Gas developments in the East Med

The international oil companies (IOCs) are still reeling under the impact of low oil and gas prices and massive losses and asset write-offs during 2020. ExxonMobil, under increasing pressure, is considering further spending cuts and even a shake-up of its board.

The path to full recovery will be slow and at the end of it, in 2-3 years, the IOCs will be different, placing more emphasis on clean energy and renewables.

In the meanwhile, around the East Med, Egypt is forging ahead. It has signed a new exploration agreement with Shell for an offshore block in the Red Sea. This is in addition to the 22 agreements signed during 2020 that included major IOCs such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, Eni and Total. Moreover, EGPC and EGAS are planning to offer onshore and offshore exploration blocks for bidding in February.

This continuing activity led to the discovery of 47 oil and 15 natural gas fields in 2020, 13% more than in 2019, despite Covid-19.

Tareq El-Molla, Egypt’s petroleum minister, signaled earlier this month Egypt’s intention to expand its petrochemicals sector to take advantage of the country’s expanding hydrocarbon resources. Egypt has updated its petrochemical national plan until 2023 to meet the increasing prospects in this industry.

LNG exports

Egypt has also benefited from the recent increase in LNG prices, resuming exports from its liquefaction plant at Idku, with most exports going to China, India and Turkey. The country is also ready to resume exports from its second liquefaction plant at Damietta starting end February. This has been lying idle since 2012 due to disputes that have now been resolved.

LNG exports will mainly utilize surplus gas from the Zohr gasfield and possibly imports from Israel, should prices allow it.

In fact, the resumption of LNG exports from Idku relieved some of the pressure on Egypt’s gas market, which is in oversupply partly due to impact of the pandemic, but also due to falling gas demand in Egypt’s power sector and growth in renewable energy.

El-Molla said that Egypt is planning a revival of its LNG exports. But this depends greatly on what happens to global markets and prices.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said that the Asian LNG demand and price spike in January was a short-term phenomenon and it is not an indicator that global demand will rebound in 2021. The IEA expects only a small recovery in global gas demand this year, after the decline in 2020, partly due to the pandemic. But given ongoing concerns over the pandemic, the rate of gas demand growth will remain uncertain. The IEA said the longer-term future of LNG markets remains challenging.

Gas from Israel

Chevron – having acquired Noble Energy and its interests in the region last year – with Delek and their partners in Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar gasfields, signed an agreement to invest $235million in a new subsea pipeline, expanding existing facilities. According to an announcement by Delek, the pipeline will connect facilities at Israeli city Ashod to the EMG pipeline at Ashkelon, enabling Chevron and its partners to increase gas exports to Egypt to as much as 7billion cubic meters annually (bcm/yr).

The partners signed agreements last year to export as much as 85bcm/yr gas to Egypt over a 15 year period. Gas supplies from Israel to Egypt started in January last year.

It is not clear at this stage if new agreements will be reached to fully utilize the increased export capacity from Israel to Egypt, but given Egypt’s gas oversupply this may not be likely.

These developments, though, show the vulnerability of Cyprus and the weakness of relying on trilateral alliances with Egypt and Israel for its gas exports.

EastMed gas pipeline

This is being kept alive by regional politicians. Only this week, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia confirmed their support for the EastMed gas pipeline.

While such developments are good politically, bringing like-minded countries around the East Med closer together, they are not sufficient to advance the project. This requires private investment and buyers of the gas in Europe. None of these is forthcoming, because the project is not commercially viable. By the time the gas arrives in Europe it will be too expensive to compete with existing, much cheaper, supplies.

Europe is also moving away from gas and from new gas pipeline projects. Catharina Sikow Magny, Director DG Energy European Commission (EC), covered this at the European Gas Virtual conference on 28 January. Answering the question how much natural gas will the EU need in the future, she said ZERO. She was emphatic that with the EU committed to net zero emissions by 2050, by then there will be zero unabated gas consumed in Europe. In addition, with the EU having increased the emissions reduction target from 40% to 55% by 2030, the use of gas in Europe will be decreasing in order to meet the 2030 and 2050 climate targets. She said that ongoing natural gas projects are expected to be completed by 2022 – with no more needed after that.

With exports to global markets becoming increasingly difficult, there are other regional options to make use of the gas discovered so far around the East Med, including power generation in support of intermittent renewables and petrochemicals, as Egypt is doing. The newly constituted East Med Gas Forum (EMGF) should place these at the heart of its agenda.

What about Cyprus?

Hydrocarbon exploration activities around Cyprus are at a standstill, partly due to the continuing impact of Covid-19, but also due to the dire state of the IOCs and the challenges being faced by the natural gas industry in general.

This lack of activity in resuming offshore exploration may be a blessing, taking the heat off hydrocarbons, while priorities shift to discussions to resolve the Cyprus problem and the Greece-Turkey maritime disputes.

Dr Charles Ellinas, @CharlesEllinas

Senior Fellow

Global Energy Center

Atlantic Council

3 February, 2021

 

Solar power production cost seen soon falling by 50%

The cost of solar energy production will fall by 50 percent over the next few years, when this technology’s contribution to global electricity generation will have reached 8 percent, up from 2 percent registered last year, Ramez Naam, a leading analyst specializing in energy transition matters, has projected.

Solar energy production is currently breaking one record after another in various parts of the world. The downward trajectory is still at an early stage, according to Naam, a former computer scientist at Microsoft.

Once the PV sector’s contribution to global electricity generation reaches 8 percent, this technology’s production cost can be expected to drop to levels of about 2.5 cents per KWh in the world’s sunniest locations, such as California. PV production costs in Europe’s north can be expected to drop to levels of about 4 to 5 cents per KWh, Naam has estimated.

He predicts near-zero solar production costs in the world’s sunniest locations by 2030 to 2035.

Global solar energy production will eventually reach 19.2 TW, in the distant future, the analyst projected.

The International Energy Agency, in its most recent World Energy Outlook report, projected solar energy production will soon grow at an annual rate of 16 percent.

The cost of solar energy production has fallen by as much as five to eight times over the past decade, in certain parts of the world, and by 350 times compared to levels registered back in 1979.

Pros and cons for refineries, fuel demand sliding

The drop in oil prices as a result of the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and the coronavirus spread presents a major challenge for petroleum firms.

Brent crude’s 30 percent plunge last Monday inflicted major damage on companies stocked with petroleum products, Greek refinery officials informed, as these products had been  purchased at previously higher prices.

The market volatility, however, has also created opportunities, namely lower-cost supply of raw materials without the need for high working capital. Operating costs have dropped considerably.

The major concern at refineries and petroleum product trading companies is demand, or fuel consumption, expected to drop amid the growing number of mobility restrictions being imposed by governments around the world in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Demand for gasoline and diesel has dropped since last weekend as a result of reduced transportation needs. This decline in fuel demand is expected to continue following latest preventive measures. The Greek government yesterday announced a measure closing all educational institutions for 15 days as of today.

Fuel demand levels during the year’s first two-month period were unchanged compared to a year earlier, but the month of March has already shown first signs of a decline. Many airlines are cancelling flights.

Petroleum companies fear a further deterioration from May onward, when Greece’s tourism season begins in earnest.

For the first time since 2009, the International Energy Agency has forecast a drop in petroleum consumption for 2020.

IEA: Greater energy demand to offset RES penetration emission benefits

RES penetration in the global energy mix stands to experience rapid growth but, even so, CO2 emissions will rise slightly, compared to current levels, as a result of an increase in primary energy demand over the next 25 years, according to an IEA World Energy Outlook 207 report covering 2016 to 2040.

This essentially means current CO2 emission concerns will remain an issue in the years ahead and obstruct climate change objectives from being reached, unless far more ambitious policies, an unlikely prospect, are applied.

Over the next 25 years, the world’s growing energy needs will first be met by renewables and natural gas, as fast-declining costs turn solar power into the cheapest source of new electricity generation, the IEA report notes.

Global energy demand is expected to be 30 percent higher by 2040, half as much as it would have been without efficiency improvements, according to the report.

It added that the boom years for coal are over — in the absence of large-scale carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) — and rising oil demand will slow down but not reversed before 2040 even as electric-car sales rise steeply.

Solar PV is set to lead capacity additions, pushed by deployment in China and India, while, in the EU, wind stands to become the leading source of electricity soon after 2030, according to the IEA report.

“Solar is forging ahead in global power markets as it becomes the cheapest source of electricity generation in many places, including China and India,” noted Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “Electric vehicles (EVs) are in the fast lane as a result of government support and declining battery costs but it is far too early to write the obituary of oil, as growth for trucks, petrochemicals, shipping and aviation keep pushing demand higher. The US will become the undisputed leader for oil and gas production for decades, which represents a major upheaval for international market dynamics.”

These themes – as well as the future role of oil and gas in the energy mix, how clean-energy technologies are deploying, and the need for more investment in CCUS – were among the key topics discussed by the world’s energy leaders at the IEA’s 2017 Ministerial Meeting in Paris last week.

 

Gas infrastructure investments needed, IEA report stresses

Investments in new natural gas infrastructure are urgently needed in Greece if energy crises such as last winter’s are to be countered, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest in-depth review of Greece’s energy policies.

Natural gas companies have capacity to broaden their customer bases but a greater build up of consumers at the existing networks should represent the first step, the IEA report noted, adding this will serve as a platform for network expansion into new areas.

On gas imports, the IEA report commented that steady domestic demand can be sufficiently covered until 2021, when two long-term supply agreements signed by Greece and suppliers are due to expire.

As for natural gas prices, households in Greece paid 100 dollars per MWh for gas supply in 2016, the second-highest level recorded among all IEA members, the report pointed out.

Natural gas prices for the industrial sector were 28 dollars per MWWh last year, close to the average level for IEA members, IEA noted.

Greek infrastructure does not meet high standards, the report noted, adding that the system’s capacity remains tight, especially during periods of peak demand in the winter.

 

 

IEA: Greece lacks longer term integrated energy, climate strategy

Greece has made noticeable progress with its energy-sector reforms in recent years as the country moved forward on plans to restructure state-owned companies and liberalize electricity and gas markets, an impressive program that will lead to more competitive and financially viable energy markets offering choices and low prices to consumers, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest in-depth review of Greece’s energy policies.

The IEA report, “Energy Policies of IEA Countries: Greece 2017 Review”, encourages the country to pursue energy sector reforms that will provide long-term economic benefits. The report notes the important role that the country’s energy regulatory authority played in ensuring timely implementation of market reforms, and stresses the need to provide the regulator with all the necessary resources to meet its growing responsibilities.

Prior to the launch of the report, IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol held a bilateral with Greek Energy and Environment Minister Giorgos Stathakis in Athens to discuss the IEA’s policy recommendations as well as recent developments in global energy markets and the IEA’s upcoming 2017 Ministerial Meeting.

The IEA report also welcomes the government’s efforts to strengthen energy security through investments in natural gas and electricity infrastructure, most notably by enhancing regional inter-connections, extending gas storage and promoting international gas pipelines to diversify supply routes. However, the government should allow gas and electricity markets to promptly react to price signals and assess supply adequacy in an integrated and regional manner, according to the IEA review, the first since 2011.

The country is expected to achieve its 2020 emission reduction and energy efficiency targets through a combination of targeted policy measures for renewable energy and energy efficiency, and the substantially lower energy demand as a result of the economic crisis. Last year, Greece had more solar, notably solar heating, in total final consumption than any other IEA member country. Greece should also explore its renewable energy potential beyond solar and wind, and advance their usage beyond the electricity sector.

“Greece has a vast unexplored potential for renewable energy and we support the country’s efforts to explore this potential by interconnecting its islands with the mainland energy system,” said Dr Fatih Birol. Dr Birol also noted the critical importance of gas and electricity sector reforms that will support the country’s economic recovery.

Greece’s economy is decoupling economic growth from increases in CO2 emissions but at a slower rate than the average for IEA member countries. The same is also true for the improvements in energy intensity. The drop in energy use because of lower economic activity hides minimal improvements in energy intensity since 2000, according to the IEA review. The report recommends that Greece pursues the implementation of ambitious energy efficiency policies, learning from the outcomes of past and current measures, also in other IEA countries.

The report also found that current policies will not be adequate to guide the Greek energy sector towards the long-term energy transition that the government is aiming for. The country’s economic recovery should be used as an opportunity for Greece to get a head start on longer-term emission reductions by pursuing initiatives that support sustainable increases in efficiency, and a switch from oil and coal to natural gas and renewable energy.

“The IEA believes that a key priority for policy makers should be to introduce a comprehensive policy framework to 2030 and beyond, as a pick-up in economic growth could easily lead to a rebound of energy demand growth and increase in emissions,” Dr Birol said.

Greece currently lacks a longer term integrated energy and climate strategy and the report recommends the Government to develop such a strategy and to specifically take into considerations ambitions for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

IEA, Brussels pushing for end to subsidized electricity program

The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its latest report on Greece, presented today, has proposed the elimination of energy sector subsidies such as the Social Residential Tariff (KOT) program offering subsidized, lower-cost electricity for underpriviledged households.

The IEA report also includes a proposal from the European Commission for the elimination of the social residential tariff program for electricity, according to the energy ministry’s secretary general Mihalis Veriopoulos. Greece, along with Italy and Spain, facing equivalent demands, all oppose the proposal, he added.

Veriopoulos informed that an agreement has been reached for the KOT program’s elimination in ten years, not five, as was originally proposed.

The IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol, noted, during the report’s presentation, that support for vulnerable social groups should not be provided through subsidized electricity tariffs but alternative tools instead, possibly tax-based.

“The subsidization of tariffs is not an appropriate method for reducing energy poverty,” noted Birol, who added that energy prices in Greece, compared to other countries, stand at average levels, both for electricity and natural gas.

KOT subsidies in Greece are accumulated through a surcharge imposed on electricity bills.

Greece, like all other IEA members, is examined every five years, Birol noted, adding that major achievements have been made while exceptional work is in progress.

The IEA head cited the high penetration rate of the RES sector, especially the PV sub-sector, in the Greek energy market, as well as the progress being made in the energy security domain through the construction of new pipelines such as the TAP gas infrastructure project.

The IEA head avoided expressing any specific views on matters such as an ongoing bailout-required procedure to lead to the sale of main power utility PPC units, or the utility’s hydropower monopoly.

Greece remains focused on its strategic objectives aiming for energy sector reforms and the RES sector’s market share increase, while the country intends to implement the Paris climate agreement, Greek energy minister Giorgos Stathakis stressed.

 

 

Pipeline gas, LNG imports not enough to prevent new crisis, IEA notes

Last winter’s energy crisis served to remind that abundant natural gas supply, especially LNG, available to the Greek market, as well as the country’s heightened import activity, are not enough to prevent further crises, the International Energy Agency (IEA), noted on Greece in a report examining global gas market supply sufficiency.

The report’s section on Greece was presented in a bid to identify the causes of the wider energy crisis last winter, which also pressured the Greek system.

“Greece is a relatively new gas market but gas plays an important role in electricity generation as it has a 30 percent share (2016),” the IEA report pointed out.

Last year, gas demand in Greece reached four billion cubic meters, of which 68 percent was used for electricity generation and heating, the report noted.

Greece is entirely dependent on pipeline gas supply and LNG imports to overcome periods of heightened demand as the country does not possess an underground gas storage facility – development of a unit in Kavala, northern Greece, is being examined – while LNG storage capacity is limited, the IEA report underlined.

Last winter, electricity demand increased by 12 percent and was primarily covered by gas-fueled power stations, which increased their production levels by 37 percent, compared to the previous year, to 2.1 terrawatt hours (TWh), the IEA report informed.

Gas demand rose by 32 percent last winter and struck an all-time high in January, reaching 637 million cubic meters, 40 percent over the previous record, the IEA report noted.

LNG imports rose by 156 percent and pipeline gas imports increased by 19 percent, to respective levels of 225 and 394 million cubic meters, in order to meet this spike in demand, the report noted.

The IEA report also pointed out the two high-alert periods experienced by Greece’s energy market during last winter’s energy crisis, the first beginning on December 19, to last 13 days, and the second on January 9 for a further 36 days.

A long-term Algerian LNG supply contract helped deal with the crisis, as did an additional shipment from Norway’s Snohvit LNG export terminal, the IEA report stated.

IEA conducting in-depth review of Greek energy sector

A two-day International Energy Agency (IEA) meeting, aiming to conduct an in-depth review (IDR) of the Greek energy sector’s current conditions, begins in Paris today.

Energy minister Giorgos Stathakis and the IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol had discussed the details included on this two-day meeting’s agenda in Greece last February.

The energy sectors of countries are subject to in-depth reviews by the IEA every five years.

The Greek delegation taking part in the Paris meeting is headed by the energy ministry’s secretary general Mihalis Veriopoulos. Other energy ministry officials have joined him.

As part of its in-depth review, the IEA is examining Greece’s energy sector policies, including the country’s effort to minimize the sector’s environmental impact. Subsequently, the agency is focusing on the renewable energy sector and energy efficiency policies as part of its Greek review.

Last February, while in Greece, Birol, the IEA chief, had declared that the agency is prepared to continue contributing to the reshaping of Greece’s energy sector. Birol expressed a willingness to provide his own experience and utilize practices that have been applied successfully in other countries.

Stathakis, Greece’s energy minister, and Birol will have an opportunity to further discuss matters concerning the country’s energy sector at an IEA ministerial meeting scheduled for November.

IEA-led team to visit for energy market IDR report update

Greece’s energy market will be placed under scrutiny over the next few days, beginning tomorrow, when an international team of officials and technocrats visits to gather market data and hold meetings for the latest update of the In Depth Review of Energy Policies Greece (IDR), last published by the IEA in 2011.

Besides IEA representatives, the visiting delegation will include officials and technocrats from the State Department – the US foreign ministry – as well as the finance and energy ministries of the UK, Germany, Spain and Hungary, energypress sources have informed.

The IEA handles energy matters for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The international delegation’s members will stage meetings with all local energy agencies controlled by Greece’s energy ministry.

Emphasis will be placed on electricity and natural gas market reforms, energy supply security, the progress of local renewable energy markets, as well as energy efficiency issues, the same sources noted.

The previous IDR report on Greece found considerable leeway for market reforms while also noting that the local energy sector may greatly contribute to the country’s economic recovery.