Demand from increasingly thirsty energy markets is stoking near-term optimism for natural gas investment, as plentiful supply and innovative liquified natural gas (LNG) solutions help governments elevate the energy source to the center of their clean power goals.
But as renewables gain increasing shares of today’s power portfolios and the U.S.-China trade dispute persists, questions linger about the long term, according to Black & Veatch’s just-released 2019 Strategic Directions: Natural Gas Report.
The analysis, available as a free download, finds a market in conflict: Clean energy goals are driving nations toward wider adoption of natural gas as a lower emission fuel source while technology and political factors create market uncertainty. Surging global interest in gas-to-power projects is matched with further cost declines in renewable technology and increasing deployments of utility-scale battery storage to smooth intermittency issues. The U.S.-China trade conflict, which recently included a steep tariff on U.S.-produced LNG, clouds demand projections of the world’s largest energy consumer.
With reliability and responsiveness driving investment, cost-effective natural gas assets will be critical to meeting global energy needs — especially in emerging markets where demand is immense and all generation technology options are on the table. Although much of the current discussion centers on natural gas for power generation and its interplay with the upswing in renewables, natural gas demand for industrial uses and transportation is pointed up.
“The moves by nations to establish clear and aggressive clean energy goals is important, with many pursuing an ‘all of the above’ strategy that will maintain natural gas’ prominence for the foreseeable future,” said Hoe Wai Cheong, president of Black & Veatch’s oil and gas business. “Where renewables are in play, natural gas is necessary to accommodate fast and reliable ramping.”
“Smart investors understand that while trade disputes and geopolitical developments may change the playbook in the near term, natural gas is a highly viable play over the long term, and an important part of a balanced energy portfolio,” Cheong added.
Among key issues explored in the Black & Veatch report:
Opportunities in LNG: LNG production is rising as countries, eager for alternatives to coal-fired power, set ambitious clean energy targets. With heavy investments in planned LNG export facilities in the U.S., more than 80 percent of respondents to Black & Veatch’s survey said U.S. emergence as a major LNG supplier will reshape the global market over the next half decade.
Capitalizing on FLNG: Early adopters of floating LNG sought to move supply to end users quickly, efficiently and economically; the 2018 successes of Golar LNG’s Hilli Episeyo and Shell’s Prelude FLNG vessels mark major milestones. FLNG sites offer an attractive, lower-risk opportunity for investors because they offer quicker speed to market, aren’t fixed to one location and have greater operational flexibility.
Renewables and Natural Gas: As renewable technology prices drop and capabilities expand, power from solar, wind and other distributed energy technologies challenge natural gas in evolving power portfolios. The report explores the scenario in California, which recently passed policies requiring renewables to account for 60 percent of power generation by 2026, and 100 percent by 2045. Although the future looks promising, the scalability and financial investments required for large-scale deployments aren’t trivial.
Trade Dispute: The U.S.-China trade discord is altering the conversation around LNG shipping. The tariff on U.S.-produced LNG will negatively impact the cost of transporting natural gas to Chinese customers, potentially changing the fortunes of U.S. producers counting on rising Asian demand.
Pipeline Capacity: Rampant natural gas production in the hotbed Appalachian and Permian basins is raising concern that pipeline capacity can’t keep up, even as the U.S. natural gas industry prepares to enter one of its strongest growth periods.
Other key findings from the report:
- Survey respondents are more bullish on the near-term growth potential than the long term. While optimism is dominant in both windows, pessimism increases the further respondents look into the horizon – a nod to the belief that renewables will increase as prices fall and battery storage matures.
- Nearly two-thirds of respondents said return on investment is a major driver for making FLNG investment decisions, reflecting FLNG’s advantages over land-based rivals as it results in a shorter period from final investment decision (FID) to commercial operation.
- The New England market, where gas supply remains heavily constrained on peak winter days, is most in need of incremental pipeline capacity over the next five years, respondents said. The Mid-Atlantic region ranked second, with the Southeast region coming in third, marking a strong need to build additional infrastructure.
About Black & Veatch
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