LONDON (Reuters) - A British vote to leave the European Union next week would make UK energy infrastructure investment costlier and delay new projects at a time when the country needs to plug a looming electricity supply gap.
Energy has been far from central to debates about whether to leave the EU - a move dubbed "Brexit" - but the sector would still be impacted by a decision in the June 23 referendum to quit the 28-nation bloc.
After a Brexit vote, all EU laws apply in Britain until two years after London starts the process to leave. Then none would apply but Britain could try to stay part of some frameworks through negotiations, a process that could take years.
Uncertainty about the type of relationship Britain would have with the EU after Brexit would make energy investors demand higher returns for the risk of less favourable conditions.
Oil and gas majors BP and Shell are among several energy companies that say leaving the EU would affect them and the sector negatively.
"I can't see any upside for the energy sector of the UK coming out of the EU. The risk premium going up will increase the cost of capital," Ian Simm, chief executive of UK-based Impax Asset Management, said.
"We have mostly run our power assets down over the past 25 years. Therefore, we do need investors to be confident enough to put their hands in their pockets and commit to the next wave of power plants," he added.
UK-based consultancy Vivid Economics has estimated the cost of exclusion from the internal energy market, excluding impacts on investment, could be up to 500 million pounds ($708 million) a year by the early 2020s.
"The scale of planned infrastructure investment in the electricity sector over the next decade means that even small increases in the cost of financing could have large consequences for total investment costs," it said in a report.
"Further upwards pressure on costs would result from the likely devaluation of the pound, given the role imported goods and services play in UK energy supply."
According to a Reuters poll this month, the British pound would sink 9 percent against the dollar after Brexit. [GBP/POLL]
Britain faces serious energy supply difficulties over the next few years as coal plants have to close by 2025, the nuclear fleet is aging and weak economic conditions curb investment in new gas-fired power plants.
Renewable energy is growing, but more interconnections and energy storage are needed. The British government has estimated that the required energy infrastructure will cost 275 billion pounds by 2020-2021.
French utility EDF's plan to build two huge nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Britain would help plug the supply gap. The company's chief executive said earlier this year that Brexit would not change its plans, but it has not yet made a final investment decision.
"The 3.2-gigawatt Hinkley nuclear project looks to be a financing headache in any scenario, given the parlous state of EDF's share price and balance sheet," Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in a blog post.
Investment in inter connectors is also important for Britain. UK wholesale power prices are higher than the EU average, partly because interconnections with other countries are able only to supply around 6 percent of peak electricity demand.
However, efforts to link the UK's electricity grid with other European power networks could be set back due to Brexit, with some projects likely to be put on hold because Britain would no longer automatically have a say in the formulation of EU energy regulations, Norton Rose Fulbright lawyers said.
Investment in renewables could be hampered. Changes by the government over the past couple of years to renewable-energy subsidies have already dented investment in clean energy.
"There is investor uncertainty already but the only thing that gives it any kind of framing is through the UK's obligations to the EU. If I was a cleantech investor I would be concerned," said Anthony Hobley, chief executive of think-tank Carbon Tracker Initiative.
Britain could also lose access to funding for renewables, particularly offshore wind, from EU institutions such as the European Investment Bank, said Charlie Thomas, manager of Jupiter Asset Management's Ecology Fund. Such assistance last year totalled around 7 billion euros.
"But at the same time, our view is that there is significant appetite from private-sector institutional investors to step in to any funding gap," he added.
($1 = 0.7060 pounds)
By Nina Chestney
(Editing by Dale Hudson)
Something interesting to share?
Join NrgEdge and create your own NrgBuzz today
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 9 September 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$56/b
Headlines of the week
Detailed market research and continuous tracking of market developments—as well as deep, on-the-ground expertise across the globe—informs our outlook on global gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG). We forecast gas demand and then use our infrastructure and contract models to forecast supply-and-demand balances, corresponding gas flows, and pricing implications to 2035.Executive summary
The past year saw the natural-gas market grow at its fastest rate in almost a decade, supported by booming domestic markets in China and the United States and an expanding global gas trade to serve Asian markets. While the pace of growth is set to slow, gas remains the fastest-growing fossil fuel and the only fossil fuel expected to grow beyond 2035.Global gas: Demand expected to grow 0.9 percent per annum to 2035
While we expect coal demand to peak before 2025 and oil demand to peak around 2033, gas demand will continue to grow until 2035, albeit at a slower rate than seen previously. The power-generation and industrial sectors in Asia and North America and the residential and commercial sectors in Southeast Asia, including China, will drive the expected gas-demand growth. Strong growth from these regions will more than offset the demand declines from the mature gas markets of Europe and Northeast Asia.
Gas supply to meet this demand will come mainly from Africa, China, Russia, and the shale-gas-rich United States. China will double its conventional gas production from 2018 to 2035. Gas production in Europe will decline rapidly.LNG: Demand expected to grow 3.6 percent per annum to 2035, with market rebalancing expected in 2027–28
We expect LNG demand to outpace overall gas demand as Asian markets rely on more distant supplies, Europe increases its gas-import dependence, and US producers seek overseas markets for their gas (both pipe and LNG). China will be a major driver of LNG-demand growth, as its domestic supply and pipeline flows will be insufficient to meet rising demand. Similarly, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and South Asia will rely on LNG to meet the growing demand to replace declining domestic supplies. We also expect Europe to increase LNG imports to help offset declining domestic supply.
Demand growth by the middle of next decade should balance the excess LNG capacity in the current market and planned capacity additions. We expect that further capacity growth of around 250 billion cubic meters will be necessary to meet demand to 2035.
With growing shale-gas production in the United States, the country is in a position to join Australia and Qatar as a top global LNG exporter. A number of competing US projects represent the long-run marginal LNG-supply capacity.Key themes uncovered
Over the course of our analysis, we uncovered five key themes to watch for in the global gas market:
Challenges in a growing market
Gas looks the best bet of fossil fuels through the energy transition. Coal demand has already peaked while oil has a decade or so of slowing growth before electric vehicles start to make real inroads in transportation. Gas, blessed with lower carbon intensity and ample resource, is set for steady growth through 2040 on our base case projections.
LNG is surfing that wave. The LNG market will more than double in size to over 1000 bcm by 2040, a growth rate eclipsed only by renewables. A niche market not long ago, shipped LNG volumes will exceed global pipeline exports within six years.The bullish prospects will buoy spirits as industry leaders meet at Gastech, LNG’s annual gathering – held, appropriately and for the first time, in Houston – September 17-19.
Investors are scrambling to grab a piece of the action. We are witnessing a supply boom the scale of which the industry has never experienced before. Around US$240 billion will be spent between 2019 and 2025 on greenfield and brownfield LNG supply projects, backfill and finishing construction for those already underway.50% to be added to global supply
In total, these projects will bring another 182 mmtpa to market, adding 50% to global supply. Over 100 mmtpa is from the US alone, most of the rest from Qatar, Russia, Canada, and Mozambique. Still, more capital will be needed to meet demand growth beyond the mid-2020s. But the rapid growth also presents major challenges for sellers and buyers to adapt to changes in the market.
There is a risk of bottlenecks as this new supply arrives on the market. The industry will have to balance sizeable waves of fresh sales volumes with demand growing in fits and starts and across an array of disparate marketplaces – some mature, many fledglings, a good few in between.
India has built three new re-gas terminals, but imports are actually down in 2019. The pipeline network to get the gas to regional consumers has yet to be completed. Pakistan has a gas distribution network serving its northern industrial centres. But the main LNG import terminals are in the south of the country, and the commitment to invest in additional transmission lines taking gas north is fraught with political uncertainty.
China is still wrestling with third-party access and regulation of the pipeline business that is PetroChina’s core asset. Any delay could dull the growth rate in Asia’s LNG hotspot. Europe is at the early stages of replacing its rapidly depleting sources of indigenous piped gas with huge volumes of LNG imports delivered to the coast. Will Europe’s gas market adapt seamlessly to a growing reliance on LNG – especially when tested at extreme winter peaks? Time will tell.
The point-to-point business model that has served sellers (and buyers) so well over the last 60 years will be tested by market access and other factors. Buyers facing mounting competition in their domestic market will increasingly demand flexibility on volume and price, and contracts that are diverse in duration and indexation. These traditional suppliers risk leaving value, perhaps a lot of value, on the table.
In the future, sellers need to be more sophisticated. The full toolkit will have a portfolio of LNG, a mixture of equity and third-party contracted gas; a trading capability to optimise on volume and price; and the requisite logistics – access to physical capacity of ships and re-gas terminals to shift LNG to where it’s wanted. Enlightened producers have begun to move to an integrated model, better equipped to meet these demands and capture value through the chain. Pure traders will muscle in too.
Some integrated players will think big picture, LNG becoming central to an energy transition strategy. As Big Oil morphs into Big Energy, LNG will sit alongside a renewables and gas-fired power generation portfolio feeding all the way through to gas and electricity customers.
LNG trumps pipe exports...
...as the big suppliers crank up volumes