Power prices soar on French nuclear questions, gas worries

Credit: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

By 1130 GMT, the February contract, called baseload for 24-hour supply in that month TRFRBMG2, hit 375 euros ($422.55) a megawatt hour (MWh) and Germany's January contract was 5.4% higher at 246 euros TRDEBMF2.

Elevated electricity costs caused by a wholesale power crunch this year have forced industries to curtail production and European consumers are paying more for home heating this winter, adding to wider inflationary pressures.

France and Germany account for two thirds of western Europe's power consumption in an increasingly interconnected regional marketplace. This means that French problems could spill over into the entire region and draw on supplies badly needed elsewhere.

Maintenance and inspection schedules for France's 56 reactors that supply 75% of its electricity and make it Europe's top net power exporter were paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a backlog and lower average annual production.

On Monday, French grid operator RTE reported the 1,300 megawatt (MW) Cattenom 2 reactor had the end of its maintenance period extended to March 2022 from Dec. 24, one of several reactors it listed in November as at risk of maintenance delays.

"The scare that the French nuclear maintenance period will be extended after the signal about this one reactor is spreading to the rest of the market," said Fabian Ronningen, analyst at Rystad Energy.

"The market is very nervous, it is not just a short-term thing."

Germany's ongoing nuclear exit programme takes 4.2 gigawatt (GW) of capacity out by Dec. 31.POWER/DE

Traders are also concerned about low gas supplies from Russia this winter.

"There is a big correlation between European power and gas," said James Waddell, Head of European gas analysis at Energy Aspects.

"Gas fundamentals are pointing to a very tight market," Waddell said. "It isn't even deep winter yet and there is a lot of weather risk."

Russian natural gas supplies to Germany through the Yamal-Europe pipeline offer no new top-up supply, and exporter Gazprom GAZP.MM has no plans for electronic spot gas auctions.

German year-ahead power TRDEBYZ2, the European wholesale market's benchmark, on Tuesday traded 7% up at 165 euros, also driven up by higher carbon and oil prices. O/RCFI2Zc1

LOW STORAGE

Energy Aspects calculates that Europe's gas storage caverns, filled to two thirds versus 85% a year ago could be depleted to being just a fifth full by the end of March.

A colder than normal winter could tip the balance.

The main weather risk for gas is over January and February, the coldest time of year, but weather experts cannot reliably predict patterns beyond a fortnight.

"In the next week, we will slowly transition towards a positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)," said Carlo Cafaro, senior analyst and meteorologist at broker Marex.

This bearish scenario is linked with more wind, mild and wet conditions that weigh on power demand but equally drive up output from wind turbines and hydro-power plants.

In spot power, prices are volatile and in their low hundreds of euros per MWh, at levels not seen since 2008, although they have been tempered by forecasts of higher wind supply. TRDEBD1TRFRBD1.

Prices in the power, gas, carbon and coal complex interact with each other, although each market can also respond differently to local capacity availabilities, macroeconomic and geopolitics factors.

December 2021 expiry CFI2Zc1 European CO2 permits are trading at record highs around 83 euros tonne, as strong gas prices drive up coal power output which needs twice as many permits to cover emissions as gas-fired plants.

Coal hit 13-year highs near $200 a tonne in Europe in October because expensive gas and subnormal wind forced generators to use it, even if that meant they needed to buy more carbon permits.TRAPI2Yc1

A bear factor for power prices could be a slowdown of economic activity in December, ahead of holidays, that could be even more enhanced if developments around the COVID-19 pandemic were to trigger lockdowns or restrictions for plants, shops and offices.

Marex said an economic rebound over last year's base was still intact but this would be of lesser magnitude now, after a weak start to December.

($1 = 0.8875 euros)

French forward prices rise with uncertainty surrounding nuclear availabilityhttps://tmsnrt.rs/3pzRw4v

German forward curve prices set contract highshttps://tmsnrt.rs/3EBSDH9

(Reporting by Vera Eckert and Forrest Crellin, editing by Veronica Brown and Ed Osmond)

((vera.eckert@thomsonreuters.com; +49 30 2201 33654; @EckertVera;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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