What's wrong with gas prices

At least 90 gas suppliers had already announced price increases averaging eleven percent for August and September. Read on

The scary price drivers

It will be an expensive winter: at least 90 gas suppliers had already announced price increases averaging eleven percent for August and September. In some regions, consumers even have to be prepared for cost increases of 20 to 30 percent. This means additional costs of 100 to 400 euros per year per household. The suppliers cite increased purchasing costs as the reason. Gunnar Harms exposes the price drivers.

(September 01, 2011) The price increases just in time for autumn hit consumers particularly hard, because at 80 percent, the largest proportion of gas consumption is in the winter half-year. It seems to be a German specialty to wait for the warm season to be all the harder in winter. In Austria, for example - the regulatory authority there already found the (O-Ton :) "incomprehensible" price policy bad already in the summer.

Gunnar Harms, engineer for energy technology, member of the board of the Association of Energy Consumers, product manager for energy in an industrial park

Subscription prices are only increasing slightly

At the moment, of all things, a persistent oversupply characterizes the gas wholesale market. On closer analysis, one quickly finds that the price increases are only justified in the single-digit range. Where a supplier actually claims increased procurement costs in the double-digit percentage range, the purchasing policy of the respective supply company is to be viewed as highly questionable.

Gas that binds fuel oil

The oil-related formula prices will rise from the third to the fourth quarter of 2011 by around 0.3 cents per kilowatt hour. Added to this is the increase from the second to the third quarter of 0.5 cents per kilowatt hour, which companies have so far hardly or not at all passed on to consumers. Overall, this results in a legitimate potential increase of around 0.8 cents per kilowatt hour: Prices rise from around 3.5 cents in the 2nd quarter from October to around 4.3 cents per kilowatt hour.

Procurement on the futures market

On the futures market, gas is still available well below the gas import price. Gas is therefore sold in large quantities more cheaply than it is bought. Because the gas importers are unable to get out of their long-term supply contracts despite the "gas glut" and the associated fall in prices. These included crude oil and coal listings, which the respective companies made splendidly on for many years. Now, however, they are getting the gas in the contractually agreed quantities No longer going on at these prices and writing deep red numbers.

On the futures market, the buyers are currently setting the tariffs, who do not care about oil prices. The prices there have changed very little: from the second to the fourth quarter of 2011, the price only rose by around 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour, i.e. only half as high as in the case of oil binding, and is now around 2.7 Cent per kilowatt hour.

Procurement on the spot market

The spot market plays almost no or only a very subordinate role in gas procurement, for example when a company has to compensate for short-term fluctuations. The prices on the spot market have therefore hardly changed and have been around 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour since the end of 2010.

Procurement mix

A final distribution supplier usually has a mix of oil-bound and futures-market-dependent quantities in its procurement portfolio. Depending on company policy and risk appetite, one or the other part predominates.

Naturally, the importing companies present at present have a very great interest in selling as much expensive, oil-bound gas as possible to the municipal utilities and final distributors and concluding corresponding contracts. Suppliers who accept this voluntarily or who have no other choice in view of long-term supply contracts or the dominant market position of their supplier have to pass the increased purchase prices on to their customers these days. Companies that have freed themselves from such ties and have implemented long-term, intelligent procurement strategies with a high degree of personal responsibility and independence are now in good shape and hardly have to do anything.

The argument of the binding of heating oil

Interestingly, one hears and reads nothing more about the oil price link in the price increase announcements of the utility companies. That would be a good argument for the current development. Belief in this anticompetitive relic from bygone times had almost religious traits: five years ago, questioning the oil price link was almost blasphemous. But in 2011 nothing more can be heard of this far and wide. For the consumer the question arises: Do the gas suppliers not have any oil price-linked contracts in their portfolio, or do they no longer dare to go public with these arguments? If the former is the case, the prices are only likely to rise a little - at most by 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour.

Tips for consumers

Anyone who does nothing at all and simply resigns themselves to the price increase is making a mistake, because this behavior flushes most of the money into the coffers for the utilities: the margins are still the highest in the basic supply. The first requirement is to switch to another provider or to a cheaper offer from the previous supplier. In the event of price increases, the consumer always has a special right of termination. However, he must make use of it quickly, at least within four weeks. In any case, the new price should only be paid conditionally.

From the rain in the eaves

In addition to questionable prepayment, package and bonus models, which you should keep your hands off of if possible, there are unfortunately more and more companies accepting customers who are willing to switch. But no sooner has the contract been signed than the alleged cheap homes also increase their tariffs. Unfortunately, this scam occurs more and more often and enormously frustrates customers who are willing to switch.

If you want to change, you can contact the selected company and ask whether price increases are planned. However, this is not very promising, especially since such non-binding information does not create legal certainty. A fixed-price tariff with a one-year price guarantee is safer. The motto is: the simpler the contract (without bonus frills), the more reliably you can get clarity about the actual price.

Basically, it can be assumed that the basic supplier's prices will initially be increased and that special contract customers will follow suit later. Price increases in the basic service must be announced at least six weeks in advance. The last "wave" of price increases in the basic service for the current year will usually take effect on December 1st, so it must be announced by October 15th conclude a fixed price contract quickly in the event of an announced price increase.

Calculate correctly!

Incidentally, when calculating costs and savings, one should also keep an eye on the number acrobatics of the utilities when making their announcements - and calculate correctly:

The often quoted monthly average costs (with an annual consumption of 20,000 kWh corresponds to a load of xxx euros per month) are often a brazen misleading. Of the 20,000 kWh often given as a representative annual consumption value, around 16,000 kWh are distributed over just six winter months. This means that the monthly load is actually much higher, because in winter it is not 20,000 / 12 = 1,667 kWh that is consumed per month, but about 2,667 kWh. In early summer, when - and if - the prices fall again, the relief is all the less because only about 4,000 kWh are distributed over the summer months, i.e. less than 700 kWh / month - on which the consumers save significantly less than they do Sample calculation lists. A price cut is only beneficial if it falls in autumn or winter - which is very rare.

shut down