The global market for natural gas
The biggest global consumers of natural gas are the US (778 billion m3/year), Russia and China. Europe consumed approximately 502 billion m3/year (or 4,928 TWh/year) of natural gas in 2016, up 9.8% on 2015. The three largest European consumers are Germany (89 billion m3/year), the UK (82 billion m3/year) and Italy (71 billion m3/year). At 3.6 billion m3/year, or 39 TWh/year, Switzerland consumes less than 1% of Europe’s gas.
Gas purchases on international markets
The Trading division's mission is to ensure security of supply and advantageous financial terms for its business partners and customers.
Two types of supply contract may be used:
- Long-term contracts (5 to 10 years)
- Short-term contracts (spot for the next day and forward up to 3 years)
Long-term contracts (at present for a period of 5 to 10 years, historically for periods of 20 to 30 years) ensure deliveries of sufficient quantities of gas to meet the long-term needs of customers. Gas purchases are made from different geographical sources. Such diversification reduces the risks connected with potential disruptions while at the same time cutting the overall costs by exploiting differences in price behaviour.
Gaznat currently has long-term supply contracts for delivery on the northern border of Switzerland and on the French border in the west. It is important to maintain a balance of supply between north and west in order to keep the pressures in the network in equilibrium. The gas comes from diverse sources: the North Sea, Russia, Algeria and other producing countries via delivery by liquefied natural gas carrier. In addition, Gaznat has concluded a storage contract in France to allow it to manage fluctuations in demand, especially during cold snaps.
These contracts form the backbone of Gaznat’s supplies, enabling it to maintain a diversified portfolio originating from geographically varied and particularly reliable sources.
Short-term trading has developed gradually since 2007. When market conditions are right, Gaznat supplements its supply mix with spot purchases. It is thus possible to exploit the price difference between long-term contracts and spot markets. Having concluded a number of European Federation of Energy Traders (EFET) framework contracts with recognised European counterparties, Gaznat concludes (mostly purchase) transactions on the virtual trading points TTF (Netherlands) and NCG (Germany). The pipeline transportation capacities to Wallbach (the point at which gas enters Switzerland from northern Europe) also have to be secured.
Around 40% of the gas volumes purchased in 2016 were acquired by transactions executed on the spot market.
For the end client, the price of gas is made up of the commodity price of the gas, the cost of conveyance (high-pressure transportation followed by distribution), any contribution payable for storage, plus supply costs and taxes.
Natural gas is a network-distributed energy; this means that a large proportion of the cost stems from the means of transportation used between the production sites and the point of consumption (gas pipelines or liquefied natural gas carriers). Since gas is conveyed over long distances, this process needs to be continuous in order to optimise the costs.
Far more natural gas is consumed in winter than in summer, since it is primarily used for heating. Fluctuations in consumption are absorbed by storage installations, which may be in “aquifers”, “depleted reservoirs” or “salt cavities”.
Two complementary systems are used on the European market for setting the commodity price of natural gas:
- The price of gas purchased through long-term contracts is linked to petroleum products. This method dates back to when the first contracts were negotiated, when both the producer and the consumer aimed to achieve a price in line with the main competing energy on the market, i.e. heating oil. Today, an increasing proportion of long-term contracts have been renegotiated and indexed to the market price at the hubs (NCG and TTF).
- The price of gas acquired on the spot market (contract for next-day delivery) or forward market (delivery at a later date, which may be up to three years ahead) depends on supply and demand. Nowadays, this mechanism works well in Europe because markets are sufficiently “liquid”, which means enough gas and enough buyers and sellers are available to establish an equilibrium price. The global benchmark market is still the “Henry Hub”, which is situated in Louisiana. In Europe, the principal markets are located at the virtual National Balancing Point (NBP) in the UK, the Title Transfer Facility (TTF) in the Netherlands, NetConnect Germany (NCG) in Germany, and the Point d’Echange de Gaz (PEG) in France. Prices on the gas market are more volatile than contracts indexed to petroleum products.
Gaznat sales in Switzerland
In 2016, Gaznat sales amounted to 10,859 GWh, up 12.3% on the previous year. This rise was partly owing to slightly colder temperatures, as well as to winning new industrial clients and increased electricity production using natural gas.
SPECIAL EMPHASIS ON CUSTOMER SERVICES
As part of its commercial activities, the Trading division develops added-value services for its business partners and customers.
The portfolio of services on offer now includes the following:
- Management of sales contracts (nomination, line-pack optimisation)
- Information on and monitoring of gas markets
- Purchase of standard gas products on a secure IT platform
- Management of invoices and consumption on a customer extranet platform
- Reporting customer positions and providing portfolio-management support