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German Power Prices Smash Record as Energy Panic Engulfs Europe

German Power Prices Smash Record as Energy Panic Engulfs Europe
A windsock indicates wind direction above a storage tank at the gas receiving compressor station of the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline in Lubmin, Germany, on Monday, July 11, 2022. Russian natural gas shipments to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany are due to stop on Monday because of planned annual maintenance. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

European gas and power prices surged as panic over Russian supplies gripped markets and politicians warned citizens to brace for a tough winter ahead.

Benchmark gas rose as much as 21%, while German power surged to above 700 euros a megawatt-hour for the first time. Russia said it will stop its key Nord Stream gas pipeline for three days of repairs on Aug. 31, again raising concerns it won’t return after the work. Europe has been on tenterhooks about shipments through the link for weeks, with flows resuming only at very low levels after it was shut for works last month.

“The catastrophe is already there,” Thierry Bros, a professor in international energy at Sciences Po in Paris, said. “I think the major question is when EU leaders are going to wake up.”

In one of the most dire warnings yet, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Europe could face up to 10 difficult winters. It would put sustained stress on major economies and the impact could spread across the world, while pushing millions of households into energy poverty. Governments have already been forced into policy u-turns by bringing back power generated by nuclear and coal — a fuel that until recently was relegated to the fringes because of it’s high carbon emissions.

Europe finds itself in a precarious situation with the official start of the winter heating season just over a month away. Nations are rushing to fill storage sites, but they are still heavily dependent on Russian gas and any further cutbacks could mean rationing becomes a reality.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned people of the potential hardships in the coming months, and asked them to “accept paying the price for our freedom and our values,” he said in a speech Friday commemorating the liberation of a town in southern France in World War II.

Germany’s outlook is particularly urgent: the country’s dependence on Russian gas leaves it vulnerable as it desperately searches to find alternative supplies. The nation is considering restarting its coal-fired power plants and may extend the life of remaining nuclear power plants, while urging gas consumption be curbed at a time. Industries in Europe’s biggest economy are already take a major hit.

Read: Germany May Resort to Nuclear Plants to Plug Russian Gas Gap

“Being the powerhouse of Europe, the combination of industrial exposure, married with energy intensive industries, means that there could be a significant hit to Germany as the crisis continues,” said Martin Devenish, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. managing director who now works for S-RM Intelligence & Risk Consulting Ltd. “The currency markets are already pricing in a fair amount of risk in Europe, and that’s partly energy related”.

European energy prices have surged multifold this year

If the energy crisis worsens, a recession is likely next winter, Bundesbank Chief Joachim Nagel said over the weekend. Further gas supply cuts could be coming, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said, reiterated a call to conserve energy. “We have a very critical winter right in front of us,” he told public broadcaster ZDF in Montreal, during a visit to Canada with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “We must expect Putin to further reduce gas.”

Also see: How Europe Became So Dependent on Putin for Its Gas: QuickTake

On Friday, Gazprom said works are needed in the only functioning turbine that can pump gas into Nord Stream. The pipeline has been operating at only 20% capacity for weeks and European politicians insist the curbs are politically motivated. Russia’s Gazprom PJSC said volumes would return to that level following the latest shutdown.

“The market may disregard Gazprom’s comments and start to consider whether the pipeline may not return to service, or at the very least may be delayed for any given reason,” said Biraj Borkhataria, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

Prices Surge

The Dutch front-month contract, the European benchmark, was 11% higher at 272 euros a megawatt-hour at 5:01 p.m. in Amsterdam. Prices are about 15 times the average for this time time of the year. The UK equivalent surged as much as 23%.

Benchmark German year-ahead power rose 27% to a record 710 euros per megawatt-hour, while the French contract jumped 16% to 840 euros. Coal futures also hit unprecedented levels. The near-term electricity market’s tightness is being compounded by nuclear reactor availability in France at near the lowest in years.

Over the weekend, German leaders said the country may struggle to replace dwindling gas supplies from Russia. The government is targeting a 20% reduction in consumption. While the country is one of the worst hit by Moscow’s cuts with the economy on the bring of a recession, the energy crisis has reverberated through Europe.

“Europe is now facing a parallel gas and power crisis,” Timera Energy said in a report. “We’ve run out of adjectives to describe the pace of this price surge.”

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