Demand for gas hit an all-time high yesterday during the UK's longest cold snap for more than 20 years. Demand rose to 453 million cubic metres (mcm), smashing the 449mcm record set in January 2003. And it is forecast to climb to 460mcm today.
The National Grid insisted that the unprecedented consumption levels will not leave Britain short. "We are absolutely not going to run out of gas," said a spokesman. "The UK is well supplied." The shadow Energy Secretary Greg Clark stoked energy security fears on Tuesday by claiming that Britain had only eight days of gas left in storage. But the National Grid dismissed the calculation as a "meaningless number" because it ignored both the amount of gas imported and that nearly half of UK demand is met by North Sea production.
At present, more than 200mcm is being pumped out of the North Sea. A further 186mcm is being imported – 129m through European pipelines, the rest as liquefied natural gas (LNG) brought in on ships. Only a small proportion – 60mcm per day – is coming from storage facilities. The largest is still 70 per cent full and has enough gas for another 65 days, even running at full pelt.
UK wholesale gas prices are a little higher than Europe's, hence the glut of supply, unlike last year, when a spat between Russia and Ukraine restricted gas supplies to Europe, ramping up prices and sucking gas out of Britain despite the cold winter weather. As North Sea supplies dwindle, the UK needs a significant increase in storage capacity to deal with such situations. Only 4.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas can be stored – 5 per cent of annual demand. Germany and France have capacity for more than 20 per cent. Another 4.3bcm of storage is planned, but progress is dogged by financing and licensing difficulties.Reuse content