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OPEC production cut papers over cracks in US-Gulf relation but for how long?

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A decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers like Russia to temporarily end a price war and cut production amounts to a time-out rather than an end to what is likely to erupt at some point in the future as a tripartite war.

More immediately, the decision averts a significant deterioration in relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia and in the kingdom’s wake, the United Arab Emirates.

Nearly 50 US Republican lawmakers warned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the eve of this week’s OPEC oil ministers’ videoconference that economic and military cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia was at risk.

The congressmen demanded that the kingdom end a price war with Russia that collapsed oil prices as the world struggled with the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating human and economic fallout.

The UAE had joined Saudi Arabia in raising production in a move that was sparked by Russia’s initial refusal to extend production cuts agreed early this year but more fundamentally was designed to knock out competition from US shale producers that had turned the United States into the world’s largest oil producer.

In a twist of irony, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UAE, the initial warring parties, share a desire to take out the US shale industry in an environment in which the value of their reserves is likely to diminish in the next decades as a result of shale and renewables. Add to that a Russian interest to undermine US power where it can.

The stakes for the key warring parties, particularly the Gulf states and the US, couldn’t have  been higher but were raised by the collapse of the oil price as well as demand in the midst of a global economic meltdown.

For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the stakes were their relationship with the US and significant reputational damage with a move that put at risk tens of millions of American jobs at a time at which 17 million people joined the unemployed in the United States in the past four weeks.

Oil is but the tip of an iceberg in efforts, particularly in the case of the UAE, to manage a divergence in interests with the United States without tarnishing the country’s carefully groomed image as one of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East.

Differences first emerged with Emirati gestures designed to ensure that the country would not be a target in any military confrontation between the United States and Iran.

The UAE began reaching out to Iran last year when it sent a coast guard delegation to Tehran to discuss maritime security in the wake of alleged Iranian attacks on oil tankers off the coast of the Emirates.

The Trump administration remained silent when the UAE last October released US$700 million in frozen Iranian assets that ran counter to US efforts to strangle Iran economically with harsh sanctions.

While the United States reportedly blocked an Iranian request for US5 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to fight the virus, the UAE was among the first nations to facilitate aid shipments to the Islamic republic.

The shipments led to a rare March 15 phone call between UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javid Zarif.

UAE officials stressed, however, that there would be no real breakthrough in Emirati-Iranian relations as long as Iran supported proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon, pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Houth rebels in Yemen.

The UAE gesture contrasted starkly with a Saudi refusal to capitalize on the pandemic.

Instead, Saudi Arabia appeared to reinforce battle lines by accusing Iran of “direct responsibility” for the spread of the virus. Government-controlled media charged that Iran’s allies, Qatar and Turkey, had deliberately mismanaged the crisis.

Moreover, the kingdom, backing a US refusal to ease sanctioning of Iran, prevented the Non-Aligned Movement from condemning the Trump administration’s hard line.

In a further indication of a divergence of interests, the UAE, according to Middle East Eye, has been trying to sabotage US support for Turkey’s military intervention in northern Syria as well as a Turkish-Russian engineered ceasefire in the region.

In other words, the UAE was at odds with Russia, not just with regard to oil, but also Russian efforts to prevent the situation in northern Syria from spiralling out of control and further jeopardizing Moscow’s alliance with Turkey.

Middle East Eye reported that UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed had promised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad US$3 billion, $250 million of which was paid upfront, to break the ceasefire in Idlib, one of the last rebel strongholds in Syria.

On opposite ends of the Middle East divide, Prince Mohammed had hoped to tie Turkey up in fighting in Syria, which would complicate Turkish military support for the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli. The UAE aids Libyan rebel forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

The outlet said that a tweet by Prince Mohammed on March 28 declaring support for Syria in the fight against the coronavirus was designed to keep secret the real reason for the UAE payment.

“I discussed with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by phone the repercussions of the spread of the coronavirus and assured him of the UAE’s  support of and assistance for the brotherly Syrian people in these exceptional circumstances. Human solidarity in times of adversity supersedes all else, Sisterly Syria will not be alone in these difficult circumstances,” Prince Mohammed said.

Its unlikely that Prince Mohammed’s explanations will convince policymakers in Washington.

Nevertheless, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are likely to paper over cracks  in their relations in the short term facilitated by a pandemic and economic crisis that leaves no one untouched. It probably is, however, only a matter of time for the cracks to re-appear.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Indonesian Coal Roadmap: Optimizing Utilization amid Global Tendency to Phasing Out

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Authors: Razin Abdullah and Luky Yusgiantoro*

Indonesia is potentially losing state revenue of around USD 1.64-2.5 billion per year from the coal tax and non-tax revenues. Although currently Indonesia has abundant coal resources, especially thermal coal, the coal market is gradually shrinking. This shrinking market will negatively impact Indonesia’s economy. The revenue can be used for developing the country, such as for the provision of public infrastructures, improving public education and health services and many more.

One of the main causes of the shrinking coal market is the global tendency to shift to renewable energy (RE). Therefore, a roadmap is urgently needed by Indonesia as a guideline for optimizing the coal management so that it can be continuously utilized and not become neglected natural resources. The Indonesian Coal Roadmap should also offer detailed guidance on utilizing coal for the short-term, medium-term and long-term.

Why is the roadmap needed?

Indonesia’s total coal reserves is around 37.6 billion tons. If there are no additional reserves and the assumed production rate is 600 million tons/year, then coal production can continue for another 62 years. Even though Indonesia’s coal production was enormous, most of it was for export. In 2019, the export reached 454.5 million tons or almost 74% of the total production. Therefore, it shows a strong dependency of the Indonesian coal market on exports, with China and India as the main destinations. The strong dependency and the global trend towards clean energy made the threat of Indonesian coal abandonment increasingly real.

China, one of Indonesia’s main coal export destinations, has massive coal reserves and was the world’s largest coal producer. In addition, China also has the ambition to become a carbon-free country by 2060, following the European Union countries, which are targeting to achieve it in 2050. It means China and European Union countries would not produce more carbon dioxide than they captured by 2060 and 2050, respectively. Furthermore, India and China have the biggest and second-biggest solar park in the world. India leads with the 2.245GW Bhadla solar park, while China’s Qinghai solar park has a capacity of 2.2GW. Those two solar parks are almost four times larger than the U.S.’ biggest solar farm with a capacity of 579 MW. The above factors raise concerns that China and India, as the main export destinations for Indonesian coal, will reduce their coal imports in the next few years.

The indications of a global trend towards RE can be seen from the energy consumption trend in the U.S. In 2019, U.S. RE consumption exceeded coal for the first time in over 130 years. During 2008-2019, there has been a significant decrease in U.S coal consumption, down by around 49%. Therefore, without proper coal management planning and demand from abroad continues to decline, Indonesia will lose a large amount of state revenue. The value of the remaining coal resources will also drop drastically.

Besides the global market, the domestic use of coal is mostly intended for electricity generation. With the aggressive development of RE power plant technology, the generation prices are getting cheaper.  Sooner or later, the RE power plant will replace the conventional coal power plant. Therefore, it is necessary to emphasize efforts to diversify coal products by promoting the downstream coal industries in the future Indonesian Coal Roadmap.

What should be included: the short-term plan

In designing the Indonesian Coal Roadmap, a special attention should be paid to planning the diversification of export destinations and the diversification of coal derivative products. In the short term, it is necessary to study the potential of other countries for the Indonesian coal market so that Indonesia is not only dependent on China and India. As for the medium and long term, it is necessary to plan the downstream coal industry development and map the future market potential.

For the short-term plan, the Asian market is still attractive for Indonesian coal. China and India are expected to continue to use a massive amount of coal. Vietnam is also another promising prospective destination. Vietnam is projected to increase its use of coal amidst the growing industrial sector. In this plan, the Indonesian government plays an essential role in building political relations with these countries so that Indonesian coal can be prioritized.

What should be included: the medium and long-term plans

For the medium and long-term plans, it is necessary to integrate the coal supply chain, the mining site and potential demand location for coal. Therefore, the coal logistics chain becomes more optimal and efficient, according to the mining site location, type of coal, and transportation mode to the end-user. Mapping is needed both for conventional coal utilization and downstream activities.

Particularly for the downstream activities, the roadmap needs to include a map of the low-rank coal (LRC) potentials in Indonesia, which can be used for coal gasification and liquefaction. Coal gasification can produce methanol, dimethyl ether (a substitute for LPG) and, indirectly, produce synthetic oil. Meanwhile, the main product of coal liquefaction is synthetic oil, which can substitute conventional oil fuels. By promoting the downstream coal activities, the government can increase coal’s added value, get a multiplier effect, and reduce petroleum products imports.

The Indonesian Coal Roadmap also needs to consider related existing and planned regulations so that it does not cause conflicts in the future. In designing the roadmap, the government needs to involve relevant stakeholders, such as business entities, local governments and related associations.

The roadmap is expected not only to regulate coal business aspects but also to consider environmental aspects. The abandoned mine lands can be used for installing a solar farm, providing clean energy for the country. Meanwhile, the coal power plant is encouraged to use clean coal technology (CCT). CCT includes carbon capture storage (CCS), ultra-supercritical, and advanced ultra-supercritical technologies, reducing emissions from the coal power plant.

*Luky Yusgiantoro, Ph.D. A governing board member of The Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center (PYC).

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Engaging the ‘Climate’ Generation in Global Energy Transition

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photo: IRENA

Renewable energy is at the heart of global efforts to secure a sustainable future. Partnering with young people to amplify calls for the global energy transition is an essential part of this endeavour, as they represent a major driver of development, social change, economic growth, innovation and environmental protection. In recent years, young people have become increasingly involved in shaping the sustainable development discourse, and have a key role to play in propelling climate change mitigation efforts within their respective communities.

Therefore, how might we best engage this new generation of climate champions to accentuate their role in the ongoing energy transition? In short, engagement begins with information and awareness. Young people must be exposed to the growing body of knowledge and perspectives on renewable energy technologies and be encouraged to engage in peer-to-peer exchanges on the subject via new platforms.

To this end, IRENA convened the first IRENA Youth Forum in Abu Dhabi in January 2020, bringing together young people from more than 35 countries to discuss their role in accelerating the global energy transformation. The Forum allowed participants to take part in a truly global conversation, exchanging views with each other as well as with renewable energy experts and representatives from governments around the world, the private sector and the international community.

Similarly, the IRENA Youth Talk webinar, organised in collaboration with the SDG 7 Youth Constituency of the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, presented the views of youth leaders, to identify how young people can further the promotion of renewables through entrepreneurship that accelerates the energy transition.

For example, Joachim Tamaro’s experience in Kenya was shared in the Youth Talk, illustrating how effective young entrepreneurs can be as agents of change in their communities. He is currently working on the East Africa Geo-Aquacultural Development Project – a venture that envisages the use of solar energy to power refrigeration in rural areas that rely on fishing for their livelihoods. The project will also use geothermal-based steam for hatchery, production, processing, storage, preparation and cooking processes.

It is time for governments, international organisations and other relevant stakeholders to engage with young people like Joachim and integrate their contributions into the broader plan to accelerate the energy transition, address climate change and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Agenda.

Business incubators, entrepreneurship accelerators and innovation programmes can empower young people to take their initiatives further. They can give young innovators and entrepreneurs opportunities to showcase and implement their ideas and contribute to their communities’ economic and sustainable development. At the same time, they also allow them to benefit from technical training, mentorship and financing opportunities.

Governments must also engage young people by reflecting their views and perspectives when developing policies that aim to secure a sustainable energy future, not least because it is the youth of today who will be the leaders of tomorrow.

IRENA

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The Urgency of Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) for Indonesia’s Energy Security

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Authors:Akhmad Hanan and Dr. Luky Yusgiantoro*

Indonesia is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, which has great potential for natural disasters. These disasters have caused damage to energy infrastructure and casualties. Natural disasters usually cut the energy supply chain in an area, causing a shortage of fuel supply and power outages.

Besides natural disasters, energy crisis events occur mainly due to the disruption of energy supplies. This is because of the disconnection of energy facilities and infrastructure by natural disasters, criminal and terrorist acts, escalation in regional politics, rising oil prices, and others. With strategic national energy reserves, particularly strategic petroleum reserves (SPR), Indonesia can survive the energy crisis if it has.

Until now, Indonesia does not have an SPR. Meanwhile, fuel stocks owned by business entities such as PT Pertamina (Persero) are only categorized as operational reserves. The existing fuel stock can only guarantee 20 days of continuity. Whereas in theory, a country has secured energy security if it has a guaranteed energy supply with affordable energy prices, easy access for the people, and environmentally friendly. With current conditions, Indonesia still does not have guaranteed energy security.

Indonesian Law mandates that to ensure national energy security, the government is obliged to provide national energy reserves. This reserve can be used at any time for conditions of crisis and national energy emergencies. It has been 13 years since the energy law was issued, Indonesia does not yet have an SPR.

Lessons from other countries

Many countries in the world have SPR, and its function is to store crude oil and or fuel oil. SPR is built by many developed countries, especially countries that are members of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA was formed due to the disruption of oil supply in the 1970s. To avoid the same thing happening again, the IEA has made a strategic decision by obliging member countries to keep in the SPR for 90 days.

As one of the member countries, the US has the largest SPR in the world. Its storage capacity reaches a maximum of 714 million barrels (estimated to equal 115 days of imports) to mitigate the impact of disruption in the supply of petroleum products and implement US obligations under the international energy program. The US’ SPR is under the control of the US Department of Energy and is stored in large underground salt caves at four locations along the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

Besides the US, Japan also has the SPR. Japan’s SPR capacity is 527 million barrels (estimated to equal 141 days of imports). SPR Japan priority is used for disaster conditions. For example, in 2011, when the nuclear reactor leak occurred at the Fukushima nuclear power plant due to the Tsunami, Japan must find an energy alternative. Consequently, Japan must replace them with fossil fuel power plants, mainly gas and oil stored in SPR.

China, Thailand, and India also have their own SPR. China has an SPR capacity of 400-900 million barrels, Thailand 27.6 million barrels, and India 37.4 million barrels. Singapore does not have an SPR. However, Singapore has operational reserve in the form of fuel stock for up to 90 days which is longer than Indonesia.

Indonesia really needs SPR

The biggest obstacles of developing SPR in Indonesia are budget availability, location selection, and the absence of any derivative regulations from the law. Under the law, no agency has been appointed and responsible for building and managing SPR. Also, government technical regulations regarding the existence and management of SPR in Indonesia is important.

The required SPR capacity in Indonesia can be estimated by calculating the daily consumption from the previous year. For 2019, the national average daily consumption of fuel is 2.6 million kiloliters per day. With the estimation of 90 days of imports, Indonesia’s SPR capacity must at least be more than 100 million barrels to be used in emergencies situations.

For selecting SPR locations, priority can be given to areas that have safe geological structures. East Kalimantan is suitable to be studied as an SPR placement area. It is also geologically safe from disasters and is also located in the middle of Indonesia. East Kalimantan has the Balikpapan oil refinery with the capacity of 260,000 BPD for SPR stock. For SPR funding solution, can use the state budget with a long-term program and designation as a national strategic project.

Another short-term solution for SPR is to use or lease existing oil tankers around the world that are not being used. Should the development of SPR be approved by the government, then the international shipping companies may be able to contribute to its development.

China currently dominates oil tanker shipping in the world, Indonesia can work with China to lease and become Indonesia’s SPR. Actually, this is a good opportunity at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic because oil prices are falling. It would be great if Indonesia could charter some oil tankers and buy fuel to use as SPR. This solution was very interesting while the government prepared long-term planning for the SPR facility. In this way, Indonesia’s energy security will be more secure.

*Dr. Luky Yusgiantoro, governing board member of The Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center (PYC).

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