March 23, 2023

Netherlands' plans to boost LNG import capacity could allow it to fully replace Russian gas

The Netherlands’ plans to boost its LNG import capacity by a quarter to 30 bn m3 a year by 2026 could allow the country to fully replace the 9 bn m3 of Russian gas it imported prior to Russia’s export cuts to the EU. Like several other EU countries, the Netherlands is turning to LNG to help ensure its security of gas supply while also implementing measures to cut gas demand in the short and long term.

Dutch imports of Russian pipeline gas stood at 6 bn m3 a year in 2021, according to the Dutch Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). That 6 bn m3 represented roughly 13% of the Netherlands’ gas supplies and approximately 5.6% of the Dutch energy mix in 2021, data from the TNO also show, indicating the importance of Russian pipeline gas in the Netherlands prior to the energy crisis.

As for Dutch imports of Russian LNG, they dropped from almost 3 bn m3 in 2021, or a monthly average of 235 m m3, to 2.4 bn m3, or a monthly 200 m m3 in 2022, Kpler data show. And since April 2022, only TotalEnergies' cargos from the Yamal plant, where the firm has a long-term offtake agreement, have reached the Netherlands.

Like several other EU member states, the Netherlands stopped receiving Russian pipeline gas last year and has since turned to LNG to help replace the lost supplies. As part of this switch to LNG, the country increased the import capacity of its 10 bn m3 Gate LNG regasification terminal by adding 4 bn m3 per year of interruptible capacity, and by commissioning a second terminal in September in Eemshaven with a capacity of 8 bn m3 per year. This helped the Netherlands to almost double its LNG imports year on year to 16.6 bn m3 in 2022, thus becoming the third-largest LNG importer in the European Union behind Spain and France, Kpler data show.

However, the 8 bn m3 year-on-year increase does not however necessarily mean that the Netherlands has already fully replaced the lost Russian pipeline supplies. The higher LNG imports also had to help make up for an 8 bn m3 year-on-year drop in Norwegian pipeline supplies to the Netherlands. It is also worth noting that not all the LNG arriving at Dutch terminals stays in the country for domestic consumption, some of it is regasified and exported to Germany and Belgium. As an indication, Dutch pipeline exports to Germany increased by 9 % to over 15 bn m3 in 2022 from 2021, considering flows at the Bocholtz, Bocholtz-Vetschau, Haanrade, Tegelen, Zevenaar, Dinxperlo, and Winterswijk points, data from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSOG) show.

The TNO showed in a June 2022 white paper that in order to replace the annual 6 bn m3 of Russian pipeline gas imports and 3 bn m3 of Russian LNG imports with non-Russian LNG, the Netherlands would need to increase its LNG imports by 8 bn m3 a year in the short term, i.e. during the winter of 2022-2023, compared to 2021 when it imported 8.5 bn m3 of LNG. And in the medium term, i.e. the next three years or so, it would need to increase its LNG imports by 12 bn m3 a year; and by 16 bn m3 a year in the long term, i.e. in five years' time. This means that from Apr. 1, 2023, Dutch LNG imports would need to increase to around 20.5 bn m3 per year for the next couple of years, and to 24.5 bn m3 per year in the longer term.

Gasunie, which operates the Dutch gas transmission system and the country’s two LNG import terminals, aims to boost its LNG import capacity by up to a quarter to 30 bn m3 by 2026, with some of this capacity expansion coming online before the end of 2023. This would allow the TNO’s longer-term scenario involving 24.5 bn m3 of annual LNG imports to potentially materialise, if the new capacities are utilised.

Based on its current regasification capacity, the Netherlands could fully replace its Russian gas imports (6 bn m3 of piped gas, 3 bn m3 of LNG, based on 2021 flows) with LNG if Eemshaven was operating at full capacity, and if Gate was operating at its full firm capacity and about 12% of its interruptible capacity.

Eemshaven only started being fully operational in mid-March and aims to handle 9 bn m3 before the end of 2023. As for Gate, it handled 15.5 bn m3 last year, Kpler data show, so it used all its firm capacity and 87% of its interruptible capacity.

It is worth noting that the Netherlands has decided not to entirely rely on LNG to replace Russian gas but instead to rely on a combination of measures such as energy efficiency, installation of heat pumps only and not of gas boilers compulsory from 2026, and construction of more renewable capacity to cut the Dutch gas demand.

Gas demand destruction has been encouraged at EU level to help mitigate the gas supply shortage. Last summer, EU member states agreed to voluntarily cut their gas demand by 15% between August 2022 and March 2023 compared to the five-year average for this eight-month period, and recently the European Commission proposed to member states to extend these measures for another year.

Dutch gas demand dropped by 30% to around 19.3 bn m3 between August 2022 and February 2023 compared to the five-year average, Eurostat data show. To stay the course and keep its consumption 30% below the five-year average for March, the country needs to consume no more than 3 bn m3 of gas this month. In order to meet the EU target and cut demand by 15%, it can consume as much as 3.7 bn m3 of gas in March.

Increasing domestic production from the Dutch Groningen gas field by 6 bn m3 per year was also an option mentioned in the TNO white paper for short and medium-term Russian gas replacement scenarios. But given the safety concerns surrounding production at this field due to the earthquakes the process generates, production is not expected to increase.

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