The burning of organic materials (such as fossil fuels, wood, and waste) for heating/cooling, electricity, mobility, cooking, disposal, and the production of materials and goods (such as cement, metals, plastics, and food) leads to emissions. This affects local air quality and the climate. In a recent blog, we showed that the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) lags behind all other regions in decoupling air pollutant emissions from economic growth.
Particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) is the air pollutant associated with the largest health effects. MENA’s cities are the second-most air-polluted following South Asia; virtually all of its population is exposed to levels deemed unsafe. In 2019, exposure to excessive PM2.5 levels was associated with almost 300,000 deaths in MENA and it caused the average resident to be sick for more than 70 days in his or her lifetime. It also carries large economic costs for the region, totaling more than $140 billion in 2013, around 2 percent of the region’s GDP.
A good understanding of the emission sources leading to air pollution is necessary to planning for how to best reduce them. Figure 1 shows that waste burning, road vehicles, and industrial processes accounted for around two-thirds of PM2.5 concentrations. Electricity production is also a significant contributor, most of which is used by manufacturing and households.
5 PRIORITY BARRIERS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR POLICY REFORMS TO KICK-START DECOUPLING
A forthcoming report titled “Blue Skies, Blue Seas” discusses these measures, alongside many others, in more detail.
1. Knowledge about air pollution and its sources is limited, with sparse ground monitoring stations. Detailed source apportionment studies have only been carried out for a few cities within the region, with results often not easily accessible for the public.
Extensive monitoring networks and regular studies on local sources of air and climate pollutants are foundational, as is making results easily accessible to the public (e.g., in form of a traffic light system as is done in Abu Dhabi). This will empower sensitive groups to take avoidance decisions, but also nurture the demand for abatement policies.
MENA’s heavy subsidization of fossil fuels, whether that is at the point of consumption or at the point of intermediary inputs in power generation and manufacturing, makes price reforms essential. Aside from incorporating negative externalities better, lifting subsidies also reduces pressure on fiscal budgets, with freed-up fiscal space being available to cushion the impact for low-income households. There have been encouraging steps by some countries such as Egypt, which reduced the fossil fuel subsidies gradually over the last couple of years, leading to significant increases in fuel prices, which in turn had positive effects on air quality.
To support a shift in the modal share toward cleaner mobility, it is imperative to invest in public transport systems, while making them cleaner and supporting nonmotorized options such as walking and biking. Cairo’s continued expansion of its metro system has been effective in reducing PM pollution and other MENA cities have also invested heavily in their public transport infrastructure, moving the needle on improving air quality. Furthermore, it is also important to raise environmental standards, both for fuel quality and car technology, together with regular mandatory inspections.
4. Lenient industrial emissions rules and their weak enforcement. The industrial sector is characterized by low energy efficiency standards, also due to the low, subsidized prices for energy mentioned above. MENA is currently the only region, where not a single country has introduced or is actively planning to introduce either a carbon tax or an emission trading scheme.
Mandating stricter emissions caps, or technology requirements, together with proper enforcement and monitoring is crucial. Incentivizing firms to adopt more resource-efficient, end-of-pipe cleaning, and fuel-switching technologies are additional crucial means to reduce air pollution stemming from the industrial sector. A trading system for emissions could either target CO2 emissions, or air pollutants, such as the PM cap-and-trade system recently introduced in Gujarat, India. Such a system should target both the manufacturing industry as well as the power sector.
5. Weak solid waste management (SWM) is a major issue in MENA. Although the collection of municipal waste has room for improvement in many countries, it is mainly the disposal stage of SWM where the leakage occurs. Too often waste ends up in open dumps or informal landfills, where it ignites. Furthermore, processing capabilities are often limited, and equipment outdated, at least for the lower- and middle-income countries of the region.
Hence, enhancing the efficiency of disposal sites is critical to reducing leakage and the risk of self-ignition. To start, replacing or upgrading open dumps and uncontrolled landfills with engineered or sanitary landfills is a viable option. Going forward, recycling capabilities should be improved and the circularity of resources enhanced. For agricultural waste, the establishment of markets for crop residues and comprehensive information campaigns in Egypt showed that such measures can supplement the introduction of stricter waste-burning bans.
Kick-starting decoupling and banking on green investments hold the promise for MENA not only to improve environmental quality and health locally, and to mitigate climate change globally, but also to reap higher economic returns (including jobs). Moreover, decoupling now will prepare MENA economies better for a future in which much of the world will have decarbonized its economies, including its trade networks.
We can expect more emissions from oil refineries in the near-term future, analysis finds. It is by Cell Press and published in Phys.org as well as other media. Oil refineries are, as we all know, mostly within the US, Chinese and Russian territories but crude oil and gas that were mainly from the MENA region are nowadays explored all over the world. It is consequently not a matter of refining only but of transporting the crudes to the refineries various locations as well as doing with all those stranded assets. Anyway, let us see what is this story is about
A global inventory has revealed that CO2 emissions from oil refineries were 1.3 Gigatonnes (Gt) in 2018 and could be as large as 16.5 Gt from 2020 to 2030. Based on the results, the researchers recommend distinct mitigation strategies for refineries in different regions and age groups. The findings appear August 20 in the journal One Earth.
“This study provides a detailed picture of oil refining capacity and CO2 emissions worldwide,” says Dabo Guan of Tsinghua University. “Understanding the past and future development trends of the oil refining industry is crucial for guiding regional and global emissions reduction.”
Climate change is one of the most fundamental challenges facing humanity today, and continuous expansion of fossil-fuel-based energy infrastructure may be one of the key obstacles in achieving the Paris Agreement goals. The oil refining industry plays a crucial role in both the energy supply chain and climate change. The petroleum oil refining industry is the third-largest stationary emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, contributing 6% of all industrial greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, CO2 accounts for approximately 98% of greenhouse gases emitted by petroleum refineries.
In the new study, Guan and his collaborators developed a publicly available global inventory of CO2 emissions from 1,056 oil refineries from 2000 to 2018. CO2 emissions of the refinery industry were about 1.3 Gt in 2018. If all existing and proposed refineries operate as usual, without the adoption of any low-carbon measures, they could emit up to 16.5Gt of CO2 from 2020 to 2030. Based on the findings, the authors recommend mitigation strategies, such as improving refinery efficiency and upgrading heavy oil-processing technologies, which could potentially reduce global cumulative emissions by 10% from 2020 to 2030. The inventory will be updated and improved in the future as more and better data become available.
The study also showed that the average output of global oil refineries gradually increased from 2000 to 2018, in terms of barrels per day. But the results varied by refinery age group. Specifically, the average capacity of young refineries, which are mainly distributed in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, increased significantly from 2000 to 2018, while the average capacity of refineries older than 19 years remained stable. “Given the greater committed emissions brought about by the long remaining operating time of young refineries, there is an urgent need for these refineries to adopt low-carbon technologies to reduce their CO2 emissions,” Guan says. “As for middle-aged and old refineries, improving operational efficiency, eliminating the backward capacity, and speeding up the upgrading of refining configuration are the key means to balance growing demand and reducing CO2 emissions.”
NATURAL GAS NEWS‘ Geopolitical Implications of Global Decarbonization for MENA producing countries by Pier Paolo Raimondi and Simone Tagliapietra, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES) is an expert’s hindsight in the foreseeable future of the region.
Endowed with half of the world’s proven oil and gas reserves, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region represents a cornerstone of the established global energy architecture. As the clean-energy transition gains momentum worldwide, this architecture might shrink—challenging the socio-economic and geopolitical foundations of the region in general, and of its oil and gas-producing countries in particular.
Geopolitical Implications of Global Decarbonization for MENA producing countries
February 21, 2021
This challenge has two dimensions: domestic and international. Domestically, a decline in global oil and gas demand would reduce revenues for producing countries. Considering the profound dependency of these countries on oil and gas rents (the ‘rentier state’ model), this could have serious economic and social consequences. Internationally, the global clean-energy transition might push producers towards a fierce competition for global market share, exacerbating geopolitical risks both regionally and globally.
In 2020, MENA oil and gas producers experienced a situation that some observers have described as a preview of what the future might look like for them beyond 2030, as global decarbonization unfolds. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented crash in global oil demand. At the same time, oil prices collapsed (for the first time in history, the benchmark West Texas Intermediate entered negative territory) due to a lethal combination of falling demand and OPEC+ coordination failure. All this generated a perfect storm for MENA oil- and gas-producing countries, which led to unprecedented macroeconomic imbalances.
The evolution of oil markets, national stability, and prosperity as well as international influence are closely linked in the MENA region, but MENA oil- and gas-producing countries are far from homogenous. Different countries are likely to experience different impacts from the global clean-energy transition, depending on a number of domestic and international factors.
MENA producers are likely to be affected by the differences in the trajectories for oil and gas markets, the speed of the energy transition in different world markets, increased competition between energy producers, and increasing penalties for carbon intensity in production.
While gas is set to play a role in the global energy mix for decades, oil is expected to lose relevance as a result of decarbonization policies and technological developments in electric vehicles. BP’s 2020 Energy Outlook warned about the imminence of peak oil demand. In its business-as-usual scenario, oil demand is set to recover from the pandemic by 2025 but drop slowly thereafter. In its rapid-energy-transition scenario, oil demand drops from around 100 million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2019 to 89 mb/d in 2030 and just 47 mb/d in 2050. Such a scenario would represent a challenge for MENA oil producers. By contrast, in the business-as-usual scenario, gas demand is expected to increase from 3.8 trillion cubic meters (tcm) in 2018 to 5 tcm in 2040, underpinned by a massive coal-to-gas switch in Asia and elsewhere. Such a scenario would be beneficial for MENA gas-producing countries such as Qatar and Algeria, which could remain geopolitically relevant by providing an important transition fuel to a decarbonizing world.
In the MENA region, Qatar seems to be the best positioned to preserve its geopolitical role, thanks to its significant liquified natural gas (LNG) capacity and its geographical location between Europe and Asia. Nevertheless, gas-producing countries will not be immune to the challenges posed by decarbonization policies in the long run. Gas demand is especially difficult to predict starting in the second half of the 2030s, as a result of increasing cost competition in power generation from renewables, as well as stricter environmental regulations (e.g. the EU Methane Strategy). It will thus be of paramount importance for MENA gasproducing countries to cut emissions in their gas value chain, in order to preserve their position and geopolitical influence.
The speeds of the energy transition in different world regions will also affect MENA geopolitical shifts. For instance, Europe’s oil and liquids demand is expected to decrease from the current 13.3 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe) to 8.6 Mtoe in 2040, according to the International Energy Agency’s stated-policies scenario. By contrast, Asia-Pacific countries’ oil and liquids demand is set to increase from the current 32.5 Mtoe to 37.9 Mtoe in 2040. Thus, MENA producers more exposed to the European market are likely to suffer more—and earlier—from the global decarbonization process than others more exposed to Asian markets. That is, energy demand will increasingly dominate energy geopolitics, especially in an oversupplied energy market.
In such a scenario, export portfolio composition and diversification will determine the evolution of geopolitical influence for MENA oil and gas producers. Exporters that depend heavily on European markets will see their geopolitical position erode and their revenues fall. For example, Algeria, which mostly exports gas via pipeline to Europe, has been an essential element of the European gas supply architecture. Unless it manages to decarbonize its gas exports, this important role will shrink as the European Green Deal is implemented. In 2019, 85 per cent of Algeria’s total gas exports flowed to Europe, 62 per cent via pipeline (mainly to Italy and Spain). By contrast, LNG provides more flexibility to gas exporters, which will enable them to respond effectively to the geographical shifts of the energy demand. Qatar is the world’s top LNG exporter. In 2019, Qatar exported 83 per cent of its total gas exports via LNG. Of this volume, 67 per cent was directed to Asia Pacific countries. Asian markets are expected to drive energy demand growth in general and LNG in particular until 2030. Oil and gas producers will increasingly try to gain market share in such growing energy markets.
While energy demand will be crucial in the future, energy supply issues will not disappear. Competition among producers will persist, and even increase in the foreseeable future. The peak of oil demand will create a harsher world of more intense competition and tighter revenues for MENA oil producers. Regional oil and gas producers are likely to pursue different supply strategies, which will need to deal with the consequence of the global energy transition.
The transition indeed raises an existential dilemma—requiring a choice between maximizing production, which would weaken higher-cost exporters, and coordinating production cuts to increase prices, which could deprive governments of vital revenues. These are not trivial issues, as maximization of production would put into question established assumptions about saving reserves for future production and avoiding stranded assets. An intensification of competition among producers could thus undermine coordinated actions (e.g. OPEC agreements), which are important to oil price stability. This was illustrated by the collapse of OPEC+ talks in March 2020—spurred by disagreements between Saudi Arabia and Russia on the introduction of production quotas, as the two were also competing for market share with US shale oil producers—and the consequent fall in oil prices.
Another example of the growing competition among producers is the growing opposite visions between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia that emerged openly during OPEC talks in late 2020. Although they managed to reach an agreement within OPEC, the UAE’s ambitious plans to increase its oil capacity from about 4 mb/d to 5 mb/d by 2030 puts further pressure on the traditional alignment among Gulf OPEC producers. Moreover, in late 2020 the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company announced a $122 billion investment plan for 2021–2025, suggesting that the UAE had abandoned its more cautious approach to the oil sector. The plan suggested that MENA national oil companies might gain a growing share of world oil and gas production in the future. That is also due to (Western) oil companies’ decisions to cut their capital expenditure and other investments. Such decisions are motivated mostly by low oil prices and their commitment to decarbonization.
In a more competitive world, some MENA producing countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the economic advantage of vast oil reserves (298 and 97 billion barrels, respectively), the lowest production costs (under $4 per barrel), and the least carbon-intense production. In the next years, due to expected higher carbon prices, carbon intensity will play a key role in determining which oil and gas producers will be able to preserve their geopolitical influence. MENA oil producers with higher production carbon intensity, such as Algeria and Iraq, might thus lag behind.
The global energy transition can also impact MENA oil- and gas-producing countries’ governance, due to their heavy dependence on revenues from these resources. To address this issue, regional oil and gas producers have launched several strategies (referred to as Visions) aimed at economic diversification (e.g. by increasing productivity, strengthening the private sector, and developing non-oil sectors), as well as increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix. These Visions were largely developed as a response to the 2014 oil price drop; COVID-19 and the acceleration of the global energy transition make it necessary to accelerate them. A country’s chances of success at this are likely to be affected by domestic factors including population size, government capacity, and financial ability to implement diversification measures.
Countries with a large, young, and growing population (Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq) will encounter significant obstacles to the transformation of their rentier-state model. By contrast, countries with a smaller population, like the UAE and Qatar (9.7 and 2.8 million inhabitants, respectively) are likely to find it easier to adjust.
The ability to govern and finance major domestic socio-economic transformation will also be crucial. For example, North African countries could exploit their geographical vicinity to Europe and become major clean-electricity suppliers. In this sense, the recent EU Hydrogen Strategy considers imports of 40 GW of green hydrogen from the EU’s eastern and southern neighbours. However, countries like Algeria and Libya are experiencing major social and political instability, which undermines such scenarios and discourages the needed foreign investments. Thus, countries with major governance issues like Algeria, Libya, and Iraq are expected to lag behind on energy and economic diversification. The risk is that these countries will focus political energies on an intensifying fight for a share of the diminishing global oil and gas market, rather than on a strategy to reorient their economy. By contrast, countries with stronger governance are better equipped to transform their economies, bear the negative consequences of the transition in the short term, and navigate the geopolitical evolution.
The availability of large foreign exchange reserves will be crucial for the transformation of MENA producing countries. With such reserves, countries could offset the negative economic effects of lower oil demand and revenues in the short term, while investing in renewable energy projects for the medium and long term. Thus, countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar (with $500, $108 and $38 billion of foreign reserves, respectively) are potentially well equipped to manage the negative effects of lower revenues and foster economic transformation. Additionally, countries with large sovereign wealth funds could use them as an integral part of the diversification effort, for example to finance research and development and renewable-energy projects in MENA countries.
Producers with large foreign exchange reserves, sizable sovereign wealth funds, and small populations to appease are potentially the best placed to navigate the uncharted waters of the global energy transition.
MENA oil and gas producers have also considered developing their high renewable-energy potential, especially solar. This could help them pursue several goals, including economic diversification and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It could also free additional oil and gas volumes, currently used to meet fast-growing domestic energy demand, for sale abroad to produce additional revenue—thus avoiding the negative economic effects of growing energy consumption and positioning themselves as major renewable powers in a low-carbon future.
More recently, MENA oil and gas producers have begun to consider the growing interest in hydrogen as a way to preserve their geopolitical influence and remain pivotal actors in the future energy system. Given the region’s abundant renewable energy and carbon capture and storage potential, MENA countries could be at the forefront in both the green and blue hydrogen markets. In the short and medium term, blue hydrogen could benefit from its cost advantages. In the longer term, the MENA countries could exploit their excellent solar conditions and low-cost renewables in order to produce and export green hydrogen. Three MENA oil producers (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman) have announced major hydrogen plans. For example, in July 2020 an international consortium announced plans for a $5 billion green renewables and hydrogen plant in Saudi Arabia, which aims to begin shipping ammonia to global markets by 2025. In September 2020 Saudi Arabia shipped 40 tons of blue ammonia to Japan in a pilot project undertaken by Saudi Aramco and the petrochemical giant Sabic.
The global energy transition will inevitably affect MENA oil- and gas-producing countries, both macroeconomically and geopolitically. However, not all MENA countries will see their geopolitical influence change in the same way. Some countries are better equipped than others to offset the negative effects domestically and internationally. Internationally, MENA oil and gas producers will start to focus more on energy demand differences among world regions. MENA countries with lowest-cost and least-carbon-intensive production are better positioned to preserve their geopolitical influence. Moreover, export portfolio composition and diversification will crucially define whether a country will lead or lag behind in the energy transition. Oil and gas producers are also endowed with an abundant renewable potential, another possible route to future energy leadership.
Nevertheless, competition among producers will remain or even increase, potentially undermining coordinated efforts to stabilize oil prices. Due to the strong link between hydrocarbons and the nature of the state in the MENA region, the domestic sphere will be a key element in the geopolitical shifts. Population size, strong governance, and the financial ability to adapt to change will help some MENA oil and gas producers to preserve their geopolitical role, while managing domestic socio-economic transformation.
At a time, when important issues are being raised and out of the ordinary tensions are taking place concerning gas fields, Algeria faces geostrategic gas tensions in the Mediterranean. It is, in particular, the tensions between Greece and Turkey, challenging it where its primary gas market is, in Europe, and whose hydrocarbons with derivatives provide 98% of foreign exchange revenues in 2019, where the price of gas disposal has fallen by more than 75% in 10 years and providing 33% of its SONATRACH’s revenues. Here is an analysis of options for this unprecedented east Mediterranean situation as seen from Algeria.
Between 2018/2019, according to the IEA we have the following distribution 33.1% of oil, 27.0% coal, 24.2% natural gas, 4.3% nuclear and 11.5% renewable energy (hydropower 6.5%, wind 2.2%, biomass and geothermal 1.0%, solar 1.1%, agrofuels 0.7%).
Natural gas is derived from fossil fuels and is made up of decomposing organic matter that has been released into the soil for millions of years and is routed through pipes. We have liquefied natural gas as far as it is a natural gas that has been changed to a liquid state so that it can be transported and stored more easily. Because natural gas deposits are often far removed from many consumers of this energy, transporting it in a gaseous state is risky and expensive.
Also and by cooling it, it is possible to transform it into liquid natural gas, There are two main markets on which the world’s natural gas is traded. The most important is the NYMEX or New York Mercantile Exchange located in the United States, and the second, the NBP or National Balancing Point of the International Petroleum Exchange located in London. There are other smaller markets such as the FTT in the Netherlands or The Zeebrugge in Belgium. Between 2018/2019, before the coronavirus outbreak, according to Cedigaz, demand increased, strengthening its place in the energy mix. In 2018, international LNG represented a provisionally estimated volume of 311 Mt, according to Cedigaz, up 8.5% from 2017. LNG now accounts for more than a third of gas trade, with growth in LNG imports concentrated in Northeast Asia (China and South Korea), where gas plays an increased role in electricity generation and heating. China contributes the most to the growth in global LNG demand, with more than 60% of the total increase in trade.
Proven world reserves on a total of 197.394 billion cubic meters of gas (data from 2018/2019) we have in descending order: Russia 47,800 billion cubic meters, Iran 33,500, Qatar 24,300, USA 8,714, Saudi Arabia 8,602, Turkmenistan 6061, Venezuela 5702, Nigeria 5,284, and China 5,194 and for Algeria between 2500 and 3000 according to the statement of the current Minister of Energy before his appointment and the communiqué of the Council of Ministers of 2014, the data of 4500 being those of BP of the years 2000. The top 10 countries producing natural gas in descending order are. Russia alone accounts for 20% of world natural gas production. It is also the largest exporter, second with the shale gas revolution becoming an exporter in Europe, the United States of America, followed by Canada (third place) and Qatar fourth, with Iran downgraded following US sanctions, followed by Norway, China, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria, which ranked ninth. These data should be interpreted with caution because thousands of deposits can be discovered, but not profitable according to financial standards depending on operating costs and the evolution of the international price itself depending on the demand and competition of substitutable energies As for some experts who speak of an OPEC gas market in the image of OPEC oil, it should be stressed that the gas market is not in this month of August 2020, a global market but a market segmented by geographical areas while the oil market is homogeneous, due to the preponderance of pipelines, being impossible to meet the same criteria, the solution being cooperation within the FPEG which consists of 11 member countries (5 in Africa (Algeria , Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Nigeria) – 2 in the Middle East (Iran, Qatar); – 3 in South America (Bolivia, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela) and Russia, 9 non-member countries with observer status: Angola, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Norway, Oman and Peru, the United States, one of the world’s leading gas producers, are not part of the FPEG.. To one day reach a gas market that meets oil market standards (daily listing), the share of LNG would have to increase from 30% to more than 80%. Until then, because investments are hefty, everything will depend on the evolution between 2020/2030/2040, on-demand for LNG which will depend on the new global energy consumption model that is moving towards the digital and energy transition with an increase in the share of renewables, energy efficiency and between 2030/2040 hydrogen which risks degrading a large part of the transition energy.
What about the current tensions in the eastern Mediterranean regarding the energy sector which is not immune to OPEC’s action, but indirectly affecting the price of energy and the market share of Algeria towards Europe its principal customer, recalling that there is a gas organisation independent of that of OPEC.
A friend, the polytechnician Jean Pierre Hauet of KP Intelligence, France rightly notes that the energy scene comes alive in the Mediterranean with at least two significant fields of manoeuvring which it is interesting to try to understand the ins and outs that explain the current tensions, especially in the eastern Mediterranean. The first theatre is that of renewable energy (wind, concentrated solar, photovoltaic) which has been characterised by the launch of major initiatives based on the idea that technical progress in direct current transmission lines would allow taking advantage of the complementarity between the electricity needs of the countries of the north and the availability of space and sun of the countries of the South. At the time, we were talking about 400 million euros of investments and the satisfaction of 15% of Europe’s electricity needs. Today, the Desertec project is instead at half-mast, due in particular to the withdrawal of major industrial players, Siemens and Bosch, and the consummate disagreement between the Desertec Foundation and its industrial arm the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii). Dii continues its ambitions to integrate European, North African and Middle Eastern networks, while the Desertec Foundation now seems to favour bilateral initiatives in Cameroon, Senegal and Saudi Arabia. The second theatre of operations is recent: it relates to the discovery from 2009 of deep offshore gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean, which explains the current tensions. Large companies that used to operate other more accessible, profitable fields or near facilities nearby, on land, are now turning to the eastern Mediterranean, off Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus and Turkey, all countries that do not necessarily have good neighbourly relations. Because several gas deposits have been discovered off the coast of Egypt, Israel, Lebanon or Cyprus, at the heart of the so-called Levantine basin, it is estimated by the US Geological Survey at 3,452 billion cubic meters (m3). “For the producing or future producing coastal states, this gas resource offers the opportunity to achieve energy independence and a way to bail out their economy through potential exports” according to the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies in a well-documented report. That is why Turkey is conducting research. Even if Greece and part of the international community accuse it of having entered the Greek maritime space, international law is unclear in this situation which does not delineate borders and geographical boundaries. Gas resources can be found on or offshore limits of a country or in either transboundary or not clearly defined boundaries reservoirs, and the Turkish initiative could be the beginning of a long series of tensions that could transform regional balances. Because geological formations do not know the political borders, oil and gas companies have explored the marine subsea soils of neighbouring countries. This was followed by the uncovering of the Leviathan field (2010) also off the coast of Israel, Zohr (2015) in Egyptian waters, then Aphrodite (2012), Calypso (2018) and Glaucus (2019) around Cyprus. Exploration of Lebanese and Greek waters is not advanced. Athens has already allocated parcels to ExxonMobil, Spain’s Repsol or Total. On February 19, 2018, a historic $15 billion contract between Egypt and Israel provided for the supply of natural gas from the Tamar and Leviathan offshore reservoirs to Egypt, according to a report by the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies (FMEN). To ease tensions, although the countries of the Mediterranean all face the problem of energy security, it is above all a question of strengthening cooperation especially in the energy field, which can represent a vital link between the north and the South of the Mediterranean.
What is the case for Algeria where according to SONATRACH’s balance sheet in 2019, it makes up about 33% of its revenues, to which must be deducted the costs and the share of partners dependent on natural gas in order to have the net profit? The structure between natural gas exports through the two major Medgaz pipelines via Spain capacity, of 8 billion cubic meters gas and Transmed via Italy between 35/40 billion cubic meters of gas, currently under capacity, represents about 75% of the total towards its primary market Europe. LNG about 25% that provides it with more flexibility, Algeria is strongly competed against between 2020/2025 by the American, Russian, Qatari LNG. The latter has installed large capacity two to three times that of Algeria and for the gas piped by Russia the North Stream (55 billion cubic meters of capacity and the South Stream (capacity of 63 billion cubic meters gas), not forgetting as previously highlighted the discoveries in the Mediterranean. Nigeria and Mozambique are important producers with the latter country having the largest reserves in East African countries, with nearly 5 trillion cubic meters, on two offshore blocks in the province of Cabo Delgado in the far north of the country. By 2025/2030, Mozambique is likely to become the fourth-largest gas exporter in the world behind the USA, Qatar and Australia. In order to export to Asia, it will have to bypass the entire cornice of Africa posing the problem of profitability, in addition to the operating costs is added an exorbitant transport cost, unable to compete with Russia with the Siberian China gas pipeline, called “Power of Siberia”, more than 2000 km at the Chinese border, transporting 38 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to China each year by 2024/2025, a contract, estimated at more than 400 billion dollars over 30 years, signed by Gazprom and the Chinese giant CNPC, signed by Gazprom and the Chinese giant CNPC. Not to mention Iran and Qatar close to Asia. In the end, everything will depend for Algeria to enter the global market of cost requiring new strategic management of Sonatrach whose operating account for several decades depends fundamentally on external factors beyond its internal management, the international vector price, which led the president of the republic to demand an audit of this company. As for the world price between 2007 and September 2020, it fell by more than 75%, much more than for the oil. It has gone from 15/16 dollars for the GLN to 4/5 dollars and $9/10 for natural gas (GN). It has fluctuated between 2019/2020 between $1.7 and $2.5 per MBTU, in the open market. And recently between January 2020 and September 2020, we will have to take into account the dollar/euro rating which has depreciated by more than 11%, due to the uncertainties of the US economy and especially the swelling of the budget deficit bringing it back to the constant price thus having to draw the currency balance
In short, energy is at the heart of the sovereignty of states and their security policies. The world is moving during 2020 through 2030, inevitably towards the digital and energy transition with a new model of energy consumption and knowledge imposing on our leaders a cultural renewal far from the material mentality of the past that cannot lead the country with expensive projects, uncertain profitability to the impasse. Economic dynamics will alter global power relations and affect political recompositions within and regional spaces, hence the importance of understanding geostrategic energy issues and appropriate solutions, far from unrealistic discourses.
Saudi Arabia abruptly altered its oil production strategy in early March and began to flood the market with cheap oil. Financial markets worldwide haemorrhaged value at the prospect of a protracted and painful price war, and American oil firms immediately cut back spending and dividend payments as the price for their primary product halved. As of this morning, WTI Crude (a pricing benchmark tied to U.S. supply) was barely north of $20/bbl, prices not seen since 2002.
This sudden tumult represents an opportunity for the renewable energy sector. At first glance, this may sound counterintuitive. After all, oil prices seem largely unrelated to the prospects of wind, solar, and other renewables in the electricity generation sector, because in the United States the primary fossil source of electricity is natural gas. Natural gas prices have been largely uncorrelated with the price of oil since 2007, when large-scale domestic shale-gas production began to come online (see chart). In other parts of the world, coal drives electricity generation, which is similarly decoupled. Virtually nobody uses oil as a primary electricity source, except in certain very specific locations, such as Hawaii, where the demands of unique geography and supply logistics align to make oil the best bet for power production.
Oil’s link to renewables instead comes through competition in the financing marketplace. As new projects are developed and financing is sought, the infrastructure funds that provide capital to enable these developments naturally prefer projects that promise the most attractive financial returns. With relatively high prices over the last decade and unmatched value as a transportation fuel, oil exploration has beaten out renewable project development on the financial metrics time after time.Today In: Energy
The oil shocks over the last weeks could dramatically alter that calculus. Revenues for potential oil projects have suddenly dropped by over 50%, and futures contracts currently show only a modest improvement in prices by year’s end. The market is already pricing in the expectation that oil prices remain below $40/bbl for the foreseeable future, a dramatic change from the $55+/bbl that has been the norm for the last few years.
Even if prices do recover, the sudden volatility will still weigh on the minds of project investors. Oil markets haven’t resembled a purely competitive market since the mid-1960s, and since that time prices have been regularly impacted by sudden and unforeseen changes in supply by OPEC producers, primarily Saudi Arabia. The rise in shale-oil in the U.S. in the last decade has effectively put a cap on prices and provided a counterweight to OPEC’s pricing power. But the muscle being flexed now shows that the OPEC nations and Russia still maintain substantial influence over the fate of American oil producers. This ‘stroke of the pen’ risk, now that it has again bared its head, maybe unlikely to be forgotten in the near future.
Renewables, by contrast, have no supply risk whatsoever, and are primarily exposed to fluctuations in the price of electricity. Insomuch as this relates to the price of natural gas, investors in the U.S. will take comfort knowing gas is essentially a local market, with U.S. prices driven by supply and demand within North America; there is little ability to arbitrage against global markets due to limited export capacity. Therefore, as oil prices come down, project financiers should start to turn more of their attention to the new safe bets that offer more durable returns: wind, solar, and the like.
This isn’t to say that renewables don’t face headwinds in the current environment. Cheap oil also competes with renewables in the transportation sector. Electric Vehicles will be less competitive with their gasoline-powered cousins as the price for gasoline at the pump drops, lowering demand for new grid capacity and forcing renewables to wait for retirements of current assets. The price for natural gas in the U.S. is dropping as well, driven primarily by the sudden decrease in demand due to the shuttering of entire industries. These drops make fossil power from natural gas more competitive with their renewable counterparts.
Futures markets, however, are currently pricing in a full rebound of natural gas prices by year’s end, with the futures contract for Henry Hub for December 2020 currently priced above market levels at the end of 2019. This suggests that the drop in prices of natural gas will be temporary, and investors making long-term bets do not view the current situation as durable. Further, natural gas prices are just one component of the price paid by utilities to power producers, and so a drop in natural gas prices doesn’t necessarily imply a similar fall in the rates negotiated in new power purchase agreements. So the drop in natural gas prices evident in the market now looks to be temporary, and unlikely to dramatically alter the widespread conclusion that renewables are now the cheapest power source to build.
Altogether, the oil market has changed dramatically in the last three weeks, in ways unforeseen just a few short months ago. But despite the headlines and worrying drops across financial markets, opportunity lies in these disruptions. Renewables are well positioned to capitalize.
Brentan Alexander‘s words: I am the Chief Science Officer and Chief Commercial Officer at New Energy Risk, where I lead the detailed diligence of novel technologies and business models across the energy landscape. I have devoted my career to advancing solutions to the climate crisis and use my experience to help technology companies assemble everything they need to reach the market faster. I hold a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, where I studied gasification, thermochemistry, and electrochemistry, and Masters and Bachelors degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When I’m not in the office, you can find me hiking the hills outside Oakland, California, or turning wood in the shop. All of my articles reflect my personal views and not those of my employer nor the volunteer initiatives that I am involved in. You can find out more about me via my website (brentanalexander.com) or follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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