Iberdrola tuvo que poner en marcha 23 generadores de emergencia.

Álvaro Nadal, nuevo ministro de Energía, advirtió a los ciudadanos españoles en un comunicado de prensa que se fueran acostumbrando a una energía más cara. El ministro cita todo tipo de argumentos para justificar los actuales precios, junto al aumento de la demanda de calefacción, señala también paradas nucleares, mayores exportaciones a Francia, baja producción de energía eólica y solar, mayor precio del crudo y un alto precio del gas natural. La situación actual muestra una tendencia muy alcista, pero los altos precios de la electricidad y el gas natural en España no son sólo un fenómeno de este invierno. Los mercados energéticos españoles son más caros que otros mercados europeos desde hace años.

Respecto a la electricidad, podemos ver que los precios spot españoles se alinearon con los precios spot alemanes hasta 2014, cuando comenzaron a subir estructuralmente. Los analistas señalan a menudo el alto porcentaje de energía renovable en España para explicar los altos precios de electricidad. Según datos de Red Eléctrica, el 49,9% de la capacidad de producción de energía eléctrica en España es renovable. El viento no siempre sopla y, hasta en España, el sol no siempre brilla, haciendo que los precios del mercado de día siguiente se eleven algunos días y los acontecimientos del último día parecen apoyar ese análisis.

Sin embargo, Alemania tiene un porcentaje aún mayor de energía renovables en el mix de capacidad de producción: un 52,43% de acuerdo con los datos de En Alemania, un volumen creciente de energías renovables en la red ha tenido un claro efecto beneficioso sobre los precios de la electricidad al por mayor. ¿Por qué no hemos visto el mismo efecto en España?

La situación actual de altos precios y apagones en algunas regiones parece señalar que en España hay escasez de capacidad de producción de energía. Sin embargo, como podemos ver en la página web de Red Eléctrica, el viernes 20 de enero la demanda alcanzó un máximo de 40.294 MW, esta cifra es muy inferior a la capacidad de producción total de 100.088 MW estando incluso por debajo de la capacidad instalada de producción tradicional de energía térmica (carbón y gas), que se sitúa en 41.154 MW. Además, en el momento de mayor demanda, las centrales nucleares españolas producían 7.100 MW, las centrales hidroeléctricas 6.168 MW, las turbinas eólicas 5.007 MW y las centrales fotovoltaicas 675 MW. Sumando estas cifras, realmente no se entiende el por qué los precios subieron tanto.

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Es cierto que el equilibrio entre la oferta y la demanda en España está cada vez más ajustado. Con una economía en recuperación, España registra un aumento de su demanda de energía de 0,8% en 2016. Al mismo tiempo, la capacidad de producción cayó un 0,9%, debido al cierre de centrales de carbón. A pesar de ello no olvidemos que la situación general sigue siendo muy cómoda en comparación con otros países europeos como Bélgica o Francia cuando tienen centrales nucleares cerradas.

Entonces…¿Por qué los precios españoles son más altos?

Los productores de energía españoles parecen ser incapaces de entregar a la red una electricidad fiable y con un precio razonable. Los 194.530 MW de potencia disponible en Alemania produjeron 648,2 TWh de electricidad en 2016. Esa es una utilización del aparato de producción de 3.322 horas, siendo mucho mejor que las 2.500 horas de los productores españoles, con 100.088 MW de capacidad instalada produciendo sólo 250.266 TWh. Una vez más, el alto porcentaje de energía renovable en España no es una excusa, ya que Alemania tiene un porcentaje aún mayor.

El ministro Álvaro Nadal debería aprovechar la situación actual para hacer un llamamiento a los productores de energía y exigirles que mejoren su rendimiento. Por otra parte, como hemos mencionado antes, los sistemas que organizan la oferta de energía española y la logística de la demanda son bizantinos y disfuncionales. Súbase a un avión señor Nadal y vea cómo otros países europeos lograron organizar mejor sus mercados: una mejor organización que resulte en una mejor utilización del parque de producción de energía y menores precios de los productos básicos para los consumidores finales.

La semana pasada se podía escuchar en las noticias españolas que los altos precios se debían al uso de “costosas” centrales de gas de ciclo combinado. Sin embargo, en el momento de máxima demanda el viernes pasado, sólo había 2.229 MW de ciclo combinado en operación, lo que representa menos del 10% de la capacidad instalada total de 24.948 MW. Es un hecho, sin embargo, que el costo de producir electricidad con una central eléctrica de gas es mucho más caro en España que en otros países. Esto se debe al alto precio del gas en España.

La mayor parte del gas natural en el mercado energético español aún se comercializa a precios indexados a los mercados petroleros. Los recientes aumentos de los precios del petróleo han provocado por tanto un aumento de los precios del gas en España. Si nos fijamos en los precios de los otros mercados europeos, determinados por los hubs como el TTF donde la demanda y la oferta de gas natural fijan el precio, diríamos que el desarrollo del Mibgas en España es una excelente idea. Sin embargo, una idea sólo es buena cuando está bien ejecutada.

El verano pasado, vimos los precios del hub ibérico Mibgas operando a un nivel similar al TTF. En mayo y junio de 2016, incluso vimos un precio de Mibgas más bajo que el TTF algunos días, lo que generó esperanzas de que finalmente veríamos unos precios normales de gas en España. Sin embargo, a partir de agosto, el precio de Mibgas comenzó a subir por encima del TTF. El 13 de enero, el precio de Mibgas fue 21,14 euros por MWh más caro que el TTF u otros precios del norte de Europa.


Los abastecedores españoles de gas (y los analistas que lo apoyan sin argumentos) apuntan dos razones que causan esta situación:

  1. El hecho de que los buques de GNL provenientes de Argelia por ejemplo, en lugar de llegar a la península Ibérica hayan decidido navegar a otros destinos como Asia, donde los precios del gas son actualmente altos.
  2. La falta de capacidad de interconexión con Francia y los precios del Norte de Europa.

Sí, los precios asiáticos están reduciendo las exportaciones de GNL a Europa. Pero los 41,87 euros por MWh que encontramos en España a principios de este mes, fue el precio más alto de gas natural en todo el planeta en ese momento, así que ¿Por qué los buques no llegaron a España?

Por otra parte, la reducción de gas natural licuado debido a la alta demanda asiática afecta de la misma manera al TTF, así que ¿Por qué el precio en España es más del doble que en el norte de Europa?

La falta de conexión por gaseoducto hacia el Norte es también un hecho, pero no hay ningún país en Europa que tenga tanta capacidad (no utilizada) para importación de GNL como España. Sólo hay 1.305 kilómetros por mar entre los puertos de Zeebrugge y Bilbao.

El 13 de enero, un comerciante podría haber ganado 21,14 euros por MWh al cargar GNL en Zeebrugge y descargarlo en Bilbao, ese habría sido uno de los trayectos de GNL más lucrativos de la historia, pero ningún barco lo hizo.

España estará mal conectada con el resto del mundo mediante gaseoductos, pero está muy bien conectada con terminales de GNL, el problema es que estos no se están utilizando. ¿Por qué? Porque traer el gas a la terminal de GNL es posible, pero sacarlo de la planta de regasificación y venderlo en el mercado interno español parece ser casi imposible.

España ha sido el último de todos los países europeos en establecer un Hub. Preparándose para ese lanzamiento, España se centró más en cómo organizar los aspectos financieros que los aspectos físicos, pero la parte física es clave. Un Hub debería facilitar el acceso de terceros al sistema de gas mediante el establecimiento de una zona de entrada-salida a nivel nacional y la introducción de un sistema de equilibrio eficiente y rentable. Debido a los altos precios actuales y la falta de liquidez, está claro que Mibgas no ha logrado esto. Una vez más, España ha introducido sistemas que son diferentes de lo que vemos en el resto de Europa. Así que, Ministro Nadal, vaya a echar un vistazo al resto de Europa y arregle este desastre de mercado energético español.

A cold snap wreaks havoc on the Spanish energy market

Spanish energy markets were in turmoil last week. On Thursday the 19th of January, the day ahead electricity price averaged 88 euro per MWh. That is the highest level since the 6th of February 2006. The new Hub market for natural gas, Mibgas, went through the roof as well, racing to 41,87 euro per MWh on the 12th and 13th of January.

It’s cold in Spain. Tourists in search of mild winter weather were caught in snowstorms and frost. The Siberian circumstances are exceptional and obviously cause a peak in demand for electricity and gas. The power system struggled to cope with this peak. In the Communidad Valenciana, 32.000 clients were without electricity and utility Iberdrola had to rush in 23 emergency generators. Álvaro Nadal, the new Minister of Energy is all over the press, warning the Spanish citizens to get adapted to more costly energy.

The Minister is citing all kinds of reasons for the current peaks in prices: next to the increased demand for heating purposes he points out: nuclear shutdowns, increased exports to France, low output of wind and solar, the higher price of crude oil and the high price of natural gas. The current cocktail is indeed very bullish. But the high prices for electricity and natural gas in Spain are not just a phenomenon of this winter. Spanish energy markets are more expensive than other European markets for years.

If we look at electricity, than we can see that the Spanish spot prices were at more or less the same level as German spot prices until 2014 and then started to rise structurally higher. Analysts are often pointing at the high percentage of renewable energy in Spain to explain high spot prices: according to Red Electrica’s data, 49,9% of Spain’s power production capacity is renewable. The wind doesn’t always blow and even in Spain, the sun doesn’t always shine, causing spot prices to rise high on some days. The events of the last day seem to support that analysis.

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However, Germany has an even higher percentage of renewable power production capacity: 52,43% according to data of In Germany, increasing amounts of renewables on the grid have clearly had a beneficial effect on the wholesale electricity prices. Why haven’t we seen the same effect in Spain?

The current situation of high prices and blackouts in some regions seems to point out that Spain has a shortage of power production capacity. However, as we can see on the website of Red Electrica, on Friday the 20th demand peaked at 40.294 MW. That is well below the total production capacity of 100.088 MW. It is even below the installed capacity of traditional thermal power production (coal and gas), which stands at 41.154 MW. Moreover, at the moment of peak demand, Spanish nuclear power stations were producing 7.100 MW, hydro power stations 6.168 MW, wind turbines 5.007 MW and photovoltaics 675 MW. Adding up the figures, you really don’t understand why prices were soaring that much.

It is true that the supply and demand balance in Spain is getting more tight. With a recovering economy, Spain is seeing an increase in its power demand, +0,8% in 2016. At the same time, production capacity dropped 0,9%, due to the closure of carbon-fired power stations. However, the overall situation still looks very comfortable compared to other European countries like Belgium or France when it has nuclear power stations shut down. Then why are Spanish prices higher?

The Spanish power producers seem to be incapable of delivering a reliable, reasonably priced electricity to the grid. Germany’s 194.530 MW of available power capacity produced 648,2 TWh of electricity in 2016. That’s a utilization of the production apparatus of 3.322 hours. That’s a lot better than the Spanish power producers’ 2.500 hours with 100.088 MW of installed capacity producing just 250,266 TWh. Again, the high percentage of renewable energy in Spain is not an excuse, as Germany’s having an even higher percentage.

Minister Álvaro Nadal would better use the current situation to call upon the Spanish power production companies to improve their performance. Moreover, as we have mentioned before, the systems that organize Spain’s power supply and demand logistics are byzantine and dysfunctional. Get yourself on a plane, Mr. Nadal, and go and have a look at how other European countries managed to get their markets better organized. A better organization that results in a better utilization of the power production park and lower commodity prices for the end consumers.

Last week you could hear in the Spanish news that the high prices were due to the usage of “expensive” combined cycle gas-fired power stations. However, at the moment of peak demand last Friday, there was just 2.229 MW of such combined cycle power stations at work, which is less than 10% of the total installed capacity of 24.948 MW. It is a fact however, that the cost of producing electricity with a gas-fired power station is much more expensive in Spain than in other countries. This is due to the high price of gas.

Most of the natural gas in the Spanish energy market is still traded at prices indexed to oil markets. The recent increases of oil prices have therefore caused Spanish gas prices to increase. If you look at the pricing in the other European markets, determined by Hubs such as TTF where the demand and supply of natural gas itself is setting the price, you would say that the development of the Mibgas Hub in Spain is an excellent idea. However, an idea is only good when it’s well executed.

Last summer, we saw Mibgas prices trading at a level similar level as TTF. In May and June 2016, we even saw a lower Mibgas price than TTF on some days. This sparked hopes that we would finally see normal gas prices in Spain. However, as of August, the Mibgas price started to rise high above TTF. On the 13th of January, the Mibgas price was 21,14 euro per MWh more expensive than TTF or other Northern-European prices.


Spanish gas suppliers (and analysts paying them lip service) point at two reasons for this:

1. The fact that LNG ships from Algeria for example, rather sail to Asia where gas prices are currently high.
2. The lack of interconnection capacity with France and the Northern European prices.

Yes, Asian prices are reducing LNG exports to Europe. But the 41,87 euro per MWh that you could get in Spain earlier this month, was about the highest price for natural gas on the planet at that moment, so why didn’t the ships come to Spain? Moreover, the “less LNG due to high Asian demand” counts for TTF just as well, so why is that price in Spain so much higher than in the North of Europe?

Lack of connection by pipeline to the North is also a fact. However, there is no country in Europe that has so much (unused) LNG import capacity as Spain. There is only 1.305 kilometer by sea between the ports of Zeebrugge and Bilbao. On the 13th of January, a trader could make 21,14 euro per MWh by loading LNG in Zeebrugge and sailing to Bilbao. That must be one of the most lucrative LNG trips in history. But no ships did it.

Spain might be badly connected to the rest of the world with gas pipelines, but it is well connected with LNG terminals. But these are not being used. Why? Because getting the gas into the LNG terminal is possible, getting it out and sell it in the internal Spanish market seems to be all but impossible.

Spain has been the last of all European countries to launch a Hub market. Preparing for that launch, Spain was more focused on how to organize the financial aspects than the physical aspects. Whereas the physical side is key. A Hub should facilitate third party access to the gas system by the establishment of a nation-wide entry-exit zone and the introduction of an efficient, cost-effective balancing system. From the current high prices and lack of liquidity, it is clear that Mibgas has failed to achieve this. Again, Spain has introduced systems that are different from what we see in the rest of Europe. So, Minister Nadal, go and have a look in the rest of Europe and get this mess of a Spanish energy market fixed.