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World Energy Outlook: A sea change in the global oil trade

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The new World Energy Outlook is the story of a series of upheavals in global energy, in particular the dramatic changes in the Unites States and China and the rising role of renewables and electricity in global energy consumption. But this is by no means an exhaustive list of the changes underway. The shale revolution in the United States and new demand and investment trends in the Middle East and Asia are recasting traditional patterns of global oil trade, with global implications for energy security.

The Middle East is set to remain, by far, the largest global crude-exporting region, but the availability of additional crude from this region for international trade is being squeezed by rising domestic consumption and new refinery capacity. In the WEO’s New Policies Scenario (NPS), which incorporates existing and planned energy policies, the largest increase in crude export comes from North America, propelling the region above Russia, Africa and South America in the global rankings. On the importers side, Asia’s crude oil import requirement grows by a massive 9 mb/d, drawing in available supply from around the world. Taken together, these trends imply the need for a fresh look at oil security and how best to achieve it.

A dramatic change of fortune in the United States

The surge in tight oil output from the United States has already triggered major changes in the dynamics of global oil supply and prices. Through a decline in imports and a surge in exports, US tight oil is now having a similarly profound impact on global crude oil trade. Crude oil imports to the United States fell by more than 1.3 million barrels a day (mb/d) between 2010 and 2016, to 7.9 mb/d. At the same time, since the ban on crude oil exports was lifted in late 2015, US exports have skyrocketed to over 1 mb/d in October 2017, and have expanded their range of destinations from a single country, Canada, to more than 30 countries across Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Looking to the future, WEO projections in the New Policies Scenario suggest a continued fall in US net crude oil imports, from more than 7 mb/d today to less than 3 mb/d by 2040. Meanwhile, net product exports double from 2 mb/d to almost 4 mb/d over the same period, pushing the overall net oil trade balance of the United States into positive territory by the late-2020s, an astonishing turnaround.

But the United States is still a large exporter and a major importer of crude even in 2040. This is mainly due to limited ability of US refiners to take domestic light crude oil (which is therefore exported) and continued demand from refineries for medium-to-heavy grades (which continue to be imported). Even with the extraordinary move to a net export position, the health of the US energy economy remains intricately linked with those of its neighbours in North America and with choices made by countries further afield. In practice, no country is an island in a deeply interconnected energy world.

A refining future for the Middle East

It has been a long-standing ambition of producing countries in the Middle East to expand into the downstream sector in order to extract more value from their oil production and diversify the region’s economies – a topic that will be examined in more detail in the WEO-2018.

With the commissioning of several new refineries, the Middle East is now set to become not only the largest crude oil exporter but also the largest product exporter in the world. The Middle East is also a major oil-consuming region and, as a consequence, less than 1 mb/d of the 4.5 mb/d increase in the region’s crude oil production becomes available for exports. At present, refineries within the Middle East consume around a quarter of the region’s crude oil production, but the share rises to more than one-third by 2040 as the region adds more than 4 mb/d of net refining capacity over the Outlook period.

New refinery capacity within the Middle East is not the only factor affecting the availability of crude for exports. Major Middle East oil producers are also increasingly participating in refinery projects in other parts of the world. This introduces a degree of “tied demand,” as the crude used in the refinery tends to come from the corresponding exporter. Equity stakes held by Middle East producers in overseas refineries and the strategic reorientation in favour of refined products has significant ramifications for Asia, the final destination of an increasing share of global crude oil shipments, where import requirements are projected to continue their rapid upward path.

Asia’s inexorable appetite for crude

Asia accounts for the lion’s share of oil demand growth over the coming 25 years and, unsurprisingly, the same is true for crude oil imports. In the New Policies Scenario, Asia’s combined crude oil import needs rise by 9 mb/d to around 30 mb/d by 2040, with strong growth in China, India and Southeast Asia more than offsetting declines in Japan and Korea. Asia’s share of global crude oil imports therefore rises from 50% today to more than two-thirds by 2040.

Although the relative abundance of oil supply in recent years has made traditional exporters vie for market share in growing Asian markets, this should not necessarily be taken as a comforting sign for the longer term. The rapid increase in crude oil import needs in the New Policies Scenario along with the reduced availability of crude oil from traditional exporters point to tougher times ahead. The expanding volume of exports going through the Strait of Malacca, the world’s second-busiest trade chokepoint, adds another layer of complexity to Asian importers’ oil security concerns. In the past, Asia’s total crude oil import needs were less than the crude oil exports of the Middle East, but the gap has narrowed and the situation is reversed in the New Policies Scenario. This means that, while strengthening strategic ties with their largest suppliers in the Middle East, Asian importers increasingly tap into other sources from across the globe.

Implications for oil security

The period of low oil prices since 2014 has alleviated some concerns over oil security in many oil-importing countries. But our projections suggest some challenges ahead – especially if oil demand continues to grow strongly. Asia’s oil import needs and the Middle East’s export availability are diverging. As described in past WEO reports, including a detailed analysis in WEO-2016, there is also a significant possibility of a market imbalance in the 2020s as a result of the current low levels of investment in new conventional oil projects. There is always a risk of supply disruptions due to natural disasters or geopolitical events. The disruption caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 to US refining, production and pipeline facilities served as a reminder that reduced oil imports do not eliminate vulnerability to supply interruptions. And a large part of the spare production capacity to cushion the impact of potential crises continues to be concentrated in Saudi Arabia.

All this has implications for energy security. As ever, a coherent approach to oil security needs to cast its net widely to encompass the adequacy of investment in future supply, regular dialogue between producers and consumers, well-functioning markets and measures to curb demand growth via greater efficiency or fuel switching. Policies to promote greater efficiency and electrification in transport are becoming significant at tackling traditional oil security concerns. In this regard, the period of lower oil prices offers an opportunity to remove fossil-fuel subsidies, which are still prevalent in many parts of the world, in order to provide incentives for investment in more efficient technologies and to create greater demand responsiveness in times of oil shortage.

In addition, maintaining a coordinated and robust system of oil stockholding that can be used to respond to any disruptions to supply also represents a vital avenue; this is a major task for the IEA – custodian of today’s global oil security mechanism. But waning oil demand in many IEA member countries and surging demand in many emerging countries is not only changing the geography of global demand; over time it can also impact the effectiveness of the IEA system. This suggests the need to re-think the IEA oil stockholding mechanism in order to continue to cover the contingencies that might arise in tomorrow’s oil market, and to broaden the country grouping carrying that responsibility, of which one option would be to bring the rising oil-consuming countries – most of which are now Association countries of the IEA – closer to the collective oil security system in a gradual and inclusive manner. The IEA’s latest emergency response exercise that drew the largest-ever participation, with 44 countries taking part including IEA Association Member Countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Morocco and Thailand, highlights efforts underway in this direction, which will bring the share of the extended IEA family in global energy demand to more than 70%, up from less than 40% in 2015.

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The hydrogen revolution: A new development model that starts with the sea, the sun and the wind

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“Once again in history, energy is becoming the protagonist of a breaking phase in capitalism: a great transformation is taking place, matched by the digital technological revolution”.

The subtitle of the interesting book (“Energia. La grande trasformazione“, Laterza) by Valeria Termini, an economist at the Rome University “Roma Tre”,summarises – in a simple and brilliant way – the phase that will accompany the development of our planet for at least the next three decades,A phase starting from the awareness that technological progress and economic growth can no longer neglect environmental protection.

This awareness is now no longer confined to the ideological debates on the defence of the ecosystem based exclusively on limits, bans and prohibitions, on purely cosmetic measures such as the useless ‘Sundays on which vehicles with emissions that cause pollution are banned’, and on initiatives aimed at curbing development – considered harmful to mankind – under the banner of slogans that are as simple as they are full of damaging economic implications, such as the quest for ‘happy degrowth’.

With “degrowth” there is no happiness nor wellbeing, let alone social justice.

China has understood this and, with a view to remedying the environmental damage caused by three decades of relentless economic growth, it has not decided to take steps backwards in industrial production, by going back to the wooden plough typical of the period before the unfortunate “Great Leap Forward” of 1958, but – in its 14thFive-Year Plan (2020- 2025)-it has outlined a strategic project under the banner of “sustainable growth”, thus committing itself to continuing to build a dynamic development model in harmony with the needs of environmental protection, following the direction already taken with its 13th Five-Year Plan, which has enabled the Asian giant to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12% over the last five years. This achievement could make China the first country in the world to reach the targets set in the 2012 Paris Climate Agreement, which envisage achieving ‘zero CO2 emissions’ by the end of 2030.

Also as a result of the economic shock caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Europe and the United States have decided to follow the path marked out by China which, although perceived and described as a “strategic adversary” of the West, can be considered a fellow traveller in the strategy defined by the economy of the third millennium for “turning green”.

The European Union’s ‘Green Deal’ has become an integral part of the ‘Recovery Plan’ designed to help EU Member States to emerge from the production crisis caused by the pandemic.

A substantial share of resources (47 billion euros in the case of Italy) is in fact allocated destined for the “great transformation” of the new development models, under the banner of research and exploitation of energy resources which, unlike traditional “non-renewable sources”, promote economic and industrial growth with the use of new tools capable of operating in conditions of balance with the ecosystem.

The most important of these tools is undoubtedly Hydrogen.

Hydrogen, as an energy source, has been the dream of generations of scientists because, besides being the originator of the ‘table of elements’, it is the most abundant substance on the planet, if not in the entire universe.

Its great limitation is that in order to be ‘separated’ from the oxygen with which it forms water, procedures requiring high electricity consumption are needed. The said energy has traditionally been supplied by fossil – and hence polluting- fuels.

In fact, in order to produce ‘clean’ hydrogen from water, it must be separated from oxygen by electrolysis, a mechanism that requires a large amount of energy.

The fact of using large quantities of electricity produced with traditional -and hence polluting – systems leads to the paradox that, in order to produce ‘clean’ energy from hydrogen, we keep on polluting the environment with ‘dirty’ emissions from non-renewable sources.

This paradox can be overcome with a small new industrial revolution, i.d. producing energy from the sea, the sun and the wind to power the electrolysis process that produces hydrogen.

The revolutionary strategy based on the use of ‘green’ energy to produce adequate quantities of hydrogen at an acceptable cost can be considered the key to a paradigm shift in production that can bring the world out of the pandemic crisis with positive impacts on the environment and on climate.

In the summer of last year, the European Union had already outlined an investment project worth 470 billion euros, called the “Hydrogen Energy Strategy”, aimed at equipping the EU Member States with devices for hydrogen electrolysis from renewable and clean sources, capable of ensuring the production of one million tonnes of “green” hydrogen (i.e. clean because extracted from water) by the end of 2024.

This is an absolutely sustainable target, considering that the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the “total installed wind, marine and solar capacity is set to overtake natural gas by the end 2023 and coal by the end of 2024”.

A study dated February 17, 2021, carried out by the Hydrogen Council and McKinsey & Company, entitled ‘Hydrogen Insights’, shows that many new hydrogen projects are appearing on the market all over the world, at such a pace that ‘the industry cannot keep up with it’.

According to the study, 345 billion dollars will be invested globally in hydrogen research and production by the end of 2030, to which the billion euros allocated by the European Union in the ‘Hydrogen Strategy’ shall be added.

To understand how the momentum and drive for hydrogen seems to be unstoppable, we can note that the Hydrogen Council, which only four years ago had 18 members, has now grown to 109 members, research centres and companies backed by70 billion dollar of public funding provided by enthusiastic governments.

According to the Executive Director of the Hydrogen Council, Daryl Wilson, “hydrogen energy research already accounts for 20% of the success in our pathway to decarbonisation”.

According to the study mentioned above, all European countries are “betting on hydrogen and are planning to allocate billions of euros under the Next Generation EU Recovery Plan for investment in this sector”:

Spain has already earmarked 1.5 billion euros for national hydrogen production over the next two years, while Portugal plans to invest 186 billion euros of the Recovery Plan in projects related to hydrogen energy production.

Italy will have 47 billion euros available for “ecological transition”, an ambitious goal of which the government has understood the importance by deciding to set up a department with a dedicated portfolio.

Italy is well prepared and equipped on a scientific and productive level to face the challenge of ‘producing clean energy using clean energy’.

Not only are we at the forefront in the production of devices for extracting energy from sea waves – such as the Inertial Sea Waves Energy Converter (ISWEC), created thanks to research by the Turin Polytechnic, which occupies only 150 square metres of sea water and produces large quantities of clean energy, and alone reduces CO2 emissions by 68 tonnes a year, or the so-called Pinguino (Penguin), a device placed at a depth of 50 metres which produces energy without damaging the marine ecosystem – but we also have the inventiveness, culture and courage to accompany the strategy for “turning green”.

The International World Group of Rome and Eldor Corporation Spa, located in the Latium Region, have recently signed an agreement to promote projects for energy generation and the production of hydrogen from sea waves and other renewable energy sources, as part of cooperation between Europe and China under the Road and Belt Initiative.

The project will see Italian companies, starting with Eldor, working in close collaboration with the Chinese “National Ocean Technology Centre”, based in Shenzhen, to set up an international research and development centre in the field of ‘green’ hydrogen production using clean energy.

A process that is part of a global strategy which, with the contribution of Italy, its productive forces and its institutions, can help our country, Europe and the rest of the world to recover from a pandemic crisis that, once resolved, together with digital revolution, can trigger a new industrial revolution based no longer on coal or oil, but on hydrogen, which can be turned from the most widespread element in the universe into the growth engine of a new civilisation.

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Jordan, Israel, and Palestine in Quest of Solving the Energy Conundrum

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Gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean can help deliver dividends of peace to Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. New energy supply options can strengthen Jordan’s energy security and emergence as a leading transit hub of natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean. In fact, the transformation of the port of Aqaba into a second regional energy hub would enable Jordan to re-export Israeli and Egyptian gas to Arab and Asian markets.

The possibility of the kingdom to turn into a regional energy distribution centre can bevalid through the direction of Israeli and Egyptian natural gas to Egyptian liquefaction plants and onwards to Jordan, where it could be piped via the Arab Gas Pipeline to Syria, Lebanon, and countries to the East.  The creation of an energy hub in Jordan will not only help diversify the region’s energy suppliers and routes. Equal important, it is conducive to Jordan’s energy diversification efforts whose main pillars lie in the import of gas from Israel and Egypt; construction of a dual oil and gas pipeline from Iraq; and a shift towards renewables. In a systematic effort to reduce dependence on oil imports, the kingdom swiftly proceeds with exploration of its domestic fields like the Risha gas field that makes up almost 5% of the national gas consumption. Notably, the state-owned National Petroleum Company discovered in late 2020 promising new quantities in the Risha gas field that lies along Jordan’s eastern border with Iraq.

In addition, gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean can be leveraged to create interdependencies between Israel, Jordan, and Palestine with the use of gas and solar for the generation of energy, which, in turn, can power desalination plants to generate shared drinking water. Eco-Peace Middle East, an organization that brings together environmentalists from Jordan, Israel and Palestine pursues the Water-Energy Nexus Project that examines the technical and economic feasibility of turning Israeli, Palestinian, and potentially Lebanese gas in the short-term, and Jordan’s solar energy in the long-term into desalinated water providing viable solutions to water scarcity in the region. Concurrently, Jordan supplies electricity to the Palestinians as means to enhancing grid connectivity with neighbours and promoting regional stability.

In neighbouring Israel, gas largely replaced diesel and coal-fired electricity generation feeding about 85% of Israeli domestic energy demand. It is estimated that by 2025 all new power plants in Israel will use renewable energy resources for electricity generation. Still, gas will be used to produce methane, ethanol and hydrogen, the fuel of the future that supports transition to clean energy. The coronavirus pandemic inflicted challenges and opportunities upon the gas market in Israel. A prime opportunity is the entry of American energy major Chevron into the Israeli gas sector with the acquisition of American Noble Energy with a deal valued $13 billion that includes Noble’s$8 billion in debt.

The participation of Chevron in Israeli gas fields strengthens its investment portfolio in the Eastern Mediterranean and fortifies the position of Israel as a reliable gas producer in the Arab world. This is reinforced by the fact that the American energy major participates in the exploration of energy assets in Iraqi Kurdistan, the UAE, and the neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Israel’s normalization agreement with the UAE makes Chevron’s acquisition of Noble Energy less controversial and advances Israel’s geostrategic interests and energy export outreach to markets in Asia via Gulf countries.

The reduction by 50% in Egyptian purchase of gas from Israel is a major challenge caused by the pandemic. Notably, a clause in the Israel-Egypt gas contract allows up to 50% decrease of Egyptian purchase of gas from Israel if Brent Crude prices fall below $50 per barrel. At another level, it seems that Israel should make use of Egypt’s excess liquefaction capacity in the Damietta and Idku plants rather than build an Israeli liquefaction plant at Eilat so that liquefied Israeli gas is shipped through the Arab Gas Pipeline to third markets.

When it comes to the West Bank and Gaza, energy challenges remain high. Palestine has the lowest GDP in the region, but it experiences rapid economic growth, leading to an annual average 3% increase of electricity demand. Around 90% of the total electricity consumption in the Palestinian territories is provided by Israel and the remaining 10% is provided by Jordan and Egypt as well as rooftop solar panels primarily in the West Bank. Palestinian cities can be described as energy islands with limited integration into the national grid due to lack of high-voltage transmission lines that would connect north and south West Bank. Because of this reality, the Palestinian Authority should engage the private sector in energy infrastructure projects like construction of high-voltage transmission and distribution lines that will connect north and south of the West Bank. The private sector can partly finance infrastructure costs in a Public Private Partnership scheme and guarantee smooth project execution.

Fiscal challenges however outweigh infrastructure challenges with most representative the inability of the Palestinian Authority to collect electricity bill payments from customers. The situation forced the Palestinian Authority to introduce subsidies and outstanding payments are owed by Palestinian distribution companies to the Israeli Electricity Corporation which is the largest supplier of electricity. As consequence 6% of the Palestinian budget is dedicated to paying electricity debts and when this does not happen, the amount is deducted from the taxes Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority.

The best option for Palestine to meet electricity demand is the construction of a solar power plant with 300 MW capacity in Area C of the West Bank and another solar power plant with 200 MW capacity across the Gaza-Israel border. In addition, the development of the Gaza marine gas field would funnel gas in the West Bank and Gaza and convert the Gaza power plant to burn gas instead of heavy fuel. The recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Palestinian Investment Fund, the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) and Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) for the development of the Gaza marine field, the construction of all necessary infrastructure, and the transportation of Palestinian gas to Egypt is a major development. Coordination with Israel can unlock the development of the Palestinian field and pave the way for the resolution of the energy crisis in Gaza and also supply gas to a new power plant in Jenin.

Overall, the creation of an integrating energy economy between Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine can anchor lasting and mutually beneficial economic interdependencies and deliver dividends of peace. All it takes is efficient leadership that recognizes the high potentials.

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The EV Effect: Markets are Betting on the Energy Transition

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The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has calculated that USD 2 trillion in annual investment will be required to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement in the coming three years.

Electromobility has a major role to play in this regard – IRENA’s transformation pathway estimates that 350 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be needed by 2030, kickstarting developments in the industry and influencing share values as manufacturers, suppliers and investors move to capitalise on the energy transition.

Today, around eight million EVs account for a mere 1% of all vehicles on the world’s roads, but 3.1 million were sold in 2020, representing a 4% market share. While the penetration of EVs in the heavy duty (3.5+ tons) vehicles category is much lower, electric trucks are expected to become more mainstream as manufacturers begin to offer new models to meet increasing demand.

The pace of development in the industry has increased the value of stocks in companies such as Tesla, Nio and BYD, who were among the highest performers in the sector in 2020. Tesla produced half a million cars last year, was valued at USD 670 billion, and produced a price-to-earnings ratio that vastly outstripped the industry average, despite Volkswagen and Renault both selling significantly more electric vehicles (EV) than Tesla in Europe in the last months of 2020.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely this gap will remain as volumes continue to grow, and with EV growth will come increased demand for batteries. The recent success of EV sales has largely been driven by the falling cost of battery packs – which reached 137 USD/kWh in 2020. The sale of more than 35 million vehicles per year will require a ten-fold increase in battery manufacturing capacity from today’s levels, leading to increased shares in battery manufacturers like Samsung SDI and CATL in the past year.

This rising demand has also boosted mining stocks, as about 80 kg of copper is required for a single EV battery. As the energy transition gathers pace, the need for copper will extend beyond electric cars to encompass electric grids and other motors. Copper prices have therefore risen by 30% in recent months to USD 7 800 per tonne, pushing up the share prices of miners such as Freeport-McRoran significantly.

Finally, around 35 million public charging stations will be needed by 2030, as well as ten times more private charging stations, which require an investment in the range of USD 1.2 – 2.4 trillion. This has increased the value of charging companies such as Fastnet and Switchback significantly in recent months.

Skyrocketing stock prices – ahead of actual deployment – testify to market confidence in the energy transition; however, investment opportunities remain scarce. Market expectations are that financing will follow as soon as skills and investment barriers fall. Nevertheless, these must be addressed without delay to attract and accelerate the investment required to deliver on the significant promise of the energy transition.

IRENA

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