Belgian Parliamentarian, Andries Gryffroy, shares his views on enabling energy access through pro-renewables policy making
Parliamentarians from around the world will gather next week in Geneva, Switzerland, for the 138th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international organisation of 178 Member Parliaments. While the institution has been around since the 19th century, this year’s meeting will – for the first time – discuss a resolution focused on deploying clean, affordable and sustainable forms of energy, which is recognised as a key pillar of the global sustainable development agenda.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), one of the global custodians of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 indicators, off-grid renewable energy may serve around six million households worldwide – helping change the lives of approximately 30 million people. A further 120 million people currently without grid access, use solar lights.
To address this issue, a new resolution called ‘Engaging the private sector in implementing the SDGs, especially on renewable energy’ has been proposed by Mr. Andries Gryffroy, Member of the Flemish Parliament, IPU focal point and spokesperson on energy for his party, N-VA , together with his co-rapporteur, Mr. Duong Quoc Anh, member of parliament from Vietnam, in consultation with IRENA.
Though non-binding, IPU resolutions are drafted and adopted by parliaments around the world, distributed at the United Nations, and have the potential to influence national legislation. This new and yet-to-be-adopted renewable energy-focused resolution identifies what parliaments can do to maximize engagement around SDG 7 — ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Andries Gryffroy, outlined the magnitude of the energy access challenge, ahead of the meeting. “Today, about 1.1 billion people lack access to energy powered by the grid. Unhealthy wood stoves, hazardous kerosene lanterns, loud and environmentally unfriendly gas and diesel generators are being used instead. These forms of energy are costly and labour intensive, yet, in remote areas, it is not financially viable to develop high voltage distribution networks. Installing small windmills, or solar systems in villages or homes, represents a sound alternative to more conventional sources of energy.”
Drawing attention to the potential of off-grid and mini-grid renewable energy projects (including small-scale electricity generators converting power from renewable energy sources) for contributing to the implementation of SDG 7 in developing countries, the resolution encourages parliaments to facilitate, and account for, the risk management needs of small local project developers. It advocates for the establishment of enabling legal frameworks, and for incentivising public-private partnerships to speed up the transition towards a more sustainable system of energy production and consumption.
“Access to finance remains the issue even though such projects represent a relatively small investment,” Gryffroy points out. “Investors are less attracted by those projects because they have limited visibility on the financial risks. The cost of assessing an off-grid project’s viability is also higher than for larger projects. Therefore, one needs reassurances, such as a clear and long term agreement on price of electricity. Projects can also be facilitated when investors have obtained the expressed support both from the government and the local population.” He adds that, “establishing an enabling environment to accelerate the deployment of sustainable off-grid energy solutions, will require a collective effort. Being a member of the Flemish Parliament and of the Senate, I am regularly in contact with various stakeholders, which is of crucial importance to undertake any legislative work.”
The draft resolution, which will be debated throughout next week’s IPU meetings, and submitted for adoption to the IPU Assembly, represents a unique opportunity for parliamentarians to act decisively. “Ultimately,” says Andries Gryffroy, “legislators must seize the opportunity to act now.”
The impact of U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil industry, market in focus
Right from the day Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal, announcing his plan for cutting Iranian oil exports to zero, the oil scholars and experts all around the world begun contemplating the impacts of this decision on the Iranian oil industry especially on the country’s oil exports.
Today, near five months after Trump’s announcement and while the U.S. has re-imposed sanctions on Tehran, still nobody has a clear idea about the outcomes of the U.S. actions against Iran, and there is still great disagreement over the magnitude of the impact on Iranian oil industry and especially on crude exports.
However, the oil markets have been through various changes in the past few months based on which we can draw a relatively neat picture of what to expect in the future.
Markets moving toward ‘oversupply’
In January 2017 OPEC and a group of non-OPEC producers including Russia began cutting their output in order to balance an oversupplied market in which the oil prices had fallen from over $100 a barrel to under $30. After OPEC+ agreement the glut was slowly drained and the prices stared to move in an upward trend reaching $80.
The rise in oil prices started to concern Trump’s administration who were close to the midterm elections and also planning to re-impose sanctions on Iran; and the surging oil prices were not at all in line with their interests. This made Trump to begin pushing the U.S. allies in the Middle East to pump more oil in order to lower the surging prices.
In June 2018, led by Saudi Arabia as the biggest U.S. ally in the Middle East, OPEC and non-OPEC group agreed to restore some of their output to help rebalance the market which this time was considered “very tight”.
Afterward, despite the 2017 agreement, some OPEC members were allowed to pump at their maximum levels and also the world’s top three oil producers namely the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia, hit new production records.
Oil demand and a broken cycle
After pumping at their highest levels for over four months, Saudi Arabia and U.S. producers had to face the fact that there might not be enough demand for their oil in the markets.
The rising trade tensions between U.S. and China, rising interest rates and currency weakness in emerging markets have raised concerns about a slowdown in global economic growth and consequently in oil demand.
So getting back to the starting point [safe to say in a broken cycle], Saudi’s begun to believe that, once again, the markets were moving toward a glut and even with the cuts in Iranian output, the markets didn’t have the appetite for the new oil flows.
Consequently, in their latest gathering in Abu Dhabi, OPEC+, announced that the current situation “may require new strategies to balance the market.”
Gathered for their 11th meeting on Sunday, the OPEC-Non-OPEC Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) announced that “the Committee reviewed current oil supply and demand fundamentals and noted that 2019 prospects point to higher supply growth than global requirements, taking into account current uncertainties.”
Following the meeting, Saudi Arabia announced its plans to reduce oil supply to world markets by 0.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in December, Reuters reported on Monday.
Iran sanctions and the exemptions
Facing resistance from Saudi Arabia for pumping more oil and pressured by high oil prices, the U.S. government had no choice but to soften their stance against Iran and let go of its “zero Iranian oil” dream.
So, just few days before OPEC+ meeting, when there were talks of a new strategy for cutting output, the U.S. government announced that it has agreed to let eight countries, including China, Turkey, South Korea, Japan and India to continue buying Iranian oil.
With the new waivers coming to effect, a significant amount of the cuts in Iran’s oil exports will be compensated.
The impacts on Iran’s oil industry
So far, affected by the U.S. sanctions, Iran’s oil exports have fallen from an average of more than 2.5 million barrels per day to around 1.5 million bpd in recent weeks.
This means currently near 1 million bps of Iranian crude oil has been wiped from the markets and Iran is currently selling a lot less than what it used to sell before the re-imposition of the sanctions.
So how big the effect of these cuts could project on the country’s economy?
First of all, the oil revenues envisaged in Iran’s current budget for Iranian calendar year 1397 (March 2018-March 2019) is estimated to be 1.01 quadrillion rials (near $26.5 billion) planned based upon $55 oil. This means under a $55 scenario, for this amount of oil revenues to be realized, Iran should sell 2.410 million barrels per day of oil up to March 2019.
What should be taking into consideration here, is the fact that since the beginning of the current Iranian calendar year (March 2018), average oil price has been at least over $60 and according to Reuters ship tracking data, Iran has been exporting 2.5 million barrels of oil and condensate on average during this time span, that is about 400,000 barrels more than what is expected in the country’s budget.
As for the current oil prices, according to the Reuters’ latest report on Sunday, after Saudi Arabia announced a decision for cutting their output by 500,000 bpd in December and considering the U.S. announcement regarding the waivers over Iran sanctions, oil is currently being traded at over $70 per barrel that is still over $15 more than the price based on which Iran’s budget is set.
Aside from the increase which is due to come from the resumption of purchases by the exempted countries, Iranian crude exports are also keeping steady with the demand staying strong in the EU. European buyers including Italy, France, Spain and Croatia continuing their intakes even after announcement of the sanctions.
This indicates that even at the current levels, and even without considering the barrels which are going to be back to Iranian oil exports due to the waivers for the mentioned eight countries, the U.S. sanctions are not having as a severe impact on Iran’s economy and oil industry as they were supposed to.
Let’s not forget the country’s ample domestic storage which can easily absorb the barrels that are not exported. Previously, when the U.S. and EU imposed sanctions on Iran, the country put almost 50 million barrels of crude and condensates on floating storage between 2012 and January 2016.
Meanwhile, the country’s refineries have also been picking up in the past few months. Iran’s gasoline production has surged 50 percent over the last 12 months, with further increases to come, according to the oil ministry.
In the end, considering the global supply and demand patterns, the trade tensions between the U.S. and China and with OPEC+ considering new cuts to be executed in 2019, as well as U.S.’ recent waivers over Iran sanctions, we can see that the odds are quite slim for U.S. sanctions having a significant impact on the Islamic Republic’s economy and its oil industry in the long run.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
Blockchain: A New Tool to Accelerate the Global Energy Transformation
Few technological innovations have captured the public interest in recent years as much as blockchain. Most of the attention has focused on the meteoric rise of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, part of a total cryptocurrency market that, at its peak in January, rose to over USD 800 billion and then almost as rapidly fell to a quarter of its size.
But cryptocurrencies are only one application of blockchain (which is in itself an example of distributed ledger technology), and for many, the Bitcoin hype is merely a distraction from the transformative potential that blockchain technology could offer to a wide range of industries, including energy.
Blockchain was one of the big topics of conversation in September 2018 at IRENA Innovation Week, where more than 400 corporate leaders, government officials and experts at the forefront of energy gathered to discuss the innovations driving the energy transformation forward.
A blockchain is, in a basic sense, a secure, continuously growing list of records. It is constructed as a decentralised database that is distributed and managed by peers, rather than by a central server or authority. This technology is enabling a new world of decentralised communication and coordination, by building the infrastructure to allow peers to safely and quickly connect with each other without a centralised intermediary. Cryptography ensures security and data integrity, while privacy remains intact.
Greater complexity requires greater network intelligence, transparency and visibility
To understand the disruptive potential of blockchain to the energy sector, consider how electricity is generated. By and large, most countries rely on large, centralised power plants that generate electricity and then send it across long distances over power grids that were built as a one-way street, sending electricity from the producer to your home. Moreover, the markets in which grids operate are complex multi-party interactions involving grid operators, energy companies, and energy producers that run on a country-wide level.
Today, grids have become increasingly complex, with increasing shares of variable distributed generation (such as rooftop solar), increasing numbers of internet-connected devices (such as smart appliances), and increased loads from the influx of electric vehicles. Blockchain can help operate power grids with high penetration of variable distributed generation and flexible demand-side resources in a more efficient, automated way, all with lower transaction costs.
Blockchain can allow system operators of distributed generation to optimise grid operation by managing all connected devices through automated smart contracts, enabling flexibility and real-time pricing. Blockchain also empowers consumers to become ‘prosumers’ by enabling them to monetise their excess electricity (generated by rooftop solar for example) by securely recording data and sending and receiving payments automatically, through smart contracts built on platforms such as Ethereum.
Increased digitalization and interconnection have led to increased risks with regards to security. Blockchain, due to its distributed nature, can greatly increase the security of a network if implemented correctly. In coordination with burgeoning technologies such as AI, blockchain can play an important role is securing networks and grids.
An explosion of startups, but a long road ahead
Since the start of 2017 alone, more than fifty new startups launched that are working specifically on energy, raising more than USD$320 million. Today, there are more than 70 demonstration projects deployed or planned around the world, such as LO3’s Brooklyn Microgrid project, where customers can choose to power their homes from a range of renewable energy sources, and people with their own solar panels can sell surplus electricity to their neighbors. Another, from German power giant RWE, is using the Ethereum blockchain to authenticate users and manage billing at electric car charging stations.
But there’s still a way to go before blockchain is mature enough to play a major role in the energy sector. One major hurdle is the fact that the energy sector is highly regulated and widespread adoption of blockchain will require a clear, stable regulatory framework. While there are early signs of progress, such as Ofgem’s roundtable on UK blockchain regulation in September of last year, Singapore’s launch of a sandbox for energy innovations, and new legislation in US states like Vermont to help apply blockchain technology, the regulatory environment still needs to be defined.
Another is a more fundamental question around the consensus mechanism that blockchains use. Because blockchains are decentralised, they need some way to make collective decisions that are quick, secure, and trustworthy. Right now, there are a number of different ways to do this, including ‘proof of work’, which relies on increasingly computationally expensive (and energy-intense) puzzle solving, and ‘proof of stake’, which relies on those with the largest stake in the network to add the next block of transactions to the blockchain, and ‘proof of authority’, which relies on the identity of validators to function as their stake, among others. As yet, all of these mechanisms continue to be developed and none has been fully proven to be 100% reliable, secure, scalable and energy efficient, yet the potential risks—ranging from billion-dollar hacking losses to power-sucking coal-powered bitcoin mines—are huge.
However, new consensus protocols are being developed and tested all the time. As the technology matures, software platforms built on blockchain will be an increasingly attractive method to handle the increasingly complex and decentralised transactions between energy users, producers of various sizes, traders and utilities, and retailers. Furthermore, blockchain’s ability to autonomously reconcile supply and demand between meters and computers based on smart contracts is a revolutionary efficiency improvement.
This makes it well-suited to support an energy system of the future that is renewables-based, decentralised and distributed, digital, and democratic. The real relevance and impact of blockchain in the energy sector remains to be seen. How the technology and its application matures in coming years is going to be an exciting part of the story of the global energy transformation.
German-Russian energy relations and South Caucasus
Ever since the creation of mankind, human beings have always been in search of energy. On the Eve of World War I, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill made a historic decision with shifting power source of British navy’s ships from coal to oil. After Winston Churchill’s decision energy became the most significant part and power of industry and led countries to clash over strategic energy points during World War II. South Caucasus energy resources played an essential role in the victory of the USSR during WWII. During World War II, Hitler’s plan was to occupy Baku on September 25, 1942. At that time Baku’s oil was providing almost the entire supply of fuel for the Soviet resistance. Anticipating the upcoming victory, his generals presented him a cake of the region -Baku and the Caspian Sea. Delighted, Hitler took the choice piece for himself -Baku. Fortunately, the attack never occurred and Nazi forces were defeated before they could reach Baku.
Energy policy is a big issue that is not easy to deal with. As alternative energy sources require new and expensive infrastructure, traditional energy sources are still in the spotlight. Energy consumption in the EU is more than any other region in the world. On the contrary, the EU is poor in terms of energy sources. Therefore, the EU is looking for new opportunities in terms of energy sources and security of supply. The EU is currently pursuing a soft energy policy. Although the EU wants to create a common energy policy which can allow the Member States to formulate their energy strategies freely, in line with their national interests. Therefore, three major issues; need to ensure required investments, the reliability of exporters, security risks on supply and transit countries, are considered the main strategies for the countries.
Germany is one of the giant countries in Europe that contributes largely the EU’s economy. On the other hand, Russia is the main energy trade partner of the EU and today Russia supplies 35% of the gas demand of Europe. Russian-German relations are formed with the idea of “strategic partnership”. Official closer relations, called “strategic partnership”, have started in the Putin’s period in 2000 when Gerhard Schröder was a chancellor. These relations were based on the personal friendship of Putin and Schröder. Since 2000, the relations between Russia and Germany have intensified. In a short time, Germany became Russia’s biggest trading partner. In fact, a partnership between Russia and Germany covers all spheres of their economies, but the energy sector has the utmost importance in terms of trading relations. Russian-German partnership is important for the EU as well, because the EU, particularly CEE region is highly dependent on Russian energy. The largest gas trade between the EU and Russia was initiated by the North Stream project. Russia sells 55 billion cubic meters gas with this pipeline to Europe. Currently, Russia tries to implement North Stream-2 pipeline project, which Germany also gives a great support for the realization of this project.
After the Ukraine crisis, the strained relations between Russia and the EU began to soften after Germany’s willing to work with Russia in the energy field. In this regard, North Stream-2 pipeline project can be considered as the most important step in the building strategic energy partnership. Here is a question arises. Why does North Stream-2 important for both side? Firstly, Russia will sell 110 billion cubic meters gas to Europe after the completion of this project. This is quite a huge amount in terms of both European market and energy demand. While a number of states, NGOs and institutions emphasize the importance of alternative energy resources, at the end they give an ultimately tussle on the traditional energy resources.
Such dependence of energy market on Russian resources is a real and major threat to Europe’s energy security, however, one of the ways to minimize this threat is cooperation with Russia. The reason is that the Russian economy also depends on energy income and stopping the flow of energy can blow the Russian economy at the same time, considering the fact that there are numerous sanctions on Russia. That’s why Russian authorities also understand that creating a crisis or conflict is not only a solution and way to ensure political and economic interests. In fact, this mutual dependence results with softening of tense relations between Russia and the EU with strategic energy projects.
Secondly, Germany wants to become the main gas distributor in Europe with North Stream-2. Germany is one of the main importers of Russian gas in the EU and being an energy hub will bring huge capital flow to the German economy. Consequently, Germany will become more influential in the policymaking process in the EU.
Russian-German rapprochement may undermine the EU’s energy targets which aimed to ensure the security of supply by diversifying routes. Because North Stream-2 is proposed to extend German-Russian pipelines in the Baltic Sea. In addition, North Stream-2 is designed to completely isolate Ukraine and Poland from energy issues. As a result, due to increasing amount of energy flows, Baltic states are skeptic about their energy security and North Stream-2 is not welcomed in this region as well as in the CEE because of two previous serious gas disputes.
Germany knows how to play well in the politics chessboard. After the spyscandal, Germany expelled 4 Russian diplomats in order to show solidarity with the UK. But a day later Germany announced its support and green light to the Russian giant energy company Gazprom in the context of North Stream-2. In fact, this step of Germany can soften and regulate tense relations between Russia and the EU. Because mutual interests of Russia and the EU stand on the grounds of economic relations. These mutual interests cause Russia and Europe to constantly need one another. but this need is different on both sides and defines their political power according toits rate and range. The EU is an organization itself that unites industrialized and developed countries. This allows the EU to meet their demands in the internal market. The only problem is the lack of energy resources. However, this situation is completely different in Russia. Although there are agrarian and industrial spheres in Russia, revenues here form a very small part of the budget. In addition, Russia’s aggressive foreign policy has led to a series of sanctions and serious hit its economy. Russia provides 90% of its budget through revenue from energy resources. Therefore, the European energy market has significant importance for Russia. Due to this fact, in the previous years, Russia gave rigid reactions to the projects that the EU wanted to implement. One of them was the Nabucco pipeline project and during the negotiations, this project was abandoned by the participant countries.
Despite Russia turned into a major partner of the EU in the energy sector with North Stream projects, current sanctions on Russia and diplomatic crises make the EU’s cards much more powerful. Germany’s cooperation with Russia can lead to softening of the EU-Russia relations, as well as the expansion of EU’s diversification policy. On the other hand, Russia’s approach and stand are still uncertain. Germany and the European Commission are facing a similar dilemma; they are trying to break Russia’s antitrust image while also expressing disapproval of Moscow’s foreign policy. German Socialist MEP Martina Werner once said in her interview that “The reality is that when it comes to gas politics, Russia is a more reliable partner than in the geopolitical context. The Russian economy is highly dependent on the income from gas exports to the EU, which creates a strong mutual dependence between us. In foreign policy, on the other hand, Russia is much more unpredictable”. Therefore, it is important to find alternative routes for the EU and Germany as well, because this uncertainty can lead to a serious crisis which happened before. In this regard, especially South Caucasus and Caspian Basin are more important with its geopolitical position.
The South Caucasus is an important geo-strategic region with its position and natural resources. Especially Azerbaijan and Georgia form transport routes between the Caspian Sea and the EU. After the dissolution of USSR, Azerbaijan’s geopolitical position has raised the importance of its natural resources. The Contract of Century (Agreement on the Joint Development and Production Sharing for the Azeri and Chirag Fields and the Deep Water Portion of the Gunashli Field in the Azerbaijan Sector of the Caspian Sea) was signed on September 20, 1994, and it was a very first agreement led Azerbaijan’s oil to enter the world energy market. This contract also made Georgia to become the main transit route in the region.
Russia and Germany have extensive relations and interests in South Caucasus. Starting from 2011, with the Southern Gas Corridor this region became more important in terms of diversification and security of supply. Although its close cooperation with Russia on energy, Germany is also interested in alternative routes, especially in the South Caucasus region. President of USA, D.Trump criticized Germany as being “a captive” of Russia and stated that the US doesn’t want to see its allies are highly dependent on Russia in energy. It is quite understandable because the US wants to sell liquid gas to Europe, which is more expensive than Russian gas. Therefore, Russian gas is more beneficial at this moment for the EU and Germany as well.
The EU strongly corporates with Azerbaijan and gives serious support in order to implement gas projects by Azerbaijan. At the same time is the main trade partner of Germany in South Caucasus. In this regard, A.Merkel’s South Caucasus visit is particularly important in terms of geostrategic energy politics. Azerbaijan plays a crucial role in South Caucasus due to its natural resources and position. Especially the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) is important in terms of EU’s diversification strategy. Azerbaijan provides gas to South Europe by TAP project and in future, it is planned to extend SGC’s range into most important regions of the EU. The most important nuance here is that, if the Trans-Caspian project is to be realized, the Southern Gas Corridor will provide Europe with a much larger amount of energy resources. Currently, Azerbaijan is able to provide 10 billion cubic meters gas per year to Europe by 2019, however, by 2022, this amount will be 16 billion cubic meters gas per year. On the other hand, Trans-Caspian pipeline project will increase this capacity enormously and as a result, Azerbaijan will become an important gas distributor and transit country.
Azerbaijan is rich in oil and gas reserves and in 2017 Azerbaijan was the largest trade partner of Germany with 66% of total trade between South Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia) and Germany. Azerbaijan and Germany corporate closely in the energy sector and more than 200 German companies operate actively in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is important for the EU and Germany due to several reasons:
1.Azerbaijan’s geographically location makes it opening the door between Asia and Europe.
2.The EU tries to implement energy strategies on diversification of routes in order to reduce its dependency on Russia. Therefore, the EU and Germany give support to the SGC and TAP in order to ensure its security of supply. Because these projects are the most optimal way to export energy resources of the Caspian region to the European market without any intervention of Russia
3.If Trans-Caspian is implemented, it will be possible to export natural resources of Iran, Iraq and Turkmenistan by passing through Azerbaijan to Europe.
Legal status of the Caspian Sea also should be emphasized in the context of energy relations. The five Caspian littoral states signed Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea and this convention gave a ground that other countries cannot intervene in the projects unless they are official partners. This convention also allows those exporter countries to build their energy strategies independently. Another look of this convention is that if Trans-Caspian is implemented it may reduce the influence of Iran and China on this region. In this regard, Russia will be more interested in this project, because in this situation China will need Russia even more than previous periods. Russia is interested in less gas export to China from Turkmenistan and this situation can lead Russia to become the main energy partner of China. From Iran perspective, it does not seem realistic that Iran can react against these processes. Because the current political and economic situation in Iran diminished its influence in the region and Iran needs Russia’s serious support after the sanctions as well.
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