The ongoing global energy crisis has left countries scrambling for fuel. As wealthy buyers of liquefied natural gas (LNG) offer top dollar for every available cargo, Pakistan faces dire fuel and power shortages with little end in sight.
There will be no easy way forward. Reversing Pakistan’s dependence on imported fossil fuels by accelerating the shift to low-cost domestic renewable energy sources will be crucial for energy security and economic growth. In the meantime, Pakistan needs a coherent LNG procurement strategy that avoids locking in high prices for upcoming decades.
In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is buying significantly more volumes of LNG to cut its dependence on Russian gas. But with almost no spare global LNG supply capacity, European buyers have pulled existing cargoes away from developing nations by offering higher prices.
Pakistan is suffering the consequences. In July, state-owned Pakistan LNG Limited (PLL) issued a tender to buy 10 cargoes of LNG through September but did not receive a single bid.
This is the fourth straight tender that went unawarded. In a previous tender, PLL received only one bid from Qatar Energy at a price of $39.80 per million British thermal unit (MMBtu). At this price, a single cargo would cost over $131 million. Pakistan’s government rejected the offer to conserve its dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
The effects have been disastrous. Power cuts are crippling household and commercial activities, while gas rationing to the textile sector has resulted in a loss of $1 billion in export orders. Despite energy conservation efforts, many areas continue to experience load shedding of up to 14 hours, as the generation shortfall reached 8 gigawatts (GW).
Some countries are shielded from extreme LNG price spikes by long-term purchase contracts. But Pakistan sources roughly half of its LNG from spot markets, increasing the country’s exposure to global price volatility.
To mitigate the situation, Pakistan has expressed openness to signing new long-term contracts, with one official claiming the country would go for an unusually long 30-year contract. The contracts will most likely be signed with Qatar and United Arab Emirates.
However, Pakistan’s experience with long-term contracts has been problematic. Term suppliers had defaulted at least 12 times over the past 11 months, most recently in July when Pakistan desperately needed fuel.
Long-term contracts – which are typically tied to a “slope” or a percentage of the Brent crude oil price – are reportedly 75 percent more expensive than a year ago. If Pakistan signed a deal now with a 16-18 percent slope, and assuming current Brent crude prices of $100, a single cargo would cost roughly $55-61 million. At the 11-13 percent slope of Pakistan’s current contracts, meanwhile, a cargo would cost $37.5-44.3 million. Although Brent crude prices will vary, it is clear that Pakistan would risk locking in higher prices by signing new long-term contracts in the current LNG environment.
Moreover, with limited global LNG supply, long-term contracts would likely not start until 2026, when significant new global supply capacity is expected online. Pakistan’s LNG needs are more immediate.
Rather than lock in high prices for the long term, buyers in Pakistan can consider signing shorter five-year contracts with portfolio players. Industry representatives have suggested there is space in the market for shorter contracts. Although shorter terms typically come at a price premium, they may temporarily help alleviate Pakistan’s exposure to extreme spot market volatility.
Short-term contracts have to carry higher penalties in instances of non-delivery to avoid repeated supplier defaults. Coupled with the existing long-term contracts and spot purchases, short-term contracts would diversify the country’s supply portfolio, potentially allowing better price management, supply security, and flexibility.
In the longer term, cutting Pakistan’s dependence on imported fossil fuels altogether is the most affordable solution. Low-cost, domestic renewables like wind and solar can prove to be a crucial hedging mechanism against high, U.S. dollar-denominated fossil fuel prices.
The government is beginning to recognize the unreliability and unaffordability of LNG compared to domestic renewables. Policymakers recently indicated that they would announce a new solar policy geared toward reducing LNG dependence, reducing high energy costs, and improving energy security.
Under the policy, due out August 1, 7-10 GW of residential solar systems would be deployed by the summer of 2023. In addition, the policy would allow the installation of seven utility-scale solar plants at the sites of existing thermal power plants.
This is a major step in the right direction, one that will help reduce gas and LNG demand in the power sector. We also identified other measures in a recent IEEFA report to limit LNG demand, such as reforming gas distribution company revenue regulations to reduce gas leakage, along with energy efficiency incentives.
Ultimately, there will be no one-size-fits-all solution to the current energy crisis, but a portfolio of short to long-term plans is necessary to mitigate Pakistan’s unsustainable reliance on LNG imports.