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Possibilities of Global Oil Supply Volatility due to Khashoggi’s Mysterious Death

Dr. Hiranmoy Roy

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Owing to the decrease in spare oil capacity worldwide, OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo advised the oil-producing companies to enhance their production capacities and investments to meet the future demand.

Oil producers have reassembled this year on expectation that US sanction on Iran will strain supplies due to lowering consignments from OPEC’s third largest oil producer.

Brent crude breached four year high to reach $ 76 a barrel earlier this month, the highest since 2014.

Barkindo has stated that countries possessing additional capacity are now dwindling due to reduced investment in explorations. He also asserted that global oil sector requires about 11 trillion in terms of investment to meet future oil demand in the period up to 2040.

The import dependent countries including India are concerned about future oil supply. OPEC in its September 2018 report said that crude oil demand is expected to shoot up from 14.5 million barrels per day in 2017 to 111.7 million B/D by 2040. Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of OPEC, is the only oil producer with substantial extra capacity on hand, which can be supplied to the market when needed and the Saudi plans to invest $20 billion in the next few years for possible expansion of its auxiliary oil capacity. Currently oil markets are adequately supplied and well-adjusted, said Barkindo but he has also warned against a potential imbalance in 2019 due to increased additional capacity created through heavy investments which subsequently might lead to higher supply.

However, OPEC is willing to maintain the balance that has been achieved after four years. Members of OPEC and Non- OPEC countries are planning for a supply reduction agreement that is now on course to reach 100 % compliance.  OPEC and allied producers excluding US agreed in June to return to 100 % compliance with output cut that began in January 2017. This was after months of under production by Venezuela and other suppliers which pushed the adherence above 160 %.

Most interestingly, India is expected to account for 40 % of the overall increase in global demand during the 2040 forecast period as revealed by OPEC. Demand for oil in the world’s third largest oil importer is expected to rise by 5.8 million barrels per day by 2040. India is projected to witness the largest additional oil demand of 3.7 % per annum and the fastest growth in the period up to 2040.

Death of Saudi Arabia’s dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul Consulate and the country’s admittance of the same after two weeks of denial has adversely affected the western relations of the powerful kingdom.

Riyadh provided no evidence to support its account of the circumstances that led to Khashoggi’s death and it was still unclear whether other governments would be satisfied with it. A Saudi – owned media outlet warned that the country will face disruption in oil production and a sharp rise in world oil prices.

Oil prices rose as traders assessed a threat by Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, to retaliate against any punishment over the disappearance of Khashoggi – the government critic. Futures climbed as much as 1.9 % in New York as the market viewed the Saudi Foreign Ministry statement as a warning that the kingdom could use oil supplies as a political weapon. However, gains subsided amidst doubts that OPEC’s most powerful member would take such an extreme course and its energy minister promised that the Saudi will remain responsible supplier. US President Donald Trump has promised severe punishment, should Saudi Arabia be proved responsible for the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If Saudi uses their oil resources to hit back, it would be a break from their old policy of putting petroleum above politics.

“The market will price in some risk premium,” said Giovanni Staunovo, an analyst at UBS group AG in Zurich. “While Saudi Arabia has not used politics in recent years to deal with US however, prince Salman is not an ordinary politician and it is unclear how he will react going for forward. However, if Saudi Crude exports remain unchanged, this risk premium will disappear again.

Crude has retreated about 6 % after reaching a four-year high earlier this month as a darkening demand outlook, coupled with global stock market roots, which spurs investors to shun risky assets including commodities. Still traders continue to speculate whether OPEC and its partners can offset potential supply losses from Iran as US sanctions are set to curb oil exports from the Persian Gulf state.

West Texas Intermediate for November delivery rose delivery as much as $72.70 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange $71.89. The contract slid to 4 % last week. Brent for December settlement climbed as much as $1.49 or 1.9% to $81.92 a barrel on the London based ICE futures Europe Exchange. Prices declined 4.4% last week, the biggest weekly drop since early April. The global benchmark crude traded at $9.44 premium to WTI for the same month. Khashoggi has not been seen since entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd. The US administration is said to increasingly regard the Kingdom’s denial of any involvement in his disappearance as untenable. Turks officials say they have audio and video recordings showing Saudi security team detaining the journalist before killing him and dismembering his body, according to the Washington Post.

OPEC’s top producer Saudi Arabia has taken on an even more crucial role as the market from key producers to make up for lost barrels from Iran to Venezuela. Although the kingdom did use energy as a weapon when it led an oil embargo in 1973 to 1974, its current threats mark a surprising turn in an otherwise warm relationship with the US. Although it would be premature to comment on sanctions and on any issue until US get further down the investigation and find the underlying cause of Khashoggi’ s death. Trump’s comment about the Khashoggi’s incident in recent days have ranged from threatening Saudi Arabia with “very severe” consequences and warning of economic sanctions, to more conciliatory remarks in which he has played up the country’s role as a US ally against Iran and Islamist militants, as well as a major purchaser of US arms. On Tuesday 23rdOctober, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the person who ordered the death of the prominent Saudi journalist must be brought in to account. He said the case that has sparked outrage around the globe; Turkey would not complete the investigation into Khashoggi’s death until all questions are answered. The White house and the US department of State did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Erdogan’s remarks. US President Trump has repeatedly played down any suggestion that the crown prince was involved in the killing but also warned of possible economic sanctions. Thus, Khashoggi’s mysterious disappearance may affect the geo-politics of oil market and dynamics of global oil supply.

* I am grateful to my student Purva Rathore of the department of Economics for support to compile this article

Dr. Hiranmoy Roy (Ph.D. in Economics) has been engaged in teaching and research since last seventeen years. He has written four books and published thirtyfive research papers in national and international peer reviewed journals.Dr. Roy has completed three research project sanctioned by UGC and UCO- Bank in the year 2001-04, 2003-04 and 2007-08. Also completed two Energy Policy Related Projects of NITI Aayog in the year 2016 – 2017.He has developed one ELECTIVE COURSE ON: GREEN ECONOMICS for World Bank programme on Special Concentration on “Green Management” Under the World Bank Program of capacity Building in South Asia.

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Is nuclear energy essential for deep decarbonization?

MD Staff

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The world is not on track to meet the target of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2°C. Participants at the Ninth International Forum of Energy for Sustainable Development (12-15 November 2018) in Kiev, Ukraine, deliberated on how nuclear energy could contribute to deep decarbonization. Today, some 450 nuclear power reactors in 30 countries provide about 11% of the world’s electricity. Nuclear energy is the world’s second largest source of low-carbon power, with about 30% of the total in 2015, and it displaces about 2 gigatonnes of CO2 every year.

Speaking at the Forum’s workshop on “Nuclear Energy and Sustainable Development: Role of nuclear in a decarbonized energy mix”, Ms. Yuliya Pidkomorna, Deputy Minister for Energy and Coal Industry, Ukraine observed that nuclear energy is the mainstay of energy infrastructure in Ukraine. Experts from Ukraine showcased nuclear energy’s contributions to the country’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Participants from United Kingdom and Canada presented national programmes in which nuclear energy contributes to deep decarbonization.

“A dialogue on the energy transition is incomplete without considering nuclear power”, said Mr. Scott Foster, Director, Sustainable Energy Division, UNECE in his opening remarks. “This is why the Forum has included nuclear energy on the agenda for the first time.”

Many countries have chosen to not pursue nuclear energy because they view that the risks of incidents or accidents at nuclear power stations are unacceptable. Other countries have determined that they will not be able to achieve their development objectives without deploying nuclear power. Many countries such as China, India and Russia are expanding their nuclear power base, while countries like Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are building nuclear power plants for the first time.

Advanced nuclear power systems incorporate passive safety features. Reducing costs through economies of scale and deployment of innovative small and medium reactors will have to be accelerated. Over fifty models of such reactors are under design and regulatory approval in different countries.

“Small and medium reactors are a possible game changer for nuclear power”, said David Shropshire, Section Head, Planning and Economic Studies, International Atomic Energy Agency. “They can be deployed by 2030 as a low carbon alternative, meet growing needs for potable water due to the climate change, and support remote and niche applications.”

“Today’s nuclear energy is the product of 60 years of innovation, supplying clean, affordable and reliable electricity on a major scale”, said Ms. Agneta Rising, Director-General, World Nuclear Association, summarizing the deliberations at the workshop. “To meet the growing demand for clean electricity, the global nuclear industry Harmony programme sets out a vision of 25% of global electricity supplied by nuclear by 2050 working alongside other low-carbon energy forms such as renewable energies.”

Deliberations on nuclear energy at the Forum intersected with discussions on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and fossil fuels and the need for finding the right mix suited for different regions and countries. Decarbonizing energy will require contributions from all low-carbon technologies.

The workshop was co-organized by World Nuclear Association and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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The impact of U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil industry, market in focus

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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

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Blockchain: A New Tool to Accelerate the Global Energy Transformation

MD Staff

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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.

IRENA

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