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Interview with Sonja Müller-Dib, Managing Director Shell Energy Germany

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I hope that you have had a wonderful summertime. For a number of managing directors of public utility companies, this was probably only true to a limited extent. Since the beginning of June, the insolvency of biomethane trader bmp greengas has caused increasing concern and outrage among those affected. I have to confess that it took me a while to find the right people to talk to, who reported details to me informally or even quotably. I was then able to get access to many emails and documents that gave me an excellent overview of the situation. To me, it looks like this: Anticipating a stable and stagnating market, bmp had not purchased sufficient volumes of biomethane to hedge long-term biomethane sales contracts with CHP operators. When the biomethane market became tighter in 2021, prices went up and, among other things, greater incentives arose to sell biomethane in the fuel sector; this short position became a huge problem that the owners were no longer willing or able to solve. But read for yourself about the economic and energy-policy-related implications.

The bmp insolvency is, of course, the ‘Topic of the Month’. But I am a traditionalist, and therefore – as every year in the summer edition – the summer interview is formally the topic of the month. I conducted the interview with Sonja Müller-Dib, the managing director of Shell Energy Germany. To my surprise, we talked about biomethane for quite a long time. But that is not all I have to say about the topic in this issue. For the first time, I am publishing prices for biomethane again, which are provided by agriportance. Until the end of last year, Landwärme Services delivered prices for the Gasmarkt, but the service provider stopped publishing them due to the turbulent market development. At the time, many market participants told me the quotations were not always in line with the market. I always replied: What is the alternative? Now I have one, and I am happy to receive feedback on the prices.

What should not be forgotten is that the companies called ‘regional gas transmission companies’ in the pre-liberalisation era are finally and publicly saying goodbye to the sales business. This applies to GasVersorgung Süddeutschland (GVS) and Bayerngas Energy, as you can read in this edition. This marks the end of an era, an end that has been looming for the last few years.

Topic of the month: Interview with Sonja Müller-Dib, Managing Director Shell Energy Germany

Exactly five years ago I interviewed Cai-Delf Harms, then managing director of Shell Energy Deutschland (ener|gate Gasmarkt 08-09/18). Shell Energy Deutschland is one of the potentially large and powerful suppliers of natural gas to large industrial customers and public utilities. However, its market presence has always been, let's say, a little more modest than that of VNG, Uniper or WINGAS (SEFE). What fascinated me at the time was Shell Energy's clear goal of offering customers not only natural gas or electricity, but also decarbonisation solutions. The market has evolved. As a result of the gas crisis, i.e. first the reduction and then the far-reaching curtailment of Russian supplies, the focus has shifted towards security of supply. Cai-Delf Harms retired in 2021. Sonja Müller-Dib became managing director of Shell Energy Deutschland in February 2021. I talked to her about how Shell, as a very large LNG player, is responding to the crisis in Germany. But also whether and how the energy solutions for CO2 reduction have developed. What surprised me was the attention Shell is giving to biomethane as a solution.

ener|gate Gasmarkt: Ms Müller-Dib, Shell sold a total of 41.3 TWh of natural gas in Germany in 2021, almost 28 per cent less than in 2020. Earnings after tax were 1.2 million euros. Was the decline solely due to the Corona crisis, is your business weakening or was the strategy? How has the business developed since 2021?

Ms Müller-Dib: We are reluctant to comment on specific figures. But yes, the decline in sales in 2021 was due to the Corona crisis, and in 2022 sales did not increase either due to the politically desired restrictions on gas consumption.