The market for natural gas could be in a bubble for a while.
While demand is expected to continue growing, a glut of supply in China has pushed up prices, leaving producers struggling to recoup the cost of their investments.
In fact, the global natural gas market is in a crisis.
The demand for natural and alternative energy, particularly coal, is at its highest level in decades.
In China, the coal-fired power plants are being closed, and the world’s second-largest economy is struggling to contain the greenhouse gas emissions that have fueled the rise in the price of natural gas.
As a result, the price for natural energy is expected, in part, to rebound to where it was at the end of the global financial crisis, about $US7 per million British thermal units, about two to three times its peak price in 2008.
“That’s why I’m seeing a lot of demand growth for natural,” said Andrew McBride, senior energy analyst at energy research firm EY.
“It’s just not being met.”
In Australia, the glut of natural is due to the closure of two coal-dependent power stations, and a glut in other energy sources, including natural gas, which has fallen to its lowest price in more than 10 years.
This year, prices have been rising at a rate of about 20 to 30 per cent a year, which is about a third of what they were in 2008, said Dr Matthew MacKenzie, director of the Australian Energy Market Analysis Centre at ANU.
“There’s not enough gas available,” he said.
“There’s still a big amount of natural [gas] left in the ground.
We don’t see much of that coming off.”
A natural gas boom in ChinaThe peak in coal prices in China is due largely to the decline in domestic production, and increased use of the country’s coal industry to produce electricity.
But the boom in the Chinese economy has helped lift prices in other sectors.
The rise in coal use in China means that demand for energy is growing in countries like Australia, which are also relying on natural gas as a source of electricity.
While coal has long been a mainstay of the Chinese electricity sector, the boom has also seen a surge in the use of natural fuel.
The coal industry in China had been growing steadily, but in the early 2000s it collapsed, with its share falling from more than 80 per cent in 1997 to less than 35 per cent now.
“China is going to become an energy superpower,” said McBride.
“That will create a huge opportunity for Australia to compete in that market.”
Natural gas also has potential as a new source of power generation.
The boom in natural gas has pushed prices down, as have the prices of renewables like wind and solar.
“If there’s a price drop in natural, that will create more money for utilities, which will create demand for new generation,” said MacKenna.
“If natural gas prices fall, that could also have a knock-on effect on the electricity market.”
However, the new market is a risky one.
China is already struggling with a coal-based economy, and that could have a significant impact on the energy sector in Australia.
While the growth in coal has helped fuel demand for renewable energy, the country is also grappling with the impact of a slowing economy.
“In the last three years, coal use has been falling rapidly,” McBride said.
“This has had a negative effect on China’s economy.
That’s really hurting its competitiveness in the global energy market.”
While Australia’s new market may be a good opportunity for the country to become a new power powerhouse, it could also be an opportunity for China to become one of the world the world markets in natural resources.