Spiraling energy costs and the impact of Russia’s war with Ukraine have had a damaging impact on the global economy, but they may also hasten the changes required to transform the energy mix, according to a new report from Wood Mackenzie. The report (“The Silver Linings Playbook”) outlined five developments that, despite the setbacks of the past year, are laying the foundations for the energy sector over the next year
Policymakers accept that the world needs energy stability
The report noted that policymakers are “acknowledging that a diverse range of low-carbon technologies beyond variable renewables is required to achieve deep decarbonization while maintaining a secure energy supply.” Wood Mac estimates that the low-carbon hydrogen and CCUS project pipeline has grown around 25% over the past year. Approximately 30 projects have taken final investment decisions and another 170 are aiming to by the end of 2023.
On the demand side, 30 hydrogen offtake agreements have been signed this year, as buyers seek first-mover advantage. A market for green commodities, such as low-carbon ammonia, is taking shape.
US LNG will help keep Europe’s lights on
The disruption to Russian pipeline flows has left a massive supply gap in European gas markets. With Russia only exporting 25 billion cu m of gas to the European Union (EU), down from 140 billion cu m last year, Europe has had to look for a new major supplier to fill the shortfall. US LNG looks to be that supplier.
WoodMac expects two-thirds of all US LNG cargoes to land in Europe in 2023. Regasification capacity is currently the major impediment to even more US LNG exports to Europe.
The abundance of low-cost gas reserves, the relatively short time to bring new volume to market and its competitive commercial structure continue to make US LNG attractive.
Refining: New capacity will burst the margin bubble
In 2022, refining has played a central role in the energy crisis. Over the next year or so, the sector should retreat into its usual backstage role. Stress on the refining system is set to ease in 2023 as major new refinery projects in the Middle East, Africa and Asia become fully operational. China’s decision to relax restrictions on the export of refined products will also help, as government policy shifts to support near-term economic activity.
Over the next 12 to 18 months, as the new capacity becomes operational, Wood Mac expects refining margins to return to historical norms.
investors adopt a more realistic attitude to investing in fossil fuels
The current energy crisis has prompted investors to rethink finance for fossil fuels. What has emerged is a more measured approach that reflects the real-world constraints on financial institutions and corporations in making long-term financing and capital allocation decisions.
Wood Mac said the shift in approach reflects both the complexity and the necessity of securing an orderly energy transition. The past year has made abundantly clear that energy supply and demand need to move in sync for economic stability and minimal price volatility.
Crucially, immediate divestment from fossil-fuel positions would serve only to move financial-sector portfolio emissions elsewhere rather than achieve any significant real emission reductions. With this reset the financial sector can drive tangible emissions reductions and set the fossil fuel sector on a pathway that is Paris-aligned.
Rewiring Europe: a power-market reset
Decarbonized electricity is at the heart of Europe’s energy transition. Consequently, when EU energy policy was rewritten in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the sector’s ability to deliver was put firmly in the spotlight.
Wood Mac said that the accelerated deployment of renewables will require substantially higher levels of investment in wind and solar. The scaling up of the hydrogen industry and its need for renewable energy supplies will put even greater pressure on the industry to grow faster.