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Middle East, Oil and Security

Osama Rizvi

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In my latest article I mentioned the factors one needs to keep an eye on to track the trajectory of oil prices, for the rest of the year . Geopolitics, of-course, was one of them. Keeping this factor aside, there has not been any significant development pertaining to oil as to affect the prices substantially.

The inventory levels, albeit have drained some barrels are still 170 million above five year moving average. Rig count has fallen but is still high, almost double, as compared to last year. Shale production, more or less, stable, and/or growing. The OPEC and NOPEC meeting is due in November. But without deeper cuts the effect on the markets might be short-lived. Extending the deal further can help to maintain the status-quo, but not improve it.

Back to Middle-East. There are three important developments. The recent meeting between Saudi monarch and Russian president. The upshots of Iraqi referendum. And Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as Iran deal is formally known. The first one has the potential to affect the markets in a very substantial way, for the longer-term. The second can cause some undulations in prices but ephemerally. Impact of the third scenario can range from slight to nominal but, followed by sanctions, it has the prowess to upend the Vienna accord and, in the wake of it, causing another price crash.

The meeting between Saudi monarch and Putin shows how oil can help to lubricate relationships at international level. Both the parties in question are at the opposite side on the matter of Syria. KSA, a US ally, is against Bashar-Al-Assad whereas Russia sides with Iran, the arch-rival of KSA, in order to support the Syrian president. However, both of the countries have much more in common than their differences. The economic milieu is not promising in Russia thanks to the double-whammy of sanctions, ratcheted up after the Crimean annexation and the fall in oil prices (for every $1 dollar fall in oil, the country loses $2 billion in revenue). KSA is ready to tackle a $53billion budget deficit even as prices have recovered almost 20% this year (KSA has been posting budget deficits for past 3 years). The masses in wont of the government largess in shape of subsidies, holidays and lax tax policies will now need to learn to live without these, albeit, gradually. Hence, the burgeoning amity between the two countries in question has room to go a long way, or at-least, until the oil prices recover to levels that can help heal the wounds of budget deficits and fall in revenue. This also bodes well for the oil prices as much, rather all, depends upon the cooperation between the two said countries.

The events after the Iraqi referendum should not come as a surprise to anyone. Turkey and Iran’s opposition also. Kirkuk, which contains 10% of Iraq’s oil, if fall under the control of Kurds, the ensuing autonomy  a result of oil revenues and a vantage point owing to their strategic position, will not be acceptable to Iraq or for that matter even Turkey as booth countries have Kurdish population. This can fan the flames of a referendum streak threatening stability in countries with Kurd population (namely Turkey and Iran). The principle of “identity” will clearly and evidently play its role. If Turkey closes the Ceyhan pipeline, the only one that carries oil from Iraq to a Turkish port in Mediterranean, we can expect a quick surge in oil prices, but once again only temporarily.

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The other side of the picture is the conundrum US needs to solve: whom to support? If it supports PMF (Popular Mobilization Forces) as Al-Has Al Sha’abi is known, it provides room to Iran to grow their influence further in Iraq, as the umbrella organization is controlled by the former. If it supports Kurds (Kurdistan Regional Government) it can result in further escalation, exacerbating conditions in a region that cannot afford a new conflict. As of today, 17th October, 2017, Iraqi forces have seized the oil city of Kirkuk. It remains to be seen if there is any retaliation from Kurds.  

Iran deal may not affect oil markets directly, immediately or fundamentally (slightly, may be) but it has a profound link with the market sentiment, moreover, with Vienna accord, the only thing preventing oil prices to crash anew. Observers expect Trump will not abandon the deal but refuse to certify. However, given the whimsical nature of the president, he has threatened Iran with new sanctions. But for a strong impact of these sanctions Trump requires support from Asia and Europe which doesn’t seem to happen. The effect on Iran’s oil sales may be limited, an article in Bloomberg says.

But there is another side to it. What if, a new round of sanctions, starts to seep through and weakens the commitment of the country to continue being a party to Vienna accord? Recall that when this string of meetings and calls began in order to control falling oil prices, Iran declined to participate (justifying that they just recovered from sanctions and need to pump more barrels in order to bring in revenue). If this happens, other countries may follow suit. The Vienna accord can go to pieces. Libya and Nigeria are already exempted. Adding all this up prognosticates another oil price crash. Because it is only this deal that has been primarily holding oil prices at this level. Cemented further by its extension till March 2018 and supported by the hope of another extension when OPEC and NOPEC members meet in November.

The rendezvous between Saudi monarch and Putin plus the Iraqi referendum might help to push prices upward. But Iran’s commitment, like Russia’s, is a lifeline to the oil deal and subsequently, a quintessential condition to maintain, if not improve, the current market sentiment (which is positive). Only time can tell what happens. But it is always better to identify the trends, it is the best we can do.

Independent Economic Analyst, Writer and Editor. Contributes columns to different newspapers. He is a columnist for Oilprice.com, where he analyzes Crude Oil and markets. Also a sub-editor of an online business magazine and a Guest Editor in Modern Diplomacy. His interests range from Economic history to Classical literature.

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Australia’s commitment to affordable, secure and clean energy

MD Staff

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Australia should rely on long-term policy and energy market responses to strengthen energy security, foster competition, and make the power sector more resilient, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest review of the country’s energy policies.

In line with global trends, Australia’s energy system is undergoing a profound transformation, putting its energy markets under pressure. Concerns about affordable and secure energy supplies have grown in recent years, following several power outages, a tightening gas market in the east coast and rising energy prices.

Besides assessing progress since the IEA review of 2012, the Australian government requested the IEA to focus on how Australia can use global best practices in transitioning to a lower-carbon energy system. This question points to safeguarding electricity supply when ageing coal capacity retires, increased variable renewable energy comes on line and natural gas markets are tight. In this context, the IEA also contributed to the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market (NEM) by Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel.

“The government’s efforts to ensure energy security and move ahead with market reforms have been impressive. Australia can develop its vast renewable resources and remain a cornerstone of global energy markets as a leading supplier of coal, uranium and liquefied natural gas (LNG), securing the energy for growing Asian markets.” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, who presented the report’s findings in Canberra. “A comprehensive national energy and climate strategy is needed for Australia to have a cleaner and more secure energy future. The National Energy Guarantee is a promising opportunity for Australia to integrate climate and energy policy.”

Along with the United States, Australia is leading the next wave of growth in liquefied natural gas (LNG). As a major exporter of coal, Australia is also a strong supporter of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies. The report commends Australia’s efforts which can be critical globally to meeting long-term climate goals.

The IEA’s review points out that the sustainable development of new gas resources is critical for natural gas to play a growing role in the energy transition, satisfying a growing domestic gas demand in power generation and industry and to honor export contracts at the same time. The report calls on Australia to continue efforts to improve transparency of gas pricing, boost market integration and facilitate access to transportation capacity.

Welcoming the government’s energy security focus, including the creation of the Energy Security Board, the Energy Security Office, and Australia’s plan to return to compliance with the IEA’s emergency stock holding obligations, the IEA recommends regular and comprehensive energy security assessments to identify risks early on, and foster the resilience of the energy sector.

In terms of power system security, the report offers a series of recommendations on how to improve the market design of the National Energy Market (NEM), one of the most liberalised and flexible power markets in the world. To accommodate higher shares of variable renewables, the IEA recommends that the NEM prioritises measures to safeguard system stability, enhance grid infrastructure, including interconnections, and regularly upgrade technical standards. As consumer choice and prices in retail markets are liberalised across Australia, the government needs to focus on wholesale competition and demand-side flexibility, in recognition of the changing ways energy is produced and consumed, thus contributing to reducing peak demand.

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5 myths about solar panels, debunked

MD Staff

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Home solar panels can drastically cut or even eliminate electricity bills, reduce a home’s carbon footprint, increase resale value, and may even help a home sell faster.

The cost of rooftop solar systems has fallen dramatically in recent years, and most homeowners have the option of buying the system, leasing it on reasonable payment terms, or having a third-party pay for and install the system at no up-front cost at all for the homeowner. Plus, home solar systems are eligible for federal tax credits.

All of this explains why the number of homeowners installing solar has sky-rocketed across America. Nevertheless, many homeowners remain skeptical about taking control of their energy use and installing solar. Why? The various myths that still persist around solar power could be the reason.

“Solar technology has been around for a long time, but even though it’s entered the mainstream, many homeowners are still skeptical,” says renewable energy expert Roger Ballentine, president of Green Strategies, a leading Washington-based consulting firm. “That’s because a number of myths persist, pointing to the need for better consumer education about the benefits of home solar installations.”

Ballentine points to private and government studies providing real information that debunks the myths surrounding solar power. For example, research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found solar panels help homes sell faster and for more money than those without solar.

If you’re considering installing a solar panel system on your home, here are five common myths — and why you shouldn’t believe them:

Myth 1: Solar panels only work if you live in a warm, sunny climate

While solar panels work best when they get a lot of sun, a lack of bright sun doesn’t mean they’re not working. Panels can still absorb ambient sunlight, even on cloudy days or in regions that get less bright sun. What’s more, today’s solar panels are more energy efficient than ever. Newer systems like the “LG NeOn R” maximize sunlight absorption and generate the maximum possible output — as much as 26 percent more than other comparably sized solar panels. This higher efficiency means that solar panels can work in virtually any climate and every season.

Myth 2: You need a lot of roof space for solar panels

Just like other amazing technologies (think microchips), solar panels are getting smaller, more powerful and more efficient. High-efficiency panels take up less space because fewer panels are required to produce the electricity needed to power your home. So even a smaller home could have enough roof space to fit the number of panels needed to generate the necessary power and save you money.

Myth 3: Installation is a long, drawn-out hassle

While adding solar panels to your home isn’t a DIY project, installation usually takes only a day or two. New models streamline the process further, eliminating the need to install a separate inverter. Most solar panels require a separate inverter to bring electricity into your house, but new panels from LG, for instance, incorporate the inverter, simplifying and accelerating the installation process.

Myth 4: If something goes wrong, you’re on your own

As with any major investment in your home, you should make sure you understand the manufacturer and installer warranties for your solar panels, including how long the coverage lasts and what types of problems are covered. One leading solar player, LG, even offers an industry-leading, 25-year product and power warranty. And unlike a furnace or an air conditioning system, a solar installation has no moving parts to wear out and typically requires little maintenance and repair.

Myth 5: Solar panels will look big, bulky and ugly on your roof

Solar panels are becoming smaller, sleeker and more aesthetically pleasing. Higher-efficiency models are also offering increased flexibility of configuration. Instead of having to cover an entire roof with panels in a specific arrangement in order to generate power, modern options allow you to arrange panels to meet your sense of aesthetics.

Adding solar power to a home offers homeowners many benefits, from reducing energy costs, to increasing the value of your home and helping the environment, Ballentine says. “Overall, it’s a decision most homeowners feel positively about once they’ve made it.” The NREL notes in its study: “Buyers of homes with (solar panel) systems are more satisfied than are comparison buyers. A significantly higher percentage … indicate they would buy the same houses again.”

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ADB-Supported Kyrgyz Republic’s Largest Hydropower Plant Achieves Key Milestone

MD Staff

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photo: ADB

JSC Electric Power Plants (EPP), the major state-owned power generation company in the Kyrgyz Republic, today announced the award of a turn-key contract for the Asian Development Bank-supported (ADB) modernization of the Toktogul hydropower plant (HPP) to a joint venture of GE Hydro (France) and GE Renewables (Switzerland) for $104 million.

The modernization project includes new state-of-the-art units which will improve safety, efficiency, reliability, and availability of the Toktogul HPP, located on the Naryn River in the Jalal-Abad Province and considered the country’s largest and most important hydropower plant, increasing its overall capacity to 1,440 megawatts. The additional capacity will be sufficient to supply about 200,000 households for an entire year.

ADB and the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) financed the replacement of four units of the Toktogul HPP, which has been generating about 6,000 gigawatt hours per year for 43 years. Because of aging equipment, however, the plant has experienced increasing number of failures in recent years.

“ADB has been supporting the energy sector in the Kyrgyz Republic since 1996 as the rehabilitation, replacement, and augmentation of power sector assets are critical for energy security in the country”, said Candice McDeigan, ADB’s Country Director for the Kyrgyz Republic.

“The phased rehabilitation of the Toktogul plant has been the key priority for ADB’s energy sector support in the Kyrgyz Republic and its timely rehabilitation is key to the country’s plan to export summer surplus to Afghanistan and Pakistan through the CASA-1000 power transmission line”, said Ashok Bhargava, Director for the Energy Division at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department.

EPP commenced phased rehabilitation of the Toktogul HPP project in 2012, starting with the refurbishment of the secondary electrical and mechanical equipment, the rehabilitation of two Toktogul units, and later completed by the remaining two Toktogul units, with an overall target completion by 2024-2026. The latest milestone was a result of the extensive competition among all major players and EPP’s innovative approach to procurement and design, which brought in competitive pricing and accelerated completion of the project by 3 years.

“In 2016, EPP decided to fast track the procurement of the four turbines and generators of the Toktogul HPP through single procurement for economies of scale, resulting to completion three years early. With ADB support, the EPP conducted multiple roadshows to improve the

procurement design based on industry feedback and international best practice to increase completion for the project,” said EPP General Director Uzak Kydyrbaev.

GE Capital, the ultimate parent of the GE consortium, has provided a guarantee to support its operation in the Kyrgyz Republic. GE has committed to commission the first unit by November 2020, and one additional unit each year by November 2023

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