Europe’s gas demand is falling. Doesn’t anybody notice?

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Sabine Pass LNG terminal: US gas for Europe (photo Think Defence)

Sabine Pass LNG terminal: US gas for Europe (photo Think Defence)

Gas demand has consistently been overestimated by EU bodies in recent years, write Dave Jones of Sandbag and Jonathan Gaventa and Manon Dufour of E3G. Even today, with gas demand at its lowest since 1995, the possibility of lower future demand is hardly taken into account. As a result, the EU‘s energy security strategy, focused on sourcing more gas, may be misguided. In addition, infrastructure investment may be wasted. Time for a reality check.

Gas infrastructure has become a major focus for the EU. In response to energy security concerns, the European Commission is promoting new gas pipelines and LNG terminals, including through EU funds such as the Connecting Europe Facility and the European Fund for Strategic Investment. Behind these supply-side efforts, however, the realities of EU gas consumption are changing.

In contrast to official projections, EU gas demand is falling and is now 23% below its peak. This raises important questions about the economic viability of new gas import infrastructure and the risk of stranded assets.

E3G gas - chart 1

European demand for gas is falling. In fact, it peaked in 2010 and in 2014 EU gas demand was the lowest it had been since 1995. This is due to structural shifts to the European economy, changing consumption patterns and significant progress on energy efficiency. (Data on European gas consumption to 2013 comes from Eurostat (table available here). 2014 gas consumption was estimated on the basis of Eurogas’ analysis.)

80% of gas demand comes from just seven European countries

Gas demand is not evenly spread across the EU. 80% comes from seven western European countries: Germany, UK, Italy, France, Netherlands, Spain and Belgium. Just 12% of gas demand comes from seven Central and Eastern European countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia). This means that the majority of Europe’s gas demand occurs in countries with strong energy efficiency and renewables deployment programmes in place, which are likely to further decrease demand in future.

Gas demand is falling across all sectors

Gas demand is falling in all three major sectors: power, industry and residential. In the power sector, EU gas demand has fallen by roughly a third since 2010. This is in the context of a reduction of total fossil generation (i.e. both coal and gas) of 20% since 2010. The main drivers have included falling electricity consumption due to increased energy efficiency and changing consumption patterns, in addition to a significant increase in renewable generation.

 

In the industrial sector, industrial energy efficiency and structural changes to Europe’s economy have lowered industrial gas demand in Europe by an average of 1.2% per year since 2000. In the residential sector, energy efficiency programmes are leading to a fall in gas demand, particularly in Germany and the UK, which account for 45% of Europe’s residential gas demand between them. UK residential gas demand fell by 27% from 2005 to 2012 (on a weather-corrected basis).

E3G gas chart 3

The European Commission has had to lower its gas demand projections every single time it produced a new reference scenario since 2003. Projections of what gas demand will be in 2015 have decreased by 23% over the past 10 years – and the Commission is still forecasting 2015 gas demand to be more than 20% higher than the actual 2014 levels. Similarly, the upper end of the projected range produced by industry body Eurogas in 2013 is actually significantly lower than the lower end of their projections from 2010 – and their lowest projection from 2013 is still above current actual demand levels.

ENTSO-G, the body tasked with planning the EU gas pipeline network, has also overestimated gas demand. In its 2009 ‘Ten Year Network Development Plan’, it foresaw an 8% increase in gas demand from 2010 to 2013. In reality, demand fell by 14% – a difference of 22%. (The European Commission’s reference scenario is available here; Eurogas’ forecast here; ENTSO-G 2009 TYNDP here.)

Most current projections still show an increase of gas demand

Despite these recent trends, most current projections still show an expectation of increasing gas demand. The upper-bound projection from Eurogas is for an increase in consumption of over 50% by 2035 compared to current levels, and even their lowest estimate represents a 15% increase on 2014. ENTSO-G’s latest projections, used to plan gas pipeline investment, range from a 13% increase in EU gas demand to 2030 in its lowest scenario, to a 35% increase by 2030 in its high scenario.

The potential for EU gas demand to continue to fall is not assessed. The European Commission’s PRIMES reference scenario does show a slight decrease in gas demand to 2030, but still shows 2015 demand to be 22% higher than demand levels in 2014. By contrast, assessments for the European Commission show that if the 2030 energy efficiency target of 27% is met, gas consumption will fall by 16% compared to the reference.

Conclusion: the risk of misevaluating future gas demand

The risk of misevaluating future gas demand in the EU has significant implications. The wrong diagnosis on EU energy security will lead to the wrong cure. An expectation of rising demand has led the EU’s energy security strategy to focus on accessing new sources of gas, rather than on alternative approaches such as demand reduction or strengthening internal connections.

Inflated gas consumption projections can skew the economic evaluation of new projects. Gas infrastructure investments made in expectation of rising demand are at risk of becoming stranded assets if the increase in gas demand does not materialise. Public money (including the Connecting Europe Facility and European Fund for Strategic Investment) is at risk of being diverted to uneconomic projects as a result of unrealistic demand projections, leading to higher value projects in other sectors losing out. Overinvestment in gas infrastructure can also create ‘lock in’ to levels of gas consumption that are in conflict with EU decarbonisation goals.

A reality check is needed on EU gas demand and gas infrastructure investment plans. This briefing highlights the fact that energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment, changes in industrial demand and reduced electricity consumption have led to structural changes in Europe’s gas demand. These changes now need to be fully incorporated into the EU’s approach to energy security and to infrastructure investment.

Comments

  1. says

    In the residentail sector there is a tech (no not heat pumps) which could reduce demand by around 85%. Could also apply to the commercial sector. Retro fit to any existing heating system. Problem for ENTSO-G and the EC is that there would be little point in new gas terminals.

    There is the related issue of power 2 gas. PWR has identified growing interest in this & not just from the well known companies. Some mega-corps are taking a serious look. All this suggests that like the existing elec network is moving towards something that holds embedded RES together, the gas network could turn into something that holds embedded P2G together. Just a thought.

    • Serg Popov says

      Dear Mike,
      Please make a reference to the tech you mention.
      As I’m currently concerned on long-term (35 years and beyond) ResCom energy demand, it would be very useful.

      Please note that heating and cooling accounts some 40-60% of the total energy service in ResCom, and lightning – less then 5%.

        • Serg Popov says

          Thanks, Mike.

          I reckon there was misunderstanding about DEMAND.
          I mean, demand for ENERGY SERVICE, while your meaning is demand for FINAL ENERGY.
          Sure, NRE is The Future.
          The distant one on a mass scale.
          (notification lettrs just reached me some minutes ago)

  2. Patrick Heren says

    I agree that the planners and forecasters live in a parallel universe. Like generals, they are always fighting the last war. Europe has plenty of gas infrastructure although some of it needs debottlenecking. it is also well supplied and is about to become even more so with the arrival of US LNG and the fall in Asian LNG demand. If the Brits ever get fracking, there should be another huge onshore resource.
    However markets have a habit of swinging around, and we should not ignore the possibility that gas demand – especially in power – will rebound in the next few years.

  3. jeremy bowden says

    This article fails to mention gas prices at all, as well as relative prices of competing fuels. A key reason that gas has not been growing is that it is very expensive in Europe compared to other countries – notably N America – which has led to cuts in its use in industry and petchems. It is also expensive compared to coal, which has hit use for power gen. If supply goes up and demand goes down then prices will fall and demand will rise again, especially if the ETS attaches a penalty to more polluting fossil fuels. We need gas, as it is the most flexible and lowest carbon way of filing in the gaps in intermittent renewable generation.

  4. Pat says

    The introduction of a functioning ETS will I think have an significant impact on brown coal electricity generation. This will eventually lead to an increase in gas consumption for electricity generation.

  5. Gas Guy says

    Please note that the gas infrastructure is not planned on “annual gas demand” but on peak conditions, taking of course into consideration the usage of seasonal storages.
    Also please note the political aim of Security of Supply (SoS). Politicians tend to allocate financing to SoS projects which are ensuring security in case of certain “politically motivated” disruption scenarios. Especially from the East.
    An analysis from the authors about the change (and forecast) of peak consumption would modulation the implications.
    Also please see the difference between source dependence in Western and CEE Europe. Most of the infra development need is in CEE Region to ensure the level of market integration and access to a number of sources (competition with Russian gas) to enable functioning, liquid (in some countries practically non existent) gas markets.

  6. charles says

    Germany now has only a small gas component in its electricity generation, yet it remains a large – Europe’s largest, I think – importer of Russian gas. It also has to deal with periodic grumbling from electricity network neighbours, such as Austria and Poland, over its sometimes difficult to handle exports of excess power due to renewables’ surges at times of low demand. The classic place and time for its excess wind generation is in the north, at night in winter. But isn’t that the exact description of where and when demand for area heating is highest? Why can that capacity not be fed or redirected into supplanting some of the gas used to fire up those boilers (I suppose it’s boilers they use). I would have thought, too, that, unlike electricity consumption, area heating would not be quite as vulnerable to fluctuations in supply; a boilier, I would think, is somewhat analogous to a flywheel – give it a whack whenever you’ve got a few GWhs to spare, and it should keep spinning.

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