Asia Prioritizes Energy Security Over Energy Transition

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The Ukraine war has led to a refocus on energy security over the energy transition in Asia, driven by higher energy prices and heightened competition for volumes, delegates heard at a major gas industry conference this week.

Panel discussions and chatter at the World Gas Conference (WGC) held at Daegu, South Korea underlined expectations for more dealmaking by Asian buyers for long-term LNG volumes, despite having signed a slew of supply deals since 2021. Asian buyers remain committed to the energy transition, delegates noted, but they recognize it is a long-term transition that can be achieved even if they embark on it later.

Many Asian governments and energy companies announced their 2050 and 2060 net-zero pledges and 2030 nationally determined contribution targets before COP26 in Glasgow last October. But the aftermath of the Ukraine war that began in February has Asian buyers leading the charge for new long-term LNG volumes to avoid paying high spot LNG prices and to support new LNG schemes.

Trade in carbon-neutral, or carbon-offset LNG, which used to be dominated by Asian buyers, has also evaporated in recent months. High LNG prices above $20 per million Btu and power shortages have prompted China and India to burn more coal.

Shift in Narrative

Australian independent Santos’ CEO Kevin Gallagher, who attended both the COP26 meeting last October and the International Energy Agency's (IEA) ministerial meeting in March, noted a significant change in narrative following the Ukraine war and the rise in energy prices.

“Energy security was at the top of the agenda at the IEA meeting, not at COP26,” he told a panel discussion, adding that governments are grappling with the complexity of achieving energy transition while providing affordable and reliable energy supplies. “For Asian buyers, their top priority is energy security now, although they remain committed to the energy transition,” he told Energy Intelligence on the sidelines. “I’m seeing a lot of LNG demand.”

Stressing the need for pragmatism, LNG sellers laud the benefits of natural gas, which is flexible, clean and accessible and overcomes the intermittency issues faced by renewables until energy storage solutions are proven.

Sarah Bairstow, commercial chief officer with aspiring LNG exporter Mexico Pacific Ltd. (MPL), said there has been a significant acceleration in momentum by buyers to close deals.

“But they are not asking for cleaner LNG,” she told Energy Intelligence on the sidelines. MPL, which is developing a three-train project on the western coast of Mexico, recently signed a 2 million ton per year deal with Chinese second-tier buyer Guangzhou Development Group and is understood to have signed other deals, which have not been announced.

Bairstow said MPL is nonetheless planning to incorporate renewables to produce cleaner LNG for subsequent trains after it has sanctioned the first two trains in the second half of this year. The project developer is working with ConocoPhillips on developing carbon-neutral LNG for the subsequent trains.

Amplified Role of Gas

Speakers noted how recent events have highlighted the importance of gas in the energy transition. With higher emissions from coal power generation in China, Exxon Mobil’s head of global LNG Peter Clarke said the need to switch from coal to gas cannot be stronger.

“The core driver is the need to substitute coal and to do it quickly,” he said. “Gas’ role in the energy transition has been amplified by recent events because of a renewed focus on supplies.”

Kogas Presses On

Major LNG buyer Korea Gas' (Kogas) CEO Hee-Bong Chae warned of the danger of demand destruction if current high prices and volatility are prolonged. He added Kogas has coped with the high-priced environment by focusing on long-term contracts, increasing volumes from existing contracts and signing new short-term contracts.

The Kogas boss admits energy transition efforts may slow in some markets due to high LNG prices, but he said Kogas remains committed to the long-term goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

“Kogas’ strategy is to focus on liquefied hydrogen,” he told the conference. Kogas is looking to blend up to 20% hydrogen in its existing gas pipelines, with the goal of importing 28 million tons of hydrogen by 2050.

In a message urging the industry not to slow down the energy transition, Chae rephrased a famous quote by Winston Churchill saying, "don’t let high prices go to waste."

LNG Contracts, LNG Prices, LNG Trade, LNG Demand, Low-Carbon Policy
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