The global natural gas market

The world’s largest consumers of natural gas are the United States (778 billion m3/year), Russia and China. Europe consumed around 502 billion m3/year (or 4,928 TWh/year) of natural gas in 2016, a 9.8% increase compared to 2015. The three largest European consumers are Germany (89 billion m3/year), the United Kingdom (82 billion m3/year) and Italy (71 billion m3/year). With 3.6 billion m3/year, or 39 TWh/year, Switzerland consumes less than 1% of European gas. You can visit ez-nergy.com for more about energy trading.

Gas purchases on international markets

Security of supply and better economic conditions for the benefit of its partners and customers are the missions of the Trading Department.

To ensure supply, two types of contracts should be considered:

  • long-term contracts (5 to 10 years)
  • short-term contracts (spot for the next day and forward up to 3 years)

LONG-TERM CONTRACTS

Long-term contracts (now for a period of 5 to 10 years, historically for periods ranging from 20 to 30 years) make it possible to ensure the long-term delivery of sufficient quantities of gas to meet customer needs. They concern gas purchases from different geographical sources. Their diversification makes it possible both to reduce the risks associated with possible disruptions and to reduce overall costs by using differences in price behaviour.

Companies, like Gaznat for example, currently has long-term supply contracts for delivery to the northern border of Switzerland and from the west to the French border. A balanced supply between North and West is important for pressure balancing issues in the system. Gas comes from a wide variety of sources: North Sea, Russia, Algeria and other producing countries via deliveries by LNG tanker. In addition, it has also concluded a storage contract in France, which makes it possible to manage fluctuations in demand, particularly in periods of extreme cold.

These contracts represent the backbone of the company’s supplies. They provide a diversified portfolio from a variety of geographically diverse and particularly reliable sources.

SHORT-TERM CONTRACTS

Short-term trading has grown gradually since 2007. When market conditions are favourable, a company like Gaznat for example supplements its supply structure with spot purchases. It is thus possible to arbitrate between long-term contracts and spot markets. After having concluded several EFET (European Federation of Energy Traders) master agreements with recognised European counterparties, it concludes mainly purchase transactions at TTF (Netherlands) and NCG (Germany) virtual trading points. Pipeline transport capacities to Wallbach (the point of entry of gas into Switzerland from northern Europe) must be secured in addition.

About 40% of the gas volumes purchased in 2016 were acquired through spot market transactions.

PRICE FORMATION

For the end customer, the price of gas is composed of the cost of the gas molecule, its transport (high-pressure transport, then distribution), a possible contribution to storage, its marketing and taxes.

Natural gas is network energy; as such, a large part of the costs is linked to the means of transport used between production sites and consumption centres (gas pipelines or LNG carriers). As this routing is carried out over long distances, it must be continuous in order to optimize costs.

Natural gas consumption is much higher in winter than in summer because it is mainly related to heating. Variations in consumption are absorbed by storage facilities, whether they are of the “aquifer”, “depleted deposits” or “salt cavities” type.