With natural gas in high demand, Shell forecasts global LNG growth will top 50% by 2040

As the energy transition gathers speed, the UK-headquartered energy giant Shell has revealed its latest outlook on the global demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG), predicting a rise in demand of more than 50% by 2040, driven by industrial coal-to-gas switching in China and the increased use of LNG in South Asian and Southeast Asian countries to support economic growth.

Illustration; Source: Shell

With tight supplies of LNG constraining growth while maintaining prices and price volatility above historic averages, the UK oil major highlights that demand for natural gas has already peaked in some regions but continues to rise globally, after the global LNG trade reached 404 million tons in 2023, up from 397 million tons in 2022. According to Shell’s LNG Outlook 2024,’ LNG demand is expected to reach around 625-685 million tons a year in 2040.

Steve Hill, Executive Vice President for Shell Energy, commented: “China is likely to dominate LNG demand growth this decade as its industry seeks to cut carbon emissions by switching from coal to gas. With China’s coal-based steel sector accounting for more emissions than the total emissions of the UK, Germany and Turkey combined, gas has an essential role to play in tackling one of the world’s biggest sources of carbon emissions and local air pollution.”

Furthermore, Shell’s latest LNG outlook underlines that declining domestic gas production in parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia could drive a surge in demand for LNG over the following decade, as these economies increasingly need fuel for gas-fired power plants or industry. The UK energy giant explained that countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia would need significant investments in gas import infrastructure.

Based on Shell’s LNG outlook, gas complements wind and solar power in countries with high levels of renewables in their power generation mix, providing “short-term flexibility and long-term security of supply.” In line with this, the oil major underscores that LNG continued to play “a vital role” in European energy security in 2023, following a slump in Russian pipeline exports to Europe in 2022, with new regasification facilities helping improve the security of energy supplies.

Despite an overall decline in European gas demand in 2023, the UK firm claims that European LNG imports remained at similar levels to the ones seen in 2022. Shell’s outlook pointed out that the global gas market was balanced in 2023 by relatively mild winter temperatures in countries that rely on gas for heating, combined with high gas storage levels, stronger nuclear power generation, and a modest economic recovery in China.

The oil and gas heavyweight is adamant that these factors helped bring down and stabilize gas prices in the key importing regions of Europe and East Asia compared to the record highs and unprecedented volatility seen from late 2021 through 2022. However, gas prices and volatility remained significantly higher in 2023 than in the 2017-2020 period.

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“Despite a well-supplied global market in 2023, the lack of Russian pipeline gas supply to Europe and a limited amount of LNG supply growth over the last year mean that the global gas market remains structurally tight,” emphasized Shell.

As Shell believes that LNG will play “an even bigger role” in the energy system of the future than it plays today, the company has earmarked about $13 billion a year during this decade on oil and gas with a focus on LNG, which adds up to potentially over $100 billion in total by 2030.

The UK firm is determined to bring more oil and gas alongside low-carbon and renewable energy to the market, based on its plans to spend around $40 billion on its Integrated Gas and Upstream businesses while investing $10-15 billion from 2023 to 2025 in low-carbon energy solutions.