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Chinese 2018 gas demand growth to be tempered by slower coal-to-gas switching: panel

Beijing — China's natural gas demand growth could be tempered this year as the country pursues coal-to-gas switching objectives in a more measured fashion than in 2017, officials and company executives told an event in Beijing Wednesday.

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Speaking at the 4th CWC China LNG & Gas International Summit, Wu Hongkun, CNOOC vice president of trading and marketing, said China's annual gas consumption growth rate in 2018 could slip below the 15.3% year-on-year growth seen in 2017.

China's gas consumption is expected to grow by 11.8% in the first quarter of 2018, he added.

Government officials at the conference said coal-to-gas switching will continue apace this year, but further calibration will be taken on the steps taken to achieve targets.

China's coal-to-gas initiatives "out-performed expectations" last year, possibly leading to gas shortfalls in certain regions, according to Zhang Yuqing, former Deputy Director of the National Energy Administration.

"We are very optimistic about China's gas demand growth, but there needs to also be effective policies to ensure these targets are reached," Wu said.

The country's LNG demand surged in last winter on greater coal-to-gas switching due to more stringent environmental policies.

This led to gas shortages and a surge in trucked LNG prices in regions like Shandong, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia at the end of 2017.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly stated in 2018 that power and gas companies needed to guarantee security of supply and strengthen their pricing self-discipline to safeguard against extreme price volatility and shortages in the gas markets.

With China's LNG imports having soared nearly 50% year on year in 2017 to 38.14 million mt, and with gas currently accounting for about 7% of China's energy mix, future growth towards achieving a 12% target in the energy mix by 2040 is being watched closely.

By 2040, imported LNG is expected to total 260 Bcm, while domestic gas production is expected to total 340 Bcm, Wu said.

Chinese LNG imports in the first quarter of 2018 rose 60% compared with the same period last year even as the heating season ended in mid-March.

Given the growth expectations, China remains short on gas storage capacity. China's working underground gas storage capacity totals 6.1 Bcm, accounting for 3% of the country's gas consumption, Wu said, adding that other countries that consume substantial amounts of gas typically have significantly higher storage capacity ratios.

However, Wu also stressed the significant challenges of operating in domestic market where competition is intensifying amid ample supply.

Amongst the three big energy industry state-owned enterprises -- CNOOC, CNPC and Sinopec -- the supply surplus in 2018 could range between 10-20 Bcm, 19-29 Bcm in 2019 and 9-49 Bcm in 2020, he said.

In addition, infrastructure, policy and market structure reforms remain a work in progress, while gas-fired power generation continues to lack price competitiveness against competing fuels.

--Edwin Loh,

--Kenneth Foo,

--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh,