Ever since the creation of mankind, human beings have always been in search of energy. Several conflicts and wars happened over energy resources for many centuries. Depletion of energy resources is the most important challenge that the major powers are struggling for. Energy policy is a big issue for almost any country in the world which is dependent on external resources. Energy consumption in the EU is more than any other region in the world while being poor in terms of energy sources. Implementation of renewable alternative energy projects requires proper and expensive infrastructure, which not all of the states are capable of it in an economic context. Therefore, alternatives and new routes in the traditional energy sources are vital priorities for the EU.
Since the last gas dispute with Russia, the EU has started to build effective policies to bring energy sources safely to the internal market by efficient transportation. Thus, the EU is trying to reduce energy dependency level on Russia by using geographical proximity advantage to the energy centres. In this sense, the Caspian region offers more stable and secured energy flow considering the fact that the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) project is designed for this purpose between the region and the EU. Therefore, the EU is providing substantial support for the reconstruction and development of the infrastructure of gas pipelines, which passes from transit countries such as Georgia and Turkey and brings energy resources to Europe. There are several important reasons that the EU took into consideration while implementing SGC. Firstly, the 2006 and 2009 gas dispute showed that Ukraine is not a reliable transit country anymore. Instead, Turkey can be the more optimal alternative route as it has a desire to become a regional power. Secondly, Azerbaijan offers more stable and secured energy supply by using its foreign energy relations experience from 1994. Also, Azerbaijan is more interested in to cooperate with the West in energy relations rather than sticking into one direction and using intermediary actors. Because having reliable and effective transportation networks for easy access to the world market is essential for economic development and security of Azerbaijan due to its geographical location as a landlocked state. Thirdly and most important factor is security. In the modern era, the prior direction of the states’ foreign policy is the solution of the security problem. Eastern part of the EU, especially CEE countries, are highly dependent on Russian gas, which makes them go under both political and economic pressures from time to time. Therefore, the principal direction of the EU is to ensure energy security as well as the national security of the Member States by diversifying their economic trade partners. Energy security can be described either additional category of the national security or a category which is based on the synthesis of economic and political security. Thus, as the energy security has both economic and political implications, the EU makes great efforts to protect its borders from any threat by addressing to the issue in two ways; international aspect which is targeted to provide reliable, cost-effective and low-risk energy imports to the domestic warehouses, and local aspect which is intended to establish uninterrupted supply of energy with affordable price for the population and industrial workers (consumers).
TANAP AND AZERBAIJAN-EU ENERGY RELATIONS
In 2011 Azerbaijan and the EU signed a joint declaration on the Southern Gas Corridor. SGC was more an optimal and promising version of the Nabucco pipeline project. The direction of the project was also crucial for Europe because the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) in the SGC will deliver Azerbaijani gas to the South of Europe. Thus, this pipeline both will meet the gas needs of these regions and diminish Europe’s energy dependence on Russia slightly. Unlike Nabucco, the SGC is a more promising and strategic start to bring gas resources from the Caspian Sea, Middle East, and Central Asia. The primary purpose of this project is to diversify energy routes by using completely new and alternative directions. The geopolitical significance of the TAP project is quite high in terms of diversifying energy sources. Although the main direction of the TAP project is Italy and Greece at initial stage, the pipeline can supply Azerbaijani gas to several European countries, such as Austria, Central Europe region, Bulgaria, Balkan countries, Southern Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as United Kingdom, Germany, France and Switzerland.
The project was announced on November 17 2011 at the Third Black Sea Energy and Economic Forum held in Istanbul and following this a memorandum of understanding was signed between Azerbaijan and Turkey on December 26 2011. The opening ceremony of TANAP was held on November 30, 2019, in Ipsala of Turkey’s Edirne province. Ipsala is located near the Turkey-Greece border, and TANAP is connected to the TAP, which will bring Azerbaijani gas to European region directly. TANAP is the largest and central segment of SGC and has strategic importance for both Azerbaijan and Turkey. First and foremost, Azerbaijan will be able to transfer its natural resources directly into the European market for the first time in history. Second, by joining this project, Turkey reaffirms its position in the regional security by becoming a reliable regional energy hub. Third, European states support the energy supply from the Caspian Sea to the European market and by providing economic and political support. Thus, SGC is a multinational natural gas pipeline supported by the European Commission and financed by the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Despite the US has not invested and will not get any commercial benefit from the project, Washington supports TANAP due to its promotion of diversification of energy supplies.
The EU is making significant efforts to diversify its energy supply and deliver Caspian gas to Europe without Russian intervention. On the other hand, procedures between the EU and Azerbaijan show that Azerbaijan is interested in independent cooperation with the EU. Although the Nabucco project failed, with the choice of TAP and TANAP projects, Azerbaijan proved its pragmatic partnership and its aim to increase revenues. At the same time, from its independence, the absence of internal conflicts in Azerbaijan, continuous promotion of peace, active involvement in international missions resulted in a robust, durable and stable economy and political system. In fact,as long as Azerbaijan is interested in delivering energy to the West by supporting transit projects, the EU does not face any difficulties in the region.
In order to describe the big picture, as presented by the EU Commission prior to the global financial crisis and alternative energy routes, it is essential to note that volume and cost are not the only elements at stake in the SGC.It has crucial geopolitical consequences. Building East-West transportation corridor passing through South Caucasus to connect Europe to Asia offers to establish new infrastructures, railways, highways and pipelines, new job opportunities, security as well as different transport facilities. This corridor sits right at the intersection of both politics and economics. In terms of economics, it creates new chances for the regional countries to connect to global markets and to stimulate economic development by fostering integration with the global economy. On the other hand, politically, it enhances the strength of sovereignty of both sides by opening new supply routes. Because the creation of transit corridors requires diversified access to the international arena considering the fact that being dependent on a single route may emerge potential blockade by the exporter.
Azerbaijan is one of the main actors of this corridor and can supply gas to the European market by improving European energy security and without creating additional geopolitical tension. Azerbaijan has experienced energy trade with Europe by implementing the BTC pipeline. Alternative supplies remain its significance by building affordable and relatively more feasible projects with necessary investments. Azerbaijan, in this picture, emerges as the most reliable supplier and trade partner with a clear understanding of supply, demand and transit routes. Therefore, the initiative of SGC, TANAP and TAP together with the EU aims to hinder Russia’s dominance in the European gas market. To put it briefly; SGC offers more benefits rather than its predecessors due to several reasons:
Energy resources in the Caspian Basin are important for the EU, and the geographical location of Azerbaijan makes it ideal and more optimal point for the transportation of these resources;
SGC is not long-distance route as Nabucco, therefore, it is affordable in terms of costs;
SGC will create competitive prices in the energy market, especially for Southern Europe at the first stage, and later for CEE countries;
SGC will strengthen Turkey’s position as a transit country, and enhance the EU-Azerbaijan relations.
In the future, it is planned to give life to the Trans-Caspian energy pipeline by connecting to the SGC. In this context, the legal status of the Caspian Sea defines the strategies of the five Caspian littoral states. Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea gave a ground that the other countries cannot intervene in the projects unless they are official partners. It means that by signing this convention, the five Caspian littoral states can build their energy strategies and policies independently. Thus, if the Trans-Caspian project is to be implemented in the future, it will be able to transport gas to Europe from other regions. The central part of this route will be the Southern Gas Corridor. Thus, Azerbaijan will also play a role in the region as a bridge to connect Europe with Asia, becoming a transit country. This means more investment, stronger infrastructure and well-built East-West relations.
TURKEY IS THE ‘KEY FOR THE ENERGY’
Turkey has limited natural resources which makes it dependent on external energy sources. As energy demand and dependency rate on external sources is increasing, energy issues have increased their weight by becoming the determinant of the dynamic of Turkish foreign policy gradually. The main objective of Turkey’s energy policy is to provide energy promptly to ensure economic growth as well as sufficient, reliable, competitive prices. Turkey imports its 98% energy demand from its energy-rich neighbours such as Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan thanks to its geographical location. On the other hand, Turkey is the vast market for these exporter countries. Therefore, the TANAP project has specific importance and means more than an energy project for Turkey. TANAP will not only diversify energy routes but also will contribute to the security of supply. Turkey considers this pipeline as an important project with its economic dimension because it will lead to the development of economic and political relations between Turkey and regional states. TANAP will improve the effectiveness of Turkey in the region as well as its position in the global energy projects. Another critical point is that Turkey aims to become an energy centre as Austrian Baumgarten if manages to involve as much as energy directions. This is important for the EU as well because by turning into an energy hub, Turkey can ensure Europe’s energy security and provide securitization of energy supply and formation of a market structure in which gas competes gas. Since TANAP offers regional prosperity and security, Turkey takes a critical role in every point of the value chain extending from producer to final consumer.
Since the dissolution of USSR, the Azerbaijan-Turkey axis has brought positive trends both in the political and economic fields. For instance, despite several issues and obstacles at the end of XX century, Azerbaijan and Turkey managed to implement the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (oil pipeline), Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (gas pipeline), and Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (railway) projects and strengthen their geopolitical benefits in the world arena. Following this, TANAP project Turkey will gain a strategic momentum against Russia in the context of ensuring energy flow, especially to Europe in the near future.
In conclusion, since the restoration of state independence in 1991, the Republic of Azerbaijan has defined the integration and expansion of cooperation with the EU as one of the strategic directions of foreign policy. The economic integration interests of Azerbaijan towards Europe are shaped by geopolitical and geoeconomic position and socio-economic development of the country.The SGC is particularly vital in terms of EU’s energy security. The interest of the European countries in this project results in the construction of new infrastructure for the secure supply of energy resources from the Caspian region to Europe.Additionally, TAP and TANAP will have a positive impact on Europe’s as well as Turkey’s energy economy, while diversifying energy routes because these projects will create competitive prices in energy markets. Also, SGC is considered to be profitable for both the participating countries and companies directly involved in its implementation.
Covid-19 Impact on Africa’s Energy Sectors: Challenges and Opportunities
African ministers representing around two-thirds of the continent’s energy consumption, 60% of GDP and nearly half of its population met with global energy leaders via videoconference on 30 June 2020. As Africa’s energy sector faces the dual impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic recession, participants agreed that sound government policies and enhanced investment are more important and necessary than ever to enhance the continent’s economic transformation; ensure sufficient, affordable, reliable energy for all citizens; and drive inclusive, just and sustainable, energy transitions.
2020 started as a year of optimism across Africa’s energy sector. But continued energy progress is now uncertain, as Africa – like the rest of the world – faces the wide-ranging impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. The International Monetary Fund expects sub-Saharan Africa to enter into recession for the first time in 25 years as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with growth falling to -3.2% in 2020 from 3.1% in 2019. Many African economies also have limited fiscal capacity and are heavily indebted, undermining their ability to absorb these economic shocks. The energy sector has not been spared.
Electricity – Participants welcomed the good progress made in many African countries in recent years, including accelerating growth in renewable energy and increasing access to electricity, but expressed concern that the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic shocks are testing the resilience of the energy sector in countries across Africa. The Covid-19 crisis has severely impacted progress on energy access and lockdown measures have put off-grid developments at risk and weakened the financial health of decentralized service providers. Confinement policies and the consequent drop in energy demand in some countries is increasing pressure on power systems, calling into further question the financial health of state-owned utilities that were already under financial stress.
Oil and Gas – Participants also noted that the disruption to global oil and gas markets has delivered a sudden and sharp drop in export revenue, increasing fiscal pressures on key producer economies across the continent. As a result, new investments may face delay or cancellation in the post Covid-19 global and energy sector financial environment. Continued uncertainty could create new risks, compounding security and sustainability challenges in the longer term. At the same time, lower oil prices could make access to clean fuels and modern cooking ones more affordable, as liquid petroleum gas prices (LPG) are 40% lower that 2019, but also considerably more volatile. Expansion of LPG services could create new jobs in manufacturing, transport, bottling, distribution as well as retail. Also, the importance of securing the African energy supply through modern and larger storage capacities over the continent was noted.
Sustainable, Inclusive Transitions – Participants also underscored the importance of supporting Africa’s energy transitions. This includes strengthening the enabling environment for investment, both in infrastructure and all relevant technologies, and continuing to prioritise attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals while ensuring just and inclusive outcomes. The importance of strengthening and developing local capacity and capabilities, especially through training, was also largely emphasized by many Ministers. Finally, participants welcomed the IEA sustainable recovery plan to help guide governments – including in Africa — through and beyond the crisis.
Key conclusions – Participants stressed the following top recommendations going forward:
- An efficient secure, affordable and sustainable power sector is vital to Africa’s economic recovery and transformation, and its ability to enhance resiliency to other challenges over time.
- Enhancing investments in new grids, (national and mini-grids) and in the off-grid sector as well as in generation facilities are essential to ensure a resilient and reliable power sector that can drive economic recovery.
- Setting bold energy sector priorities and plans today can enable much-needed investments to stimulate broader economic growth tomorrow, including creating employment opportunities, supporting new skill development, unleashing the creativity of African entrepreneurs across the African continent and creating wealth.
- Africa’s oil and gas exporters, who have been severely impacted by the crisis, can seize the opportunity to re-evaluate their strategies to generate the most value and jobs across their economies and to promote broader economic diversification.
- To secure energy supplies and development in many Africa countries, increase oil storage capacities and product stocks; upgrade refineries to produce higher quality products that are less polluting; and build local capacity and skills through training.
- Low oil prices, in particular liquid petroleum gas (LPG), could open the door to advance clean cooking access; LPG services could also create jobs.
- Maintaining focus on universal access to electricity and modern cooking is essential, especially in Africa; African governments and other partners should continue to work together to ensure progress toward SDG7.
- Enhanced regional and international cooperation can play an important role in helping to build robust, affordable, sustainable and resilient energy systems across the continent.
The outcomes of this ministerial roundtable will be shared with key global decision-makers, governments, international financial institution, business leaders including for the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on 9 July 2020 and AUC-IEA Ministerial Forum in South Africa in November 2020. The outcomes will also help guide and inform the IEA’s increasing efforts in Africa, including helping to inform key decision-makers from governments, companies, investors and organizations.
From Russia with Gas: Dynamics of Nord Stream 2
Nord Stream 2 is one of the latest gas pipeline projects of Russia, which seeks to export gas to Europe through the Baltic Sea. After the successful experience from Nord Stream, European companies agreed to build the second version with the Russian partner Gazprom in 2017. Since then, the pipeline has been in limelight because of US threat of sanctions as they fear Russian involvement will endanger European security. However, the European Union (EU) members who are participating in the pipeline project have differed from the American view and have already initiated the construction process. The dynamics of the Nord Stream 2 is very much relevant to the contemporary European geopolitical affairs, and hence a rational analysis is the need of the hour.
Energy concerns in Europe
The EU has called for its members to expand the diversity of their gas supply options and liberalize the energy market, so as to avoid monopoly and sole dependency on a single player, for example the US which has significantly increased their gas sales in Europe since the last decade. According to the ‘Quarterly Report on European Gas Markets’, the American share of gas exports has increased with 9% in the last quarter of 2019, while Norway dropped with 8%. It is widely anticipated that Norway will export less gas in the next 20 years, therefore EU members and especially Germany have been looking for other natural gas suppliers to the fulfill the 30% domestic shortage.
Pivot to Russia
The United States is one of the major gas exporters to Europe, but its expensive Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) can fill only 7-8% of the total energy shortage. For that reason, European countries started diversifying their partners, and to their rescue came Russia which has some of the world’s largest oil and gas fields. Gazprom, one of the largest state-owned energy companies of Russia is now regarded as the largest natural gas exporter to the European Market. In 2018, Gazprom’s gas exports to Europe recorded the highest growth at 201.9 billion cubic meters.
According to the fact sheet on Nord Stream 2, from the perspective of the EU there are numerous benefits which can be achieved from the pipeline project. The project has already provided a lot of jobs to the European community and has also involved local shipping companies like the Blue Water Shipping, a Danish logistics company which has obtained a contract of 40 million euros to transport the pipes for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
American Sanctions and European reactions
The US administration had appealed to Germany to back out from all dealings with the major shareholder Gazprom, as they were seeking to impose sanctions on their activities. However, Germany rejected the idea of sanctions and even called out for a joint European defence against draconian American measures, and accused the Washington for interfering in the internal affairs of European countries, since the sanctions also threatened the European companies involved in the pipeline. Niels Annen, the German Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, had made some remarks relating to the U.S. sanctions: “If we want to maintain strong unity of purpose in dealing with Russia, extraterritorial and unintended consequences of US sanctions on European companies must be avoided”.
Nevertheless, Washington still argues that imposing sanctions is a justified measure toward “protecting Ukrainian interests”, since it is alleged that the Nord Stream 2 would replace the dependency on Ukrainian gas exports. However, the reality of sanctions is something different. First, the legislation made by the United States Congress Committee has not been proceeded yet, and while the pipeline is expected to be completed by the end of 2020, therefore it is the European companies which will face the wrath of the sanctions, without actually stopping the construction process of the pipeline.
Another major argument which the Washington has used to justify the sanctions is a peculiar concern that Moscow may take advantage of energy-dependent Germany, and can use gas exports as a “raw material blackmail”, by giving threats of limiting the exports if Berlin doesn’t agree with the political positions of the Kremlin. However, this is actually a win-win situation both for Russia and Germany, where Germany will be able to satisfy the growing domestic demands of energy and for Russia the income from the gas will help in soothing its fluctuating economy.
The Danish factor
To begin the construction phase of the Nord Stream 2 without any legal hurdles, a request to all Baltic and Nordic countries was sent in April 2017. At the outset, Denmark hesitated to allow because of some internal political concerns, however it later approved when another request was sent for an alternative route, but a more expensive one, which would be built south of the Bornholm Island. Finally in 2019, the Danish Energy Agency granted Nord Stream 2 a construction permit for the South-Eastern Route, which would stretch 147 kilometres in the Danish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
According to Hans Mouritzen, Senior Researcher at Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), it was highly recommended to approve of the pipeline going through Danish waters, south of the island, Bornholm. A pipeline drawn north of Bornholm would delay the project with 3 to 4 months and the extra expenses would be around $114 million, a bill that would be for European consumers to pay, had Denmark not agreed to the request.
The future scenario of Nord Stream 2 can go one in two ways from a European point of view. First, by being a part of NATO, European countries will be compelled to act in accordance with the multilateral agreements and thereby granting the US their global sovereignty, where they will be able to control and manipulate the economic cooperation between Europe and Russia, and Washington will not miss any opportunity to jeopardize the operations of Nord Stream 2. With the possibility of increased cooperation towards the US and decreased cooperation with Russia, the European countries will have more to lose in the long run.
In the second scenario, Europe cooperating more closely with Russia will bring additional trade opportunities in numerous areas, where Nord Stream 2 is just the beginning. Bringing economic stability to Russia will benefit in thwarting unilateral hegemonic interests of a single country in the world order. Pending that the US keeps Ukraine as a hostage of justice by sanctioning Russia, it vehemently prevents Europe and Russia to develop closer ties. While it is difficult to even imagine the US withdrawing sanctions from Russia, nevertheless it is possible to imagine that European countries will not abide by the external pressures. A better trading balance between Russia and the US in contemporary times will heal the historical wounds of Europe.
An Insight into Egypt-Russian Cooperation on Nuclear Power
Last October 2019, during the first Russia-Africa Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reaffirmed commitment to scale-up cooperation in various economic sectors and particularly expedite work on the special industrial zone and the construction of proposed four nuclear power plants, raising hopes for an increased power supply in Egypt.
Seated in a sizeable conference hall on October 23, Putin told the Egyptian delegation: “As for our bilateral relations, we continue to implement ambitious projects that have been coordinated by us, including a nuclear power plant and an industrial zone in Egypt. We are working very actively in these areas, and we are planning to invest $190 million in infrastructure development projects and to attract up to $7 billion.”
In his response, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warmly expressed gratitude for holding the first Russia-Africa Summit, added that relations have had a long history in many fields and spheres, starting with Russia’s support to the liberation movement, its contributions helped many African countries to attain practical results based on mutually beneficial cooperation in Africa.
“I would like to point out that we view Russia as a reliable partner of the African continent. We hope very much that Russia will be working in Africa in all spheres and fields, including in that of the development, as well as in the financing of infrastructure projects on the continent and in particular in energy and road construction,” the Egyptian leader told Putin.
Egypt attaches great importance in its relations with Russia. But what is particularly important for their bilateral relations, Abdel el-Sisi assertively reminded: “I would like to assure you of our high appreciation of our bilateral relations, which are developing in various formats, especially after we signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement. We sincerely hope that our relations will continue to develop in all fields and spheres.”
“As for the nuclear power plant, we set a high value on our bilateral cooperation. We strongly hope that all topics related to this project will be settled without delay so that we can start implementing the project in accordance with the signed contract. Mr President, we hope that the Russian side will provide support to nuclear energy facilities in Egypt so that we can work and act in accordance with the approved schedule,” he added, in conclusion.
Related Russian ministries, departments and agencies are, usually, tasked to coordinate and implement bilateral agreements. In the case of nuclear power, State Atomic Energy Corporation is the main player. According to the description made available on its website, State Atomiс Energy Corporation, popular referred to as Rosatom, is a global leader in nuclear technologies and nuclear energy. It is established 2007 [a non-profit entity type] and headquartered in Moscow.
In fact, Rosatom has shown business interest in Africa. Over the past two decades, at least, it has signed agreements that promised construction of nuclear energy plants and training of specialists for these countries. The Director General, Alexey Likhachev, emphasized these points at the Russia-Africa Summit that Rosatom has already been cooperating with more than 20 African countries, in particular, building the largest “El-Dabaa” NPP in Egypt with an installed capacity of 4.8 GW.
While still there in Sochi, Alexey Likhachev noted that more reliable, affordable and stable energy is the basic condition for achieving sustainable development goals. “We can make a qualitative breakthrough in Africa in terms of technological development and the use of nuclear technology in the next few years,” he said during one of the plenary sessions.
According to Reuters, the Egyptian Electricity and Renewable Energy Minister Mohamed Shaker said earlier at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s ministerial conference that Russia had asked for $12 billion for the nuclear plants, a reliable solution for energy deficit. In this regard, the development of nuclear energy is important for Egypt.
“We made significant strides in the preparation of all strategic agreements [regarding the construction of a NPP in Egypt] with our strategic partner, Russia. We have also completed all technical, financial and legal aspects,” he said.
Shaker said that Egypt decided to build an NPP due to the need to redress the energy balance to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and to save hydrocarbons which the country has earmarked for petrochemicals. “We have few traditional sources of electricity generation. The potential of hydro energy is gradually waning. Following the adoption of a special plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions we stopped using coal plants, however, energy consumption will grow,” according to the Minister.
It raises many questions about practical implementation of the several [paperwork] nuclear agreements that were signed with African countries. According to historical documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and information from published media reports, specifically about Egypt, the proposed Russian nuclear plants has a long history, at dating back to Soviet days.
Nuclear deals with Russia
Egypt has been considering the use of nuclear energy for decades. The Nuclear Power Plants Authority [NPPA] was established in 1976, and in 1983 the El Dabaa site on the Mediterranean coast was selected.
Egypt’s nuclear plans, however, were shelved after the Chernobyl accident. However, in 2006, Egypt announced it would revive its civilian nuclear power program, and build a 1,000 MW nuclear power station at El Dabaa. Its estimated cost, at the time, was $12.5 billion, and the plans were to do the construction with the help of foreign investors. In March 2008, Egypt signed an agreement with Russia on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Early February 2015, President Putin and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed an agreement to set up a nuclear plant in Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast west of the port city of Alexandria, where a research reactor has stood for years. The deal was signed after a comprehensive bilateral discussion held and both expressed high hopes that Russia would help construct the country’s first nuclear facility.
Interfax news agency reported that Sergei Kiriyenko, the Head of the Rosatom state corporation, had presented to the authorities in Egypt, Russia’s proposals on construction of the first nuclear power plant in that country. The proposal is for construction of four power blocks, each with 1,200 megawatts of capacity.
Rosatom and Egypt’s Electricity and Energy Ministry signed the agreement on development of the nuclear plant construction project in February 2015. The project assumes that Russia will provide an intergovernmental loan to Egypt. Commercial contracts would be concluded once the intergovernmental agreements on construction of the facility and on the loan were signed.
In assertive remarks carried by local Russian news agencies, Kiriyenko said at that time that the technical and commercial details of the project were not finalized, but envisaged the new technology with strong safety measures taken into account. That included the lessons learned during the March 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, as well as a loan requested by the Egyptian government for the project construction.
Russia and Egypt Courtship
Interestingly, Egypt’s dreams of building nuclear plant has spanned several years, with agreement that was signed [as far back in March 2008] during an official visit to the Kremlin by the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and then through another former Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi who discussed the same nuclear project with Putin in April 2013 in Sochi, southern Russia.
Mohammed Morsi had sought $4.8 billion loan from International Monetary Fund [IMF], and had also asked for an unspecified amount of loan from Russia to build the nuclear power plant. He hoped Russia would accelerate and expedite efforts, and provide financial backing for the project during his political administration.
The same year, following the revolutionary events and after a wave of mass anti-government actions, the army ousted the Moslem Brotherhood and their leader Mohammed Morsi, resulting in postponing or suspending the nuclear construction agreement. Since July 2013, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been in power after removing Morsi from office.
It is well-known fact that Egypt had long ties with the former Soviet Union. Those bilateral diplomatic ties resulted in several development projects in late 1950s including the building of the Aswan dam. During the Soviet times, many specialists were trained for Egypt. Hosni Mubarak, a former pilot, received training in what is now Kyrgyzstan, and further studied at the Soviet Military Academy in Moscow in the 1960s.
Egypt, first, began its nuclear program in 1954 and in 1961, acquired a 2-megawatt research reactor, built by the Soviet Union. Plans to expand the site have been decades in the making but repeatedly fell through. In 2010, that reactor suffered a breakdown, though no radiation was reported to have leaked out.
Renewable Energy Sources
Egypt is classified as having a high power system size [24,700 MW installed generation capacity in 2010 with more than 40 grid-connected plants]. As of 2010, 99% of the Egyptian population has access to electricity.
Since the early 2000s, power outage rates and durations, as well as distribution system losses, have trended downwards indicating that distribution companies have improved their overall customer service quality over the past decade; however, Egypt has seen a great weakening in its supply security. The power system’s generation reserve capacity declined from 20% in the early 2000s to 10% by the 2010s.
The weakening of Egypt’s supply security has caused widespread social issues in the 2010s. To deal with the extremely high demand for electricity, rolling blackouts and power cuts were implemented throughout the summer of 2012 causing great tension between the government and the people of Egypt.
Egypt has Renewable energy projects. The current energy strategy in Egypt [adopted by the Supreme Council of Energy in February 2008] is to increase renewable energy generation up to 20% of the total mix by 2020. The energy mix includes the use of hydropower, solar wind and nuclear.
Hydropower – The majority of Egypt’s electricity supply generated from thermal and hydropower stations. There are four main hydroelectric generating stations currently operating in Egypt. Experts have questioned why Egypt could not maximize the use of the river Nile that stretches 6.695 kilometers, especially for agricultural, industrial and generating energy for the region.
Solar – Egypt has a high solar availability as a result of hot desert climate.
Wind – Egypt has a high potential for wind energy, especially in the Red Sea coast area. As of 2006, 230 MW of wind energy was installed, and again 430 MW of wind power was installed in 2009.
In March 2015, British Petroleum [BP] signed a $12 billion deal to develop natural gas in Egypt intended for sale in the domestic market starting in 2017. Egypt is an important non-OPEC energy producer. It has the sixth largest proved oil reserves in Africa. Over half of these reserves are offshore reserves. Although Egypt is not a member of OPEC, it is a member of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Swinging for Nuclear Power
Nuclear experts have also shown some concern. Lack of electricity supply is a huge restraint on African economies and specifically for Egypt, nuclear power could be an excellent source of large-scale grid electricity. Nuclear is not expensive compared with other energy sources. But for African countries to develop nuclear power, the governments must first establish the necessary legal and regulatory framework.
The project must comply with all international standards and regulation on nuclear power. Africa has a shortage of skills for nuclear power. However, Africa has a shortage of skill for any energy technology, so developing nuclear power would necessarily mean increasing African skills, which is in itself a good thing.
Despite the long technical negotiation process, the current Egyptian leadership, indeed, shows high optimism toward adoption of nuclear power as an important and indispensable source of energy that will underpin sustainable growth of the economy in the country. The four blocks of the nuclear power plant will cost about $20 billion, according a website report of the Egyptian Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy.
Apparently, experts expect that such mega-projects would have thorough discussion in parliament, financing sources broadly identified and approved by the government. Egypt has yet to make an official announcement of the tender for the contract to build its nuclear plants. Media reports have also revealed that nuclear companies from China, the United States, France, South Korea and Japan seek to take part in international tender.
Egypt’s Economic Potentials
With over 100 million inhabitants, Egypt is the most populous country in North Africa, popular referred to as Maghreb region and part of the Arab World. Egypt is the third most populous country after Nigeria and Ethiopia in Africa. About half of Egypt’s residents live in urban areas, with most spread across the densely populated centers of greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities along the Nile Delta.
The economy has been transforming from one based upon agriculture to an economy with more emphasis on services sector, for example its fast-growing tourism and hospitality, and to some extent manufacturing. It has experienced a fall in Foreign Direct Investment [FDI] to the country.
Egypt’s economy mainly relies on sources of income: tourism, remittances from Egyptians working abroad and revenues from the Suez Canal. Egypt has received United States foreign aid [an average of $2.2 billion per year], and is the third-largest recipient of such funds from the United States.
Remittances, money earned by Egyptians [estimated 2.7 million] living abroad and sent home, reached a record $21 billion in 2012, according to the World Bank. Tourism is one of the most important sectors in Egypt’s economy. More than 15.8 million tourists  visited Egypt, providing revenues of nearly $11 billion. The tourism sector employs about 12% of Egypt’s workforce.
With one of the largest and most diversified economies in the Middle East, which is projected to become one of the largest in the world in the 21st century, Egypt has the third largest economy in Africa. Egypt is a founding member of the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the African Union.
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