Feb 7, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The coronavirus is infecting everything in the energy sector

Illustration of a Newton's Cradle, with a virus cell about to hit the balls.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It's hard to get one's head around all the ways that coronavirus is affecting oil markets, energy-related industries and even carbon emissions.

Why it matters: The tragic outbreak underscores that when it comes to energy, China is the straw the stirs the drink as the world's largest oil-and-gas importer, largest auto market and largest carbon emitter.

The big picture: Here are a few ways that coronavirus, which is centered in China but has now spread to over two dozen countries, is shaking things up...

When it comes to oil, it has pushed prices down to their lowest level in a year, stemming largely from reduced travel and economic activity in China.

  • That's a problem for OPEC and its alliance with Russia — the OPEC+ group has struggled to reach a deal this week on deepening joint production cuts to tighten markets. Russia, while agreeing in principle, has yet to sign off, per multiple reports.
  • "Brent is likely to hover around $55 [per barrel] as long as uncertainty on the impact of coronavirus persists and until OPEC+ ministers meet and agree to a cut," S&P Global Platts analysts said in a note.

It's impacting the liquefied natural gas market, which was already weak due to excess supplies.

  • Per Reuters and others, the Chinese energy giant CNOOC this week said it will temporarily stop honoring some import contracts.
  • "China’s near-term gas consumption is in question given the coronavirus quarantines and shutdown of factories, which consume the bulk of the country’s imported gas," the Wall Street Journal reports.

China is the world's largest solar equipment manufacturer, and a note from the consultancy Wood Mackenzie says work at several module plants is unlikely to resume until late February or later.

Tesla was forced to temporarily close its Chinese factory and delay vehicle deliveries, per multiple reports.

  • CNBC reports that a Tesla executive's comments about delays helped to push its share price back down Wednesday after its meteoric rise in preceding days.
  • It's hammering the auto industry, which is already struggling with soft sales, more broadly as automakers are forced to keep plants idled. CNN has more.

There's even a climate change dimension, per Bloomberg, which reports: "If there’s a silver lining to the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China, it’s that the world’s biggest polluter is spewing less carbon, at least for now."

  • The piece points out that emissions will drop temporarily due to halted plane and auto travel, closed steel mills and coal mines, and other effects.
  • It's unclear, Bloomberg reports, whether this will lead to a year-over-year drop in CO2 emissions.
  • Here's a wild stat, via S&P Global Platts: "Even a 1% drop in China’s annual CO2 emissions from energy consumption would amount to 96 million [metric tons], equivalent to France’s annual regulated CO2 emissions."

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