China’s electricity demand has come roaring back, vacuuming up limited supplies of liquid natural gas, which moves by ship, not pipeline. There also are limited facilities to export natural gas from the United States.
Power shortages are turning out streetlights and shutting down factories in China. The poor in Brazil are choosing between paying for food or electricity. German corn and wheat farmers can’t find fertilizer, made using natural gas. And fears are rising that Europe will have to ration electricity if it’s a cold winter.
The world is gripped by an energy crunch — a fierce squeeze on some of the key markets for natural gas, oil and other fuels that keep the global economy running and the lights and heat on in homes. Heading into winter, that has meant higher utility bills, more expensive products and growing concern about how energy-consuming Europe and China will recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The biggest squeeze is on natural gas in Europe, which imports 90% of its supply — largely from Russia — and where prices have risen to five times what they were at the start of the year, to 95 euros from about 19 euros per megawatt hour.
It’s hitting the Italian food chain hard, with methane prices expected to increase six-fold and push up the cost of drying grains. That could eventually raise the price of bread and pasta at supermarkets, but meat and dairy aisles are more vulnerable as beef and dairy farmers are forced to pay more for grain to feed their animals and pass the cost along to customers.
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