Unlocking Greece’s energy potential

On March 22, an international conference held in Athens, Greece provided an array of insights on how domestic and global natural gas key players view the contemporary market and their views ahead.

Natural Gas Europe’s Greece Correspondent, Ioannis Michaletos, reports on the key views to come from the conference, “Energy market: unlocking Greece’s economic potential.”

Diversification of Supply in Greece

William Silkworth is backing with confidence the continuation of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), as well as, the materialisation of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB), he said at the “Energy market” conference in Athens. Silkworth, who is Director of the Office of Europe, the Western Hemisphere, and Africa for the Bureau of Energy Resources at the United States Department of State, laid down several views on some strategic aspects of the projects.

While he strongly backed TAP and IGB, he was equally strident in his criticism of some other pipeline projects. Silkworth emphatically pointed out that diversification is a key aspect of US foreign policy and lies also in the core interests of the whole of the EU. (The US state department is in favour of the EU’s Energy Union, he noted.) Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream are not projects that could assure energy security for the EU, according to Silkworth. Such projects are more of an attempt by the Russian side, he said, to keep a grip of its dominance in the EU markets.

Energy diversification was high on the priority list for the members of Greek government also in attendance at the conference. Greek Energy Minister Panos Skourletis says that Athens is following a multidimensional energy policy. That policy is currently centred on the TAP and IGB projects, he said, as well as the upgrade of the Revythousa LNG station; efforts to link Greece with the Iranian market; and the creation of an Eastern Mediterranean corridor with Cyprus and Israel.

Secretary General for Energy and Mineral Resources for the Ministry of Environment and Energy Michalis Verroiopoulos also noted diversification as a priority. He stressed how important it was for Greece to open up its market and to link it to a variety of energy projects in the wider region. Specifically he mentioned that major initiatives will be set up regarding the TAP and IGB projects; the proposed LNG terminal in the city of Alexandroupolis; and the EuroAsia Interconnector electricity high voltage line, which will link the electrical systems of Israel, Cyprus and Greece.

On the possibility of Greece becoming a regional gas hub, head of the European Commission’s Representation in Athens Panos Karvounis was positive. Europe is very much interested in Greece achieving the status of a regional gas hub role, he said, a fact that was emphasised during the recent visit of the vice president of the Commission, Maros Sefcovic, who is also in charge of the Energy Union.

Progress for Deals and Projects

The outlook at the conference was also positive for some of Greece’s biggest energy projects and deals, as well as for the development of the Greek energy market in the future.

That includes the TAP project: TAP’s country Manager for Greece, Rikard Skoufias, told the conference that there were no clouds on the horizon for the project and that cooperation with Athens is smooth and steady in all aspects. Already 150 Greek companies have been selected as prospective suppliers for works on the pipeline. TAP was not just a major investment for the country but also a significant geopolitical tool, he said.

A deal for Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (Desfa), which has been in progress since 2014, could be close to being completed, too. Azerbaijan’s state-run oil and gas company Socar previouslyattempted to buy a 66% stake in Desfa. However, it was halted by regulatory hurdles, including from the EU’s competition authorities.

Still, CEO of Socar Energy Greece Anar Mammadov remained confident about the conclusion of the deal. He said that Socar was close to concluding the buyout; Baku is determined to have Greece as a major partner, he said, given its relations with the EU market.

The buyout aside, Desfa still continues to work toward increasing diversification in the Greek market. CEO of Desfa Konstantinos Xifaras said the ongoing upgrade of the Revythousa LNG station aimed to become a key element for the energy security of the whole of Southeastern Europe. Desfa strongly supports the expansion of the use of LNG as a fuel in maritime businesses, he said.

Research is ongoing in a number of areas, he said. Currently the firm is drafting research that will aim to promote the future role of Greece as a preferred gas trading hub in the Balkans. Additionally, Desfa is also a participant in the Poseidon Med II research project along with another 28 organisations from Cyprus and Italy. That project researches the prospects for the use of LNG.

Prospects for Development

The conference speakers weren’t just looking at the present in Greece’s energy market; some were also looking ahead to future prospective projects.

That included director for strategic planning of the ELPE energy group in Greece Giorgos Alexopoulos. According to Alexopoulos, the energy sector is of great importance to Greece’s economy, and is a key component for Greece’ economic revival. The existing energy sector has different branches that could be further developed, he said. The research and exploration of hydrocarbons is a key area, Alexopoulos said, and ELPE has already researched 26 regions in the country over the past 40 years.

In order to attain financial and regulatory stability, he warned, the country needed to simplify its bureaucracy. That would enable it to attract much needed foreign investments in that sector, though he said there was already strong interest by multinationals to invest.

One representative of the multinationals which have potential investment in Greece on their mind was General Manager for Africa & Mediterranean at Xodus Subsea, Saipem Ltd Matteo Marchiori. He said that Greece is on his company’s radar for future investments and that he is in touch about several projects with a Greek energy company. (He did not give the company’s name or any additional details.)

Marchiori specifically mentioned the gas discoveries in East Mediterranean as key areas of interest as well as the proposed East Med. pipeline.

He, too, saw the potential for LNG in the energy diversification of Greece. He posited that Greece could develop a network of small-scale LNG stations within its island environment in order to secure flexible energy security status.