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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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Global energy investment in 2017 fails to keep up with energy security and sustainability goals

MD Staff

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The electricity sector attracted the largest share of energy investments in 2017, sustained by robust spending on grids, exceeding the oil and gas industry for the second year in row, as the energy sector moves toward greater electrification, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest review of global energy spending.

Global energy investment totalled USD 1.8 trillion in 2017, a 2% decline in real terms from the previous year, according to the World Energy Investment 2018 report. More than USD 750 billion went to the electricity sector while USD 715 billion was spent on oil and gas supply globally.

State-backed investments are accounting for a rising share of global energy investment, as state-owned enterprises have remained more resilient in oil and gas and thermal power compared with private actors. The share of global energy investment driven by state-owned enterprises increased over the past five years to over 40% in 2017.

Meanwhile, government policies are playing a growing role in driving private spending. Across all power sector investments, more than 95% of investment is now based on regulation or contracts for remuneration, with a dwindling role for new projects based solely on revenues from variable pricing in competitive wholesale markets. Investment in energy efficiency is particularly linked to government policy, often through energy performance standards.

The report also finds that after several years of growth, combined global investment in renewables and energy efficiency declined by 3% in 2017 and there is a risk that it will slow further this year. For instance, investment in renewable power, which accounted for two-thirds of power generation spending, dropped 7% in 2017. Recent policy changes in China linked to support for the deployment of solar PV raise the risk of a slowdown in investment this year.

As China accounts for more than 40% of global investment in solar PV, its policy changes have global implications. This confirms past IEA reports that have highlighted the critical importance of policies in driving investment in renewable energy.

While energy efficiency showed some of the strongest expansion in 2017, it was not enough to offset the decline in renewables. Moreover, efficiency investment growth has weakened in the past year as policy activity showed signs of slowing down.

“Such a decline in global investment for renewables and energy efficiency combined is worrying,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “This could threaten the expansion of clean energy needed to meet energy security, climate and clean-air goals. While we would need this investment to go up rapidly, it is disappointing to find that it might be falling this year.”

The share of fossil fuels in energy supply investment rose last year for the first time since 2014, as spending in oil and gas increased modestly. Meanwhile, retirements of nuclear power plants exceeded new construction starts as investment in the sector declined to its lowest level in five years in 2017.

The share of national oil companies in total oil and gas upstream investment remained near record highs, a trend expected to persist in 2018. Though still a small part of the market, electric vehicles now account for much of the growth in global passenger vehicle sales, spurred by government purchase incentives. For electric cars, nearly one quarter of the global value of EV sales in 2017 came from the budgets of governments, who are allocating more capital to support the sector each year.

Final investment decisions for coal power plants to be built in the coming years declined for a second straight year, reaching a third of their 2010 level. However, despite declining global capacity additions, and an elevated level of retirements of existing plants, the global coal fleet continued to expand in 2017, mostly due to markets in Asia. And while there was a shift towards more efficient plants, 60% of currently operating capacity uses inefficient subcritical technology.

The report finds that the prospects of the US shale industry are improving. Between 2010 and 2014, companies spent up to USD 1.8 for each dollar of revenue. However, the industry has almost halved its breakeven price, providing a more sustainable basis for future expansion. This underpins a record increase in US light tight oil production of 1.3 million barrels a day in 2018.

“The United States shale industry is at turning point after a long period of operating on a fragile financial basis,” said Dr Birol. “The industry appears on track to achieve positive free cash flow for the first time ever this year, turning into a more mature and financially solid industry while production is growing at its fastest pace ever.”

The improved prospects for the US shale sector contrast with the rest of the upstream oil and gas industry. Investment in conventional oil projects, which are responsible for the bulk of global supply, remains subdued. Investment in new conventional capacity is set to plunge in 2018 to about one-third of the total, a multi-year low raising concerns about the long-term adequacy of supply.

This edition of World Energy Investment, which is being released for free this year, provides a wealth of data and analysis for decision making by governments, the energy industry and financial institutions to set policy frameworks, implement business strategies, finance new projects and develop new technologies.

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Off-grid Renewables are Growing, Bringing Socio-economic Benefits to Millions

MD Staff

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Off-grid renewable energy has witnessed spectacular growth over the last decade. Since 2008 capacity has trebled and the number of people in rural communities served by the technology has witnessed six-fold growth. Today, up to 133 million people are receiving life-changing access to low-cost, secure renewable energy and benefit from the socioeconomic impact access delivers. Global off-grid investments in 2017 reached USD 284 million.

These findings feature in a new IRENA brief launched during the UN High-Level Political Forum in New York. The paper, entitled: Off-grid Renewable Energy Solutions, Global and Regional Status and Trends, builds on IRENA’s statistical analysis to offer a global picture of the sector’s trajectory and impact. The data highlights the extent to which off-grid renewables are emerging as a mainstream solution to the expansion of electricity services all over the world, contributing to sustainable development goal 7 (SDG 7) by broadening the reach of electricity beyond existing grid infrastructure.

“Off-grid renewable energy is an important contributor to energy access across the developing world having witnessed widespread, rapid growth in deployment over the last few years,” said Dr. Rabia Ferroukhi, Deputy Director of the Knowledge, Policy and Finance at IRENA.  “Our analysis captures this momentum whilst shedding light on the need to step-up efforts towards 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.”

Africa has emerged as a dynamic, fast-moving hub for off-grid renewables. The development of solar lighting solutions and innovations in deployment and financing models, such as pay as you go options and mobile payment platforms have contributed to Africa’s rapid advances. The continent’s off-grid industry now serves around 53 million people – the equivalent of the entire population of South Africa – up from just over two million in 2011.

The brief identifies Asia as a global leader in off-grid renewables capacity deployment. Today, up to 76 million people across the continent may now benefit from such power sources.

South America, home to some of the highest rates of electricity access in the developing world, has also witnessed off-grid renewable growth the brief suggests, where the technology is considered key to ‘last mile’ electricity access.

Off-grid renewable energy solutions are being deployed to provide electricity services for a wide range of end-uses, including for powering agriculture, telecommunication infrastructure, healthcare centres, schools, and rural enterprises. The paper emphasises that linking delivery of off-grid solutions to energy service delivery can unlock substantial socio-economic benefits, contributing to multiple SDGs.

While dramatic cost reductions have been the primary driver of this acceleration, it is the multifaceted socioeconomic benefits that provide the greatest incentives for its deployment. Renewable energy’s centrality to the SDG 7 goal on universal access to clean, reliable and affordable energy against a backdrop of a billion people who still live without it, is unquestionable. However, beyond energy itself renewables are a key contributor to sustainable development, generating jobs, stimulating growth, ensuring resource security and improving health.

The paper notes that in Bangladesh, around 133 000 jobs have been created through a Solar Home System programme and an off-grid renewables initiative in Rwanda aims to generate 7 000 jobs whilst delivering energy access to almost 80 000 people. Similarly, incomes in rural households benefit from lower cost solar lanterns, and remote health and educational facilities are enhanced through consistent availability of power.

“Renewables are a central pillar of SDG 7 and represent one of the most effective and economicmeans available in the pursuit of universal energy access,” said Rabia Ferroukhi, Deputy-Director of Knowledge Policy and Finance at IRENA. “Yet beyond this, we are now beginning to truly understand the way in which distributed renewable electricity is transforming the lives of those receiving from it, bringing stability and opportunity to millions of people around the world.”

Read the brief on the Off-grid Renewable Energy Solutions and the six case studies developed to showcase the socioeconomic impact of off-grid renewables in South East Asia.

IRENA

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CPEC and Pakistan-China Energy cooperation

Venita Christopher

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The demands of global energy are substantially rising day by day in the 21st century, whereas the dependency on fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas have become a serious concern which is about 80% of the world’s primary source of energy. The concerns about fossil fuels are due to their ever rising prices and their negative impact on the environment due to the harmful emission of greenhouse gases. Therefore, in this context the reliance on nuclear power energy is considered by various countries, including Pakistan, as a good alternative option of energy supply, which is comparatively cheaper also.

Pakistan has great strategic importance in South Asia because of its location, its dynamic young population, its vibrant economic potential, being a nuclear power, and now being a strategic partner of China in the backdrop of the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).The CPEC is a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road (B&R) initiative and the completion of CPEC is likely to bring major economic advantages to China, Pakistan and South Asian region.

Like many other countries, for its economic development based on enhancing its industrial and agricultural production, energy is very important for Pakistan and it needs to address its current energy crises on an urgent basis. In this context signing of the CPEC agreement with China by Pakistan in 2015 is considered as a milestone achievement, as it includes many electricity generation projects, which will help address energy shortages of Pakistan.

Apart from developing other means of electricity generation in Pakistan, China is already helping Pakistan in nuclear energy production by supplying nuclear power reactors, under IAEA safeguards based on agreements signed in the field of nuclear cooperation. Apart from installing Chashma 1 and Chashma 2 power plants, which are already producing electricity in Pakistan, in 2017 China has signed another deal with Pakistan to also install Chashma 3 and Chashma 4 power plants. Out of these each power plant, after completion, will produce 1000 megawatts of electricity. As part of the CPEC project, China is also building two HUOLONG ONE nuclear reactors in Karachi that will become ready to use by 2021.

After signing the CPEC agreement China is very keen to help Pakistan in the energy production, as energy is required not only for the construction of CPEC projects but also for its subsequent operation. This is because China is also going to get huge trade benefits by trading with the outer world using the CPEC. In other words, apart from helping its friend Pakistan in energy production, this cooperation also serves China’s economic interests in a major way. In this context, the CPEC is a win-win project that serves Pakistan and China’s interest in a similar way.

As China is doing a lot to advance its interests by expanding its economic production by basing on its CPEC related exports, Pakistan should also take the CPEC as a big opportunity to develop its economy to become economically self reliant. In this context, it should focus on completing the construction of the CPEC and its related energy projects on time, so that it addresses its energy shortages and quickly moves on towards its economic development.

In fact, it is more important for Pakistan to work harder for completion of the CPEC related projects and make use of the CPEC to advance its industry and agriculture, increase trade, attract foreign direct investment and increase its revenues. This is important because Pakistan’s economy needs a major boost to recover from its ever increasing budget deficits, inflation, domestic and foreign debt situations,widening gap of balance of payments due to constantly declining exports and falling foreign exchange reserves.

This is also important to repay the domestic debt and foreign debt in order to save Pakistan from becoming a defaulting state in the coming years. Above all it is necessary to avail the opportunity of reaping CPEC related economic advantages to develop Pakistan’s economy in a reasonable time frame to meet its aforementioned obligations and finally to bring prosperity to Pakistan and its people.

In the light of above it is logical to say that Pakistan and China’s cooperation in the energy field is beneficial for both countries and CPEC is a project that helps Pakistan in meeting its energy shortages, and it will be equally beneficial to Pakistan and China to advance their economic interests. Rather CPEC related energy projects and trade will be much more beneficial to Pakistan to meet its above discussed economic challenges.

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