Bay of Bengal oil bids disappoint
Offshore blocks offered in Bangladesh’s Bay of Bengal have attracted a disappointing level of interest from license-holders; however, anticipated improvements to the terms governing the country’s oil and gas industry could entice investors, says research and consulting firm GlobalData.
According to the company’s latest report, only one extra bid is thought to have been received for the shallow-water blocks during the extension of Bangladesh’s 2012 bidding round, adding to the three already received. As a result, more attractive fiscal terms are likely to be implemented in upcoming rounds, although the next one is unlikely to commence until 2015.
The fiscal terms for Bangladesh’s deepwater blocks were amended significantly, with a number of new incentives, mid-round in 2013; however, no such improvements were applied to the terms for the shallow-water area, despite increasing demand for natural gas.
Jonathan Lacouture, GlobalData’s Lead Analyst for the Asia-Pacific region, cites this lack of incentives as a reason for the low number of bids.
“Bangladesh faces fierce competition from India and Myanmar for exploration investment in the Bay of Bengal,” says Lacouture. “Incentives are needed to make the Bangladeshi blocks stand out, especially considering the substantial turnout which Myanmar recently experienced in its own licensing round.”
Indeed, Bangladesh’s upstream oil and gas sector is further clouded by ongoing uncertainty over the status of certain blocks in the shallow-water area. Following a clash with Myanmar over maritime boundaries, a similar dispute with India now remains unresolved, and arbitration on this dispute is not expected until June 2014.
“If the ruling on this issue favors India, then it would threaten the integrity of the six offshore blocks on the western edge of the exclusive economic zone, which are currently claimed by Bangladesh,” Lacouture says. “This arbitration means that the next bidding round will probably not happen until 2015 and the delay will only increase authorities’ urgency to attract investors.”
Will Scargill, fiscal analyst for GlobalData, suggests that future incentives are most likely to be offered through either a higher-cost recovery limit, or an improved gas-pricing framework.
“Given the level of domestic demand, export provisions are unlikely to be offered,” Scargill says. “The 2008 model contract permitted exports, and it was precisely for this reason that there was a lot of political opposition to the contract.”
Technology revolution for water retailers
In April 2017, the UK’s water retail market in the world opened for business – the single biggest change to the water sector since privatisation. This development allowed businesses, charities and public sector organisations to shop around for the best deal.
However, like any industry, this change hasn’t been without its sticking points; here, Paul Williams, CTO at Everflow Tech (pictured far right), discusses how retailers can harness technology to their advantage
Quotations could take up to a week to produce, billing software had to be manually updated and brokers were unable to manage the complete customer journey in one place – all of which took time, cost money and allowed for human error.
The more complexity that was involved in billing or quoting, the more contact end customers needed to have with their retailers, pushing up the cost to serve for every SPID. This meant retailers – ourselves included – found themselves in a situation where profits were simply eaten up by service costs.
We also note that it can traditionally be hard for retailers to stay on top of balancing what they are charging their customers with what they are being charged by the market. To further exacerbate this, the longer a change goes unnoticed, the more trouble it can be to balance the issue.
It was these issues that Josh and his (at the time) small team wanted to ameliorate, creating their own technology in the absence of anything else.
This technology evolved into our award-winning retail sales, billing and customer management platform for the water retail market, and Everflow Tech was launched as a standalone venture in 2018, selling the software externally for other water retailers and their customers to benefit from.
What retailers want
As a relatively new entrant to the world of utilities competition, the water market could be seen to be lagging behind, particularly when it comes to innovation.
In fact, as recently as 2019, Ofwat said it expected the industry to be making technological advances and to be working with a culture of innovation, collaborating with companies both within and outside of the sector.
And with cost-savings for consumers traditionally lower than for other utilities, retailers need to be offering something more – whether that’s better support, energy-efficiency advice or more accurate data.
What’s more, consumers have had a taste of the power of technology, and they’ve come to expect nothing less from retailers across the board.
Another key issue – thrown into sharp relief during the past 12 months (and counting) of a pandemic – is rising levels of arrears, which are likely to increase bad debt beyond margins that retailers originally allowed for when the market was created.
In such a low-margin industry, there is a limit to the amount of debt retailers can take on, especially as recovering costs can be a very slow process. Ofwat has signalled that this issue could be addressed as early as this year, with a mechanism for recovering bad debt to be established during 2021/22.
The market needs simple solutions to better serve the end user, and we were perfectly placed to develop those solutions. At Everflow, our software is designed for the water retail market, by the water retail market.
As well as simple billing, clear-to-understand workflows, and a revenue assurance system to allow retailers to quickly compare market charges, Everflow has also introduced a complete debt solution, allowing missed payment dates to drive late payment charges and escalations automatically.
Retailers are able to design and put out their own bill and quotes, tailoring customer journey and overall experience – whatever the circumstances.
What does the future hold?
Automation is key to any industry; we’re heading into an age of driverless cars and smart homes, and this drive for tech will filter through to our industry, and we need to catch up.
The Internet of Things – a network of physical objects connected to each other – means human error (and effort) can effectively be removed from many everyday tasks, which goes for meter readings too. However, in the 21st century, the water market is still not leveraging previously emerged technology in the form of smart meters to provide accurate billing.
Consumers are also becoming more empowered, both to ask for information and change their preferences if they don’t like what they learn. Retailers need to be armed with this information, not next week, not tomorrow, but now – and, at Everflow Tech, we’re putting that information at their fingertips.
But the retailers themselves need to speak up too, and we will always work with them to get the best ideas on what needs to be developed and when.
Our strong bond with Everflow Water, along with other key customers, means we have a direct interest in making sure our systems serve the water market in the best way they can.
For us, the goal is to make sure retailers on our platform can grow as much as possible, leaving behind laborious daily processes to focus on their own strategic growth and, most importantly, helping their customers.