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Europe's new energy problem: it now has too much gas

Europe’s natural gas storage tanks are filling up.
Europe’s natural gas storage tanks are filling up.

Europe has come a long way from the frenzied stockpiling driving up natural gas prices a year ago. As of May 9, Europe’s gas storage was full to 62%, and at the current pace of refilling, storage is expected to hit its capacity of about 1,138 terawatt-hours (TWh) by late August, according to estimates by Morgan Stanley. And it is driving down gas prices.

In August 2022, Dutch TFF gas futures, the benchmark European contract, hit €243.72 ($265.94) per megawatt-hour (MWh), buttressed by the energy disruptions of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the prospect of a punishing winter without enough heating fuel. By November, a few dozen LNG tankers were idling off the coast of Spain, waiting for another rise in prices before selling their cargo.

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But a harsh winter didn’t materialize, demand stayed low, and Europe ended the winter with record-high natural gas stocks for March, according to data from Gas Infrastructure Europe.

Prices dropped through January and into spring, hitting €34.78 ($37.95) by May 12, a 150% drop from August 2022.

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That doesn’t ensure European consumers will get a break from high energy bills in the coming months. Since very little gas is being piped in from Russia (pdf), several factors could cause a swing in prices. A cold winter, heightened competition for LNG from Asia, or increased use of gas by Europeans, could strain even fully-stocked gas reserves, potentially pushing prices back up.

In a paper published on Monday (May 8), Goldman Sachs estimated that average prices for the coming winter to be above €90 ($97.7)/MWh, and over €100 for a particularly harsh winter.

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