European firms are gearing up to invest in China's gas sector, after French President Francois Hollande's recent visit to China. With demand for gas soaring in China -analysts see huge growth potential for European investments in China's gas sector.
He was the first leader of a major Western country to visit China's new President Xi Jinping.
And, he was accompanied by a large entourage of French businessmen and women, many of them eager to tap into the rapidly growing energy sector of the world's number 2 economy, in specific: gas.
On the occasion of French President Francois Hollande's visit to China in April, GDF Suez - the French gas and power utility group which has its China headquarters here in this building in Beijing - signed several deals with Chinese companies to help the country multiply its natural gas storage capacity and shift from coal to cleaner fuel.
GDF Suez has been active in China for nearly 40 years, but started to flirt with the country's vast energy sector 5 years ago.
Under one deal, signed with China National Petroleum Corp, GDF Suez will assess projects to convert depleted gas fields into underground gas storage facilities.
"So we are going to look at six sites... Why are gas storages important, and why do we partner? It's because the gas market is booming in China. And it's like in the supermarket. If people want to buy more goods, you need to have a storage. And right now, the gas storage capacity in China is less than 5 percent, while you would need 10 to 15 percent. China has a very strong focus on this, it is a core of a new gas plan of China, we are here to help them to develop gas and former gas depleted fields and turn them into gas storages," Raphael Schoentgen, President of GDF Suez in China, said.
In addition, GDF Suez wants to sell China its first floating liquefied natural gas import terminal, based in the port city of Tianjin.
Analysts say the growing domestic demand for gas is the trigger for investments from overseas.
Simon Powell, Head of Oil & Gas Research Asia, CLSA, said, "Five percent of all the energy consumed in China is natural gas, that's relatively low compared to the rest of Asia and definitely relatively low compared to OECD countries. So let's say gas becomes 8 percent of China's total energy mix, in cubic metre terms that's something 200 and 250 billion cubic metres, versus a 130 billion cubic metres in 2012. So you see we are thinking of a doubling of gas demand in the next two years. So the biggest challenge is: where is this gas going to come from? Right now, 70 percent is coming from domestic China, we think that proportion stays the same or grows. The big debate is: will the Chinese finally do a deal with the Russians? And like everything, it comes down to price. So I think there is a potential for Russian gas to be piped in."
However, the business community in Beijing says there is still huge spare capacity for European investment in China, and not only in the field of energy.
"Last year, Europe invested about 6 billion US dollars in China, about the same amount as previous years, it is stable right now, the amount of investment coming in. It represents about 6 percent of China's ODI from abroad. For Europe though, it's actually just a drop in the water. It is only 2 to 3 percent of what Europe is investing abroad. So there is huge potential to invest more. European companies are growing in China, and they have the intention to continue to invest," Adam Dunnett, Secretary General of European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said.
The Chinese government aims to triple the use of natural gas to meet about 10 percent of total energy demand by 2020. So far, only about two-thirds of China's 600-plus cities have access to gas supplies, meaning there is huge potential to unlock. Not only with gas, but also renewable energy such as solar or wind power.