The risk of defaults in the UK energy retail market have soared on the back of rising wholesale gas and power prices. The following is a breakdown of the major issues being tracked by S&P Global Platts.
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Gas and power wholesale prices have risen strongly across Europe this summer but the UK has come under particular pressure due to its high dependence on gas for power generation as well as for domestic heat and cooking.
- The UK's day-ahead gas price was assessed by Platts Sept. 17 at GBP66.00/MWh ($90.23/MWh), up 83% since Aug. 1. The UK day-ahead baseload power was averaging GBP266.00/MWh September to date, compared with GBP80.91/MWh over a 12-month view.
- Platts Analytics forecast October baseload power prices to average around GBP122/MWh, with market tightness stretching into Q1 2022.
- The increase in gas price was seen across Europe due to low storage stocks, competition with Asia for LNG cargoes, and Russian supply concerns.
The UK had 49 active domestic suppliers of gas and electricity as of July, 2021, down from 70 in 2018. Large legacy suppliers, however, retain a 70% market share in both power and gas segments.
- British Gas is the UK's largest supplier of gas (26.6% market share, over five million customers), followed by E.ON (14.3%, three million) and OVO (11.8%, two million).
- Bulb Energy, in talks to bolster its finances, has a 5.7% share of power and a 5.1% share of the gas supply markets. All its customers are on default tariffs.
- Pipeline imports of gas from Norway account for a third of the total UK gas supply and over half of total imports. Qatar is the UK's largest supplier of LNG, representing 48% of LNG deliveries, followed by the US (27%) and Russia (12%).
- LNG regas volumes injected into European gas grids are down 13.70 Bcm year on year. China, Japan and South Korean LNG imports of 138 million mt in 2021 are up from 120 million mt for the same period in 2020, according to Platts Analytics.
The UK government regulated tariffs via a price cap mechanism, which is set every six months. It applies to around 15 million households on standard variable tariffs.
For Winter 2020/21, a 12% hike in the tariff was based on a gas wholesale price of GBP21.39/MWh. Since Aug. 1, UK spot gas has averaged GBP49.00/MWh.
- UK energy suppliers buy forward in the gas and power markets to hedge against rising prices, but smaller suppliers have less working capital with which to do this outside of fixed tariff business. Suppliers are also constrained from hiking the price of variable tariff products by the government price cap.
- The UK's retail energy market is highly competitive, with only Centrica (British Gas) making a positive margin in 2020, according to regulator Ofgem.
The UK has very few coal plants left with which to displace expensive gas plants when wind generation is low, as at present.
- CIF ARA spot coal prices into Europe rose above $170/mt in September from just under $140/mt in late July as volatility and illiquid trade continued.
- Despite higher price levels, Platts Analytics expects continued gas-to-coal switching into Q4 2021 to the limited extent this is possible, both in the UK and northwest Europe.
- In the UK Emissions Trading System, UK carbon allowance (UKA) futures contracts on the ICE Futures Europe exchange rallied to an all-time high of GBP55.16/mt Sept. 17 -- the highest price since futures trading began under the UK ETS on May 19, 2021.