June 28, 2018 / 8:06 AM / in 4 months

China splurges on gas as prolonged heat wave boosts clean power demand

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has ramped up purchases of liquefied natural gas (LNG), pulling in rare cargoes from Cameroon, Egypt and Europe, trade data shows, as the world’s most populous nation shores up supplies to avoid power shortages during a prolonged heat wave.

Buying has picked up more than it usually would in the warmer summer months, with households cranking up their air conditioners in the face of scorching temperatures since early spring in many areas. Some cities have rationed electricity.

Beijing’s push to switch households and factories to cleaner fuel as part of a drive to clear the country’s toxic air and curb coal use has also stoked demand.

And some buyers are already in the market for winter supplies, replenishing inventories earlier than usual, traders said.

“Summer gas demand has picked up due to more consumption from gas-fired power plants as temperatures rise,” said Diao Zhouwei, gas analyst with consultancy IHS Markit.

“High prices have prompted China to buy spot LNG cargoes from unusual places. The arbitrage window is open between spot prices in Europe and Asia.”

Arrivals so far this month have been 3.9 million tonnes, according to trade flow data from Thomson Reuters Eikon. That would be up 3.6 percent from last year’s official customs data for the month.

Imports of coal, which accounts for the majority of power generation, have also bounced due to decent energy demand.

Arrivals in June have been 26.4 million tonnes, trade flow data shows. That would represent a 22-percent increase from the previous year. Official June data will be released on July 13.

Coal supplies from Australia have picked up as key ports in that country recovered from the temporary closure of some berths due to maintenance, which hampered exports for three months. A flurry of vessels due to land in July could create logjams at northern Chinese ports, two coal traders said.

RARE ORIGINS

China’s push on gas has pulled in cargoes from suppliers as diverse as Norway and Belgium this month, pushing shipments from northwestern Europe to one of their highest levels on records that go back to January 2013, according to the trade flow data.

Cameroon’s first export to China - a 58,000-tonne cargo - landed in Jiangsu this month. That follows the commercial launch of Golar LNG’s (GLNG.O) pioneering floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) platform.

A 65,000-tonne shipment from Egypt is scheduled to arrive on July 5, one of only a few from the African nation in recent years.

However, it is unclear whether the buying will continue. The opening up of the Northern Sea Route, with a landmark Russian Arctic LNG shipment heading for Asia, may make Russian cargoes more attractive for Chinese buyers, traders said.

Some in the industry said buying had already ebbed lightly.

“China is still buying, but not aggressively. People are in a ‘wait-and-see’ mode,” an LNG industry source said.

Reporting by Josephine Mason and Meng Meng; Additional reporting by Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore; Editing by Joseph Radford

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