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Iran losing historic chance to capture gas market share

Payman Yazdani

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The long-awaited gas pipeline project of Turk­menistan, Afghanis­tan, Pakis­tan and India (TAPI) connecting the energy-rich Central Asian nation with the South Asian countries was inaugurated couple of days ago.

Considering the facts on the ground including political differences of the involved countries in the project and also insecurity and instability in the region many experts believe the successful realization of the project will depend on the ability of the project participants to maneuver through among others geopolitical, financial and technical challenges.

To shed more light on the issue we discussed the issue with the resident scholar on energy policy at the Middle East Institute, Rauf Mammadov.

Considering the differences between India and Pakistan, instability and insecurity in Afghanistan and Pakistan, how successful do you see the future of this project?

Although it is certainly a milestone for the two-decade-old project, TAPI is still facing an uphill battle. Successful realization of the project will depend on the ability of the project participants to maneuver through among others geopolitical, financial and technical challenges. It is still unclear how the project will be funded although external funding seems inevitable for the $10 billion (the figure ranges from $8 to $12 billion) project. The vague statement by the Turkmenistan government regarding the loan provided by Saudi Fund of Development failed to bring clarity to the loan terms and the actual amount of the loan. Moreover, the consortium has yet to bring clarity to the technical questions such as the transit fees and sales-and-purchase agreements for the gas.

The integrity of the Afghanistan stretch of the pipeline will depend on security guarantees provided by a non-state actor such as Taliban and tribe leaders. Fragile nature of the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as, outstanding issues in relations between Pakistan and India will test the solidarity of the project participants to successfully complete and operate the pipeline.

How can this project affect the economy and security of the region particularly Afghanistan?

Turkmenistan has been recently facing acute economic problems. Only one of its three gas export pipelines is operating as Russia ceased the imports in 2016 and there is an ongoing arbitration between Turkmenistan and Iran regarding the payments. Turkmenistan needs to diversify its export outlets and energy-hungry India and Pakistan are evidently a lucrative market for the energy-rich Central Asian state. The leadership of India and Pakistan have repeatedly vowed to increase the share of natural gas in their energy mix and also to diversify the import sources. As both India and Pakistan currently rely on domestic production and LNG imports, relatively cheaper pipeline gas from Turkmenistan will only serve to alleviate their gas import efforts. Moreover, if completed the pipeline will be delivering natural gas to the landlocked regions of Pakistan and India rather than coastal parts of these countries.

Why Saudi Arabia supports the project?

The nature of Saudi Arabian support to the project is still unknown. It is also unclear in what capacity Saudi Arabian government or the Kingdom entities will be involved in the project. 700-million USD loan provided by the Islamic Development Bank was used for the completion of Turkmenistan part of the pipeline whereas there have been scant information regarding the loan provided by the Saudi Fund of Development for the rest of the pipeline.

What are the challenges and opportunities of the project for Iran?

There is a glut in the natural gas market at the moment, and the abundance in the market is expected to last for another 5 to 8 years. Therefore, major gas exporters such as Russia, Qatar and Australia are in fierce competition to capture their market shares. Qatar is currently the largest LNG exporter both to Pakistan and India. Although geographically located closer to these markets, Iran lacks the necessary infrastructure to transport its gas to these favorable markets. Successful realization of the TAPI pipeline will also have a negative impact on the realization of the long-disputed Iran-Pakistan pipeline.

How do you evaluate Iran’s energy diplomacy?

Iran is losing the historic chance to capture the market share in increasingly competitive natural gas, especially LNG, market. The dearth of its pipeline and LNG infrastructure constrains Iran’s efforts to become a significant player in the market. New large gas fields are being discovered in south shores of Europe, which are becoming substantial competitors for Iranian gas in European and Asian markets.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

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Attack on Saudi oil facilities: Consequences and solutions

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As expected, oil markets started Monday trading with an unprecedented jump in prices following the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities which wiped nearly five percent of the global oil supply from the market.

Drone attacks claimed by Yemen’s Houthis on Saturday struck two of Saudi Aramco’s major oil facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq – the world’s largest oil processing facility and crude oil stabilization plant.

Now, few days after the attacks, global oil markets are waiting to see how the disrupted oil is going to be compensated for.

 Will Saudis be able to get their production back to its full capacity in a short period of time? If not, what are the options for replacing the lost barrels to keep the market in balance?

The market’s reaction

A few hours after the strikes, Aramco released a statement confirming that production of 5.7 million barrels of crude (more than half of the kingdom’s output) was affected by the attacks.

Aramco’s statement sparked a wave of panic in the oil markets across the globe, causing for bets on oil prices to go as high as $100. 

As it was expected, in the first minutes of the Monday morning trades, Brent crude jumped $12 to reach $71 per barrel, posting its biggest ever surge in a day.

The market’s significant reaction to the incident could also be translated as an indication of the skepticism about the promises of recovery by the Saudis or vows of taping into emergency oil reserves by the United States. 

It is also a manifestation of yet another aspect of the world’s energy cycle, that is the realization a

bout the vulnerability of the global oil market and the magnitude of the impact of geopolitical factors on this market.

As Ed Morse from Citigroup Inc. wrote in a research note, “No matter whether it takes Saudi Arabia five days or a lot longer to get oil back into production, there is but one rational takeaway from this weekend’s drone attacks on the Kingdom’s infrastructure — that infrastructure is highly vulnerable to attack, and the market has been persistently mispricing oil.” 
So, despite all the reassurance, oil markets around the world are once again overshadowed by the geopolitical risks and at least for some time the geopolitical risk premium will be seen in the oil prices.

Replacements for the lost oil

Many analysts and experts believe that Saudi Aramco won’t be able to get all the lost capacity back over a short period of time and it would at least take a couple of weeks to get back to the full capacity.

Considering the worst case scenario, some analysts believe that the oil market should be looking for new sources of crude supply in case the damage to the Aramco facilities turn out to be more than what is seems and the Saudi’s oil production takes more time than expected to get back to its full capacity.

One option, as previously mentioned, is the U.S. emergency reserves which Trump has promised to release to balance the market. However, analysts believe that such an action will likely not be taken in the short term.

“I don’t think a release is imminent,” Bob McNally, president of Rapidan Energy Group, told S&P Global Platts. “Everything depends on how much damage has been done and how long will it last.”

There is also the matter of distance and time, as Sandy Fielden, analyst at Morningstar puts it, “It takes 19-20 days to ship Ras Tanura (Saudi) to Singapore, but 54 days from Houston to Singapore. So U.S. ‘relief’ will take time.”

It should also be mentioned that, although the U.S. strategic reserves are estimated at about 625 million barrels, but its offshore borders have restrictions on oil transportation. As the U.S. Department of Energy said in a report in 2016, the United States could release up to 2.1 million barrels a day from its strategic reserves.

Another option which is more likely in the short term is Saudi Arabia’s own reserves in countries like China and Japan, but with the kingdom’s limited reserves, the loss could only be replaced for approximately 30-45 days, according to McNally.

“Saudi Arabia has about 188 million barrels of oil stockpiled, which can offset the 5-million-barrels of lost oil only for about 37 days,” McNally said.

Even if Aramco manages to recover 2 million barrels of the disrupted capacity in short term (as they have claimed), the other 3.7 million barrels should be supplied from the reserves.

So if the oil which has been disrupted is not replaced before the company’s stored supplies end, the market would go into an even more complicated situation.

Finally, some other believe that the easiest solution is to waiver the Iranian oil.

 “The obvious short-term fix would be waivers on Iran sanctions, but politically that’s a hard pill for the Trump administration to swallow. By all accounts the Iranians have tankers full of storage ready to go,” Sandy Fielden said.

Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University also believes that Iran could be a reliable source of additional supply in case the disruptions prolong.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Energy and Poverty

Todd Royal

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Energy and poverty are intertwined. In the last ten years India according to the United Nations (UN) 2019 Multidimensional Poverty Index, lifted over 270 million Indian citizens out of extreme poverty; since they acquired growing electrification and access to energy. But many nations believe chaotic, intermittent renewables – mainly wind and solar – will achieve these results. Meanwhile, the world watches passively while the weaponization of energyled by China, Russia and Iran (CRI) is teetering Asia towards memories of 1939 and the emergence of World War III.

Europe and the U.S. wholeheartedly believe renewables will power billions in China, India, Africa, and Asia hungry for energy and electricity. Europe even welcomes with open arms, Iranian terrorist-monies for their dispirited economies. What the U.S. should do is “drown the world in oil.”Build power plants, and watch the planet flourish with affordable electricity. Nations need energy now.

Whoever controls energy – mainly oil, natural gas, coal and increasingly nuclear power – rules with either an iron fist or a benevolent one? But the world is in a stage of chaotic order with CRI challenging the US-led liberal order in place since the end of World War II (WWII). Energy is the new superpower.

Never before has energy and electricity played the leading role in alleviating poverty. Social order, religion, and family structure are still important – though all three are under attack over environmental extremism – but nothing has done more for human achievement, increased life expectancies, and ameliorating hunger like access to oil, natural gas, and coal that brings scalable, reliable affordable, abundant and flexible energy and electricity.

Allowing the Guardian newspaper, and green clergy parading as environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, Paul Ehrlich and John Holden to determine energy policies that lead to poverty is evil and shameful. These men then attack human reproduction, productivity, longevity, and technological progress through delaying or crushingenhanced infrastructure projects.

Renewables and believing an existential crisis exists via climate change when there are serious doubts (research the Oregon Petition and Marc Moreno for starters) won’t stop CRI from becoming the new hegemonic powers. Even NASA has admitted it is the sun that affects the earth more than burning fossil fuels. Then the last seventy five years of fighting poverty will be overturn over dubious, global warming claims, and relying on the sun and wind for electricity backed up by fossil fuels onto electrical grids.

We have entered the era of allowing Al Gore-types (whose predictions and science are generally wrong) to set national security, foreign policy, and realist balancing based on inaccurate predictions of the weather. But the former U.S. Vice President isn’t the only doomsayer whose global warming/climate change prognostications are deceptively incorrect. This has profound implications for energy, poverty, and global peace.

Renewables, and setting energy polices based on global warming/climate change only leads to poverty and geopolitical chaos. Poverty is now in the form of:

“Trillions in subsidies, rocketing power prices, pristine landscapes turned into industrial wastelands, wrecked rural communities and bird and bat carnage.”

The U.S. and European led “Green New Deals” will destroy humanity, and lead to backbreaking poverty. It’s why India has chosen reliable, affordable coal-fired power plants over solar and wind farms for electricity. China is following India’s lead, and slashing renewables, clean energy and technology subsidies by 39 percent; and building coal-fired power plants at a record pace.

Chinese has even used “green finance” monies for coal investments.Overall “global renewable growth (and investment) has stalled,” particularly in Europe.Why are global subsidies, production credits and tax incentives for renewables are being cut by governments and private investors?

Solar and wind have led to electrical grid blackouts in Australia, Britain, New York City, and grid instability in U.S. state, Texas, and substantially higher electricity costs. Additionally, renewables cannot replace the approximately6,000 products that came from a barrel crude oil.

Renewables (solar and wind) will never be enough for decades ahead to power modern, growing economies, or countries, and continents such as China, India and Africa, which are emerging from the energy and electrical dark ages. A city, county, state, nation, or continent needs reliable electricity 24/7/365, and renewables are chaotically intermittent. U.S. energy firm Duke Energy now believes solar farms are increasing pollution; Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine environmental hero recipient echoes the same sentiments. Mr. Shellenberger also includes wind power with solar increasing emissions.

Moreover, renewable investments are plummeting, because unless electricity markets are skewed towards favoring renewables, the entire market for solar and wind produced electricity breakdowns. Then the entire renewable to electricity model relies on energy storage systems that do not have enough capacity or technological progress currently available to provide uninterrupted, on-demand electricity to all ratepayers and recipients from the grid.

It energy-nihilism to think, or believe storage from wind and solar will generate affordable, reliable, scalable, and flexible electricity. If fossil fuels are replaced on a large-scale basis it will lead to increased pollution, higher than average levelized cost of electricity, grid instability, environmental destruction, and poverty. This why most people don’t want renewables near them; meaning, there isn’t a green transition-taking place.

But geopolitics is where energy and poverty collide, and renewables replacing fossil fuels based on the overarching belief of anthropogenic global warming (whose climate models consistently fail) is how the global instability could deepen and grow.

According to the Bloomberg Economic gauge, China’s economy is dramatically slowing, “due to its vast self-made problems.” Which means as long as President Trump is in office the U.S.-China trade war will continue. The U.S. is winning, and Iran is still in Trump’s and the U.S.’ “crosshairs.” Both strategies receive negative media attention, but are causing geopolitical consternation. China and Iran will forcefully respond.

Nations and governments better have policies in place for energy and electrical stability to counter renewables instability, and the nation-state rivalry occurring between the U.S., NATO, and Asian allies against CRI. Either reliable energy will be chosen, or geopolitical wars over blackouts leading to lower military preparedness will happen. Either way energy and poverty are intertwined, or poverty can be defined as lower per-capita-GDP leading to conflicts that destroys countries. Choosing renewables and global warming-based energy policies will likely lead to poverty and possibly wartime catastrophes.

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Rethinking Energy Sector Reforms in a Power Hungry World

MD Staff

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Every country aspires to provide reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity to its citizens. Yet during the past 25 years, some countries made huge strides, while others saw little progress. What accounts for this difference?

A new World Bank report—Rethinking Power Sector Reform in the Developing World—looks at the evidence on the ways in which developing countries have attempted to improve power sector performance and on what the outcomes have been.

Since 1990, many countries embarked on market-oriented power sector reforms that ranged from establishing independent regulators and privatizing parts of the power industry, to restructuring utilities and introducing competition. Each of these reforms has a story to tell.

Regulation: Regulation proved to be the most popular of the reforms, with about 70 percent of developing countries creating quasi-independent regulatory entities to oversee the task of setting prices and monitoring the quality of service. Although many countries enacted solid legal frameworks, the practice of regulation continues to lag far behind. For example, while almost all countries give the regulators legal authority on the critical issue of determining tariffs, this authority is routinely overruled by the governments in one out of three countries. While three out of four countries have adopted suitable regulations for quality-of-service, these regulations are only enforced in half of the cases.

Privatization: Thanks to the widespread adoption of Independent Power Projects, the private sector has—remarkably—contributed as much as 40 percent of new generation capacity in the developing world since 1990, even in low-income countries. However, the privatization of distribution utilities has proved much more challenging. Latin American markets drove an initial surge in the late 1990s, but there has been relatively little impetus to continue subsequently. Where distribution utilities were privatized, countries were much more likely to adhere to cost-recovery tariffs. Many privatized utilities also operate at high levels of efficiency; and their performance is matched by the better half of the public utilities. Irrespective of ownership, more efficient utilities have adopted better governance and management practices, including: transparent financial reporting, meritocratic staff selection, and modern IT systems.

Restructuring: Most developing countries continue to operate with vertically integrated national power utilities that operate as monopolies. Only one in five countries implemented both vertical and horizontal unbundling of utilities, separating out generation from transmission and transmission from distribution and creating multiple generation and distribution utilities. Restructuring is intended primarily as a stepping stone to deeper reforms, and countries that went no further tended not to see significant impacts. Indeed, restructuring of power systems that are very small and/or poorly governed—as in the case of many Sub-Saharan African countries—can actually be counter-productive by reducing the scale of operation and increasing its complexity.

Competition: Only one in five developing countries has been able to introduce a wholesale power market during the past 25 years, in which generators are free to sell power directly to a wide range of consumers. Most of these power markets are in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Such countries have reaped the benefits of more efficient allocation of generation resources, but they have typically needed to introduce more incentives to ensure adequate investment in new capacity. A demanding list of structural, financial, and regulatory preconditions for power markets prevents most other developing countries from following suit. Such a transition is rarely possible until power systems reach a size of around 3GW and a wholesale power turnover of around US$1 billion. For countries that are not yet ready, participating in a regional power market can bring many of the benefits of trade.

Reflecting on these experiences leads to conclusions that can inform future efforts to improve power sector performance. The main takeaways from the study are as follows.

Power is political: The implementation of market-oriented power sector reforms raises political challenges. Many countries announced reforms that did not subsequently go through, and some countries enacted reforms that later had to be reversed. In practice, electricity reforms proved to be most feasible in countries that already espoused a broader market ideology and in political systems based on the decentralization of power. Reform champions often played a crucial role in driving the change process, but broader stakeholder alignment proved to be equally important for reforms to be sustained in the longer term. For example, in the Dominican Republic, a far-reaching market-oriented reform was enacted in an unsupportive political environment and a turbulent macro-economic context that eventually led to the renationalization of the power utilities.

Starting conditions matter: Market-oriented reforms are complex and presuppose a power system that is already largely developed, adequately governed, and financially secured. Countries starting from this vantage point generally saw quite positive outcomes from power sector reform. But those that embarked on the process before these basic conditions were in place faced a much more difficult trajectory, with outcomes that often fell short of expectations. Thus, market-oriented power sector reform led to much better outcomes in relatively developed middle-income countries like Colombia, Peru, or the Philippines, than in more challenging environments such as Pakistan or the Indian State of Odisha. For example, in Peru, the power sector was fully restructured by 1994; private sector investment substantially increased in generation, transmission, and metropolitan area distribution networks, amounting to about $16 billion over 20 years. The creation of an effective sector regulator and wholesale power market institutions has driven the efficiency of the Peruvian power sector to best-practice levels and led to a significant reduction in the cost of energy.

One size does not fit all: Power sector reform is a means to an end. What ultimately matters are good power sector outcomes, and there may be different ways of getting there. Among the best-performing power sec­tors in the developing world are some that fully implemented market-oriented reforms, as well as others that retained a domi­nant and competent state-owned utility guided by strong policy mandates, combined with a more gradualist and targeted role for the private sector. This reality makes a case for greater plural­ism of approaches going forward. In Vietnam, for instance, the central policy focus was on achieving universal access to electricity and rapid expansion of generation capacity to achieve energy security in a fast-growing economy. These objectives were achieved through strong leadership of state-owned entities, complemented by gradual and selective adoption of market reforms and targeted private sector investment.

Goal posts have moved: It used to be enough to achieve energy security and fiscal sustainability, but countries now have more ambitious 21st century policy objectives, notably, reaching universal access plus decarbonizing electricity supply. Market reforms can be helpful in improving the overall efficiency and financial viability of the power sector, and in creating a better climate for investment. However, they cannot—in and of themselves—deliver on these social and environmental aspirations. Complementary policy measures are needed to direct and incentivize the specific investments that are needed. For example, in Morocco, an ambitious scale-up of renewable energy was achieved through the creation of a new institution parallel to the traditional utility, with a specific policy mandate to direct private investment toward the achievement of government policy goals.

Technology disrupts: Rapid innovation is transforming the institutional landscape through the combined effect of renewable energy, battery storage, and digitalized networks. What used to be a highly centralized network industry is increasingly contested by decentralized actors. These include new entrants and consumers who may have the ability to generate their own electricity and/or adjust their demand in response to market signals. How this ultimately reshapes power sector organization will depend on the extent to which regulators open up markets to new players and reconfigure incentives for incumbent utilities to adopt innovative technologies.

In sum, a nuanced picture emerges from the experiences of developing countries that have aimed to turnaround power sector performance in the past 25 years. Drawing on this wealth of historical evidence, and informed by emerging technological trends, this report offers a new frame of reference for power sector reform that is shaped by context, driven by outcomes, and informed by alternatives.

The complete report can also be accessed at http://www.esmap.org/rethinking_power_sector_reform

World Bank

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