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Oil and gas geopolitics and its end

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Let us see how oil barrel prices have really fluctuated in recent weeks: in April, in fact, the European and Asian Brent benchmark, in parallel with the US West Texas Intermediate (WTI), decreased by about 1 U.S. dollar per barrel a day. 

 The WTI, however, is a mixture of different light and sweet American crude oil and is refined especially in the Midwest and on the Gulf Coast.

 The benchmark known as Brent, instead, is oil extracted in the North Sea and it has greater and faster access to large markets. It is therefore used as a common benchmark for the broader oil market, while the WTI is now used above all as a reference for the American market.

 It should be noted, however, that in the previous month of March, the two benchmarks had fallen by 26.5 U.S. dollars per barrel and 24 U.S. dollars per barrel respectively.

In short, the imbalance in the oil market fully affected the March futures prices in particular, while the April fluctuations were mainly due to the OPEC plus agreement reached on April 2, setting the price at 26.03 U.S. dollars per barrel. 

 The breakdown in negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Russia led to a Saudi super-production – at first of 10 million barrels a day and then immediately of 12 million barrels a day – with a subsequent choice by OPEC to agree on a “fall” in the oil barrel price at 60 U.S. dollars, given the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.

 A mistake, but probably a too classically macroeconomic forecast that does not consider strategic and internal competition assessments within OPEC, which are often essential to set prices.

 Later the oil barrel price increased immediately to 34.44 U.S. dollars per barrel on April 9, then to 16.04 U.S. dollars per barrel on April 22 and finally closed at 25.04 U.S. dollars per barrel.

In mid-April the WTI opened at 20.48 U.S. dollars per barrel, then reached 28.26 U.S. dollars and finally closed at 19.29 U.S. dollars, after having also reached the negative and paradoxical price of -37.63 U.S. dollars per barrel on April 20, 2020.

Moreover, on April 14, the International Monetary Fund published a forecast from which it could be inferred that the world GDP would decrease by 3% in the remaining period of 2020, while on April 15 the International Energy Agency published its own analysis which estimated a reduction ofthe oil demand by 9,300,000 barrels per day by the end of 2020.

Hence the WTI futures for May delivery, immediately collapsed to -37.63 U.S. dollars per barrel. Here, however, the real problem is storage.

 Short-term contracts do not envisage it at all.

 In fact, as many industry analysts maintain, this caused the fall in prices.

 It is no coincidence, in fact, that U.S. commercial oil stocks have risen significantly, from 469,193,000 barrels on March 27 to 527,631,000 barrels on May 24. Hence, in all likelihood, the U.S. ETF Oil Fund – which plunged by 15% in the April 27 session alone, after the announcement of major changes in the composition of its portfolio – has fallen due to unexpected overstocking.

 In other words, the U.S. Fund has stated it plans to remove all WTI contracts expiring in June from its portfolio and replace them with longer-term contracts, with obvious immediate losses.

 Therefore,the US Oil Fund will be broken down as follows: 30% of the portfolio will be WTI contracts expiring in July; 15% of the portfolio will be WTI contracts expiring in August; then contracts expiring in the following month up to the remaining 10% expiring in June 2021.

 The losses of the U.S. Fund are now -87% since the beginning of this year.

The U.S. Fund has an estimated value of 3 billion U.S. dollars. A financial phenomenon that has made it similar to other funds specializing in oil futures.

 It is clear that this behaviour has contributed to the bearish trend of recent months and this has certainly not favoured Donald J. Trump’s election campaign.

Furthermore, the WTI decline can also be explained by the structural logistical shortcomings that characterize the oil transport system within the United States.

Nevertheless, based on the ideas of the current Algerian Chairman-in-office, OPEC predicts that the oil barrel price will be equal to 40 U.S. dollars at the beginning of the third quarter of 2020 and that, in any case, the oil market will return to balance before the end of this year. A very unlikely hope.

The new OPEC plus plus agreement, however, entered into force on May 1, 2020.

 The first phase of the agreement signed on April 12, 2020envisaged that all OPEC members plus the others would reduce production by 9,700,000 barrels a day until June 30, 2020.

 At the beginning of May, the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia brought their production to 8,750,000 barrels a day (with a decrease of 2 million barrels per day), with the further intention of bringing their output to the limit of 8,500,000 barrels a day.

 The first phase of the bilateral agreement signed on April 12 also envisaged that the producers nor belonging directly to OPEC would “voluntarily” cut production by at least 5,000,000 barrels a day over the same period of time.

It should be recalled that these important non-OPEC producers include Norway, Canada, Brazil and, obviously, the United States.

Nevertheless, the non-OPEC total cuts have reached – with some difficulty – just 4,100,000 barrels a day.

Indeed, according to Standard & Poor’s calculations, the United States decreased production by as many as 11,600,000 barrels a day and only for the week which ended on May 8.

Hence a decrease of 1.5 million barrels a day, compared to the level of 13,100,000 barrels a day reached on March 13, 2020.

Therefore, for the first time since February 2019 the U.S. production has fallen below 12,000,000 barrels a day.

 Moreover, on April 30, 2020, the U.S. strategic oil reserves reached 636 million oil barrels, compared to a total maximum capacity of 714 million barrels.

According to the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, however, global oil demand will decrease by as many as 11,400,000 barrels a day throughout 2020, before slightly increasing by 10,600,000 barrels a day in 2021.

Despite all possible statistical tricks, however, the unemployment rate has currently reached 14.7% in the United States and it is rising quickly.

This leads to a fall of about 30% in U.S. oil consumption, but the Russian Federation records a 4-6% GDP drop at least until the end of 2020.

Moreover, on April 24, the Russian Central Bank cut rates by 50 basis points to 5.5%, while the Russian inflation rate is expected to rise by 4.8% until the end of this year.

According to data of April 30 last, China shows an increase in the composite index (manufacturing + services) from 53 to 53.4, while the index of services alone has grown from 52.3 to 53.2.

However, the index of Chinese purchases in the manufacturing sector alone has decreased by two points, while the CAXIN index – which measures Chinese private SMEs – points to a small recession.

 Chinese oil imports in April, in fact – driven only by public enterprises – increased by 4.5% year over year.

 Chinese imports from Saudi Arabia, however, decreased by 90,000 barrels a day while, despite U.S. sanctions, Chinese purchases of Iranian oil rose by 11.3% as against the previous year.

 Therefore, we are faced with a new distribution of geopolitical and oil control areas.

The alternative for China is between Iran, the core of the new Silk Road, and Venezuela, although both Russia and China have agreed to give Russia a primary role in Venezuela.

Hence the global geopolitical games are postponed to the return of a robust oil demand after the Covid-19 crisis, which will end only with a vaccine or a universally accepted therapy. On a geopolitical level, however, it will probably concern a new agreement between China, the United States and the Russian Federation.

 An agreement that this time could see a real role of mediator for Italy, involving both ENI and governmental and private technical structures.

There are many issues to be considered in the relations between the United States, China and Russia: Russia’s alleged penetration into the North American electoral and political machinery and apparata; the commercial negotiations between the United States and China which, coincidentally, exacerbated during the oil price crisis; finally, the infra-US conflict regarding the reduction of local oil production.

It has to be said that if there is a recovery of the oil market, demand could reach 90-95 million barrels a day, but the country recording the greatest loss of production will certainly be the United States, which has the highest cost of oil barrel production.

Meanwhile, in its anti-coronavirus aid programme of April 30 last, the Federal Reserve envisaged direct support to U.S. oil and gas companies.

As many analysts maintain, however, several companies of the shale sector, which live only on high prices, would go bankrupt by the end of 2020.

 In terms of global assessments, however, world oil demand is estimated to fall by 19,000,000 barrels a day during this quarter of 2020 and by 8,600,000 barrels a day throughout 2021.

 Global oil supply is expected to decrease by 12,000,000 barrels a day since May to 88,000,000 next year.

 OECD stocks have increased by 68,200,000 barrels a day to a total of 2,961,000,000, well over 46,000,000 barrels a day above the average of the last five years – a quantity worth 90 days of average demand.

Non-conventional crude oil production in the U.S., however, declined by 183,000 barrels a day with a peak until March 13, before falling by approximately 12,000,000 barrels a day on May 8.

 There are currently 374 drills operating in the United States, of which 292 oil and 80 gas ones, plus 2 mixed ones.

 They are 228 fewer than those recorded on April 9, 2020, the minimum level since 1940.

 In short, the Covid-19 pandemic is redesigning all geopolitical scenarios, through oil, above all, but not only through it. Here not only energy counts, but rather the whole economic system which, however, is still currently oil-dependent.

The G20 has already put forward international cooperation proposals to cancel the debt of some of the poorest countries and for a coordinated response against the pandemic by the most technologically advanced countries.

Hence any radical transformation of energy systems entails a paradigm shift at geopolitical level.

 According to the International Monetary Fund, no oil-producing country can make money with an oil barrel price at 40 U.S. dollars. Only Qatar barely can, but every country in the Middle East needs prices of at least 60 U.S. dollars per barrel.

However, there is more than the tax or productive breakeven point: the producing countries’ economic diversification is essential.

 From this viewpoint, only Mexico, the Russian Federation and the United Arab Emirates could survive, while some others with less differentiated economies can still ask for loans or temporarily stop public spending.

Nevertheless, this depends not only on macroeconomic evaluations, but above all on political and structural issues: the presence of foreign manpower that can be easily sent away (Saudi Arabia); the possibility of using other forms of energy (Morocco) or the negative impact of some old Welfare State on the oil price (Algeria).

 Other countries are, instead, particularly vulnerable: Iraq, which is currently also one of Italy’s main suppliers; Oman, Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador, Angola, Surinam, not to mention Iran and Venezuela, where the oil issue is part of a severe international political crisis.All these countries can shortly fail or fall into an indefinite crisis, with unpaid salaries in the public sector and primary services largely reduced, as well as military crises and great political instability.

In some cases, this may lead to the expansion of “terrorism”, more exactly of the “sword jihad”, which can drive a wedge within the hotbeds of crisis and rule the States or the areas left by the old legitimate governments. It may also lead to the uncontrolled expansion of the great international crime, which can turn the failed States into bases to attack the still relatively healthy economies of some Western countries, and to connect the areas of illegality one another and hence turn the crime territories into a new great geopolitical player.

 A further possibility – not to be ruled out at all – concerns the mounting of regional tensions, which could become a not entirely irrational option, at least for some producing countries.

Just think of the oil barrel price crisis triggering a final showdown between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

 There will also be Asian or African countries that will benefit from the vertical fall in prices.

It should be recalled, however, that on April 20 last, the West Texas Crude contract expiring in May fell to -40.32 U.S. dollars.

The countries which will benefit – to a certain extent – from the fall in prices include Argentina -which is currently already prey to yet another default, but which will pay much less for energy imports- as well as the Philippines, India, Turkey and South Africa.

 These countries will no longer be burdened by the cost of oil imports, but will also attract less investment from producing countries, whose availability of capital will collapse quickly.

 Previously oil prices had fallen due to the expansion of the shale market in the United States, to lower global growth and to the slow, but stable shift to renewable energy in most consumer countries.

 Then the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, which accelerated all these factors and, in fact, blocked the economy and saturated oil inventories and warehouses.

 The world economy will not “recover” soon or, more exactly, will no longer be as it was before the pandemic.

 Global Value Chains will become much shorter and many mature, but essential productions will go back to the countries which, in the times of rampant globalization, moved everything – except for high technology and finance – to countries with low labour costs and low taxes.

 The producing countries’ adaptation to the new context will certainly be slower than needed.

 The large solar energy basin planned by Mohammed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 was stopped indefinitely last November, while the privatization of Saudi Aramco has now proved to be a failure.

 Once the profitability of the Saudi oil has ended – and hence the special relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, as well as the U.S. penetration in the Middle East -currently a phase of great instability in the relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is beginning, in which Iran could play other cards besides the purely military ones.

However, the Iranian oil extraction cost is higher than the Saudi one.

 The Russian Federation “falls” at an oil barrel price of 40 U.S. dollars and, if it cannot control its internal areas and the border with China and the Caucasus, it is very easy to imagine what could happen.

 Even the United States is not in a better situation.

 Shale oil is the biggest source of employment in Michigan, Arkansas and Ohio. These are essential States for the re-election of Donald J. Trump and surely the President will do everything to support the workers-voters and these States.

 The end of the oil economy is near – or probably it has already arrived – and no one can imagine what will happen to energy markets and to our economies in the near future.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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The Nuclear State without Nuclear: Nuclear Energy Tragedy pertaining Indian Regional Development

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India’s national energy policy is heavily dependent on fossil fuel consumption to attain its energy demands; around 70 percent of the energy requirements are overwhelmingly met by coal, where the share of nuclear power is below 3 percent. Coal is essential for baseload in electrification, and the production of steel and significant industries thrive on coal consumption alone. In the year 2020-21, India produced 716 million tons of coal, nearly two times higher compared to 2011-12, when India produced 431 million tons to supply the ever-growing demand for power. Despite such enormous production, India is one of the largest coal importers. Not alone, the coal simultaneously India dependence on oil imports, according to reports, stood at 76 percent, which is predicted to surge up to severe levels by 2040.    

Despite the heavy reliance on fossil fuels and the fact that India maintained its carbon emissions level below (” emissions per capita, total or kWh produced”) the Paris agreement 2015 levels, meticulous analysis reveals that the carbon emission level of India has risen by 200 percent since 1990. Climate change affects the agrarian sector, which makes up about 42 percent of India’s workforce, pushing it under the blade of job cuts if the water scarcity gets severe; it also threatens the inhabitants of hilly areas whose employment is dependent on the mesmeric mountains tourism. The scope of development of any region in this modern world significantly relies on the consumption of power to run factories, lighten up houses, and fast irrigation systems in farms for large quantities of production.   

India’s current electricity distribution has 371.054 GW GRIDs, divided into five regions Northern, Eastern, Western, North Eastern, and Southern; seventeen percent of this electric GRID is exercised by the agriculture sector, where the commercial agencies use 48 percent. With the emerging depletion of fossil fuels, nuclear power adoption, along with other clean energy power sources, is considered one of the priorities of the Indian government.

However, reports depicted that those policies’ effects are not present on the ground, where nuclear energy contributes merely three percent to the total energy production. The nuclear proportion in China’s energy production is four times greater than India’s; India must adapt to the nuclearization of India’s rural area, paving the way for future growth. The recent enclosure of twenty-five-year-old coal plants in India reflects a minor contribution concerning carbon emissions reduction. At the same time, the consequence brought India into the coal crisis in the northern region.

Rural backwardness constitutes the majority due to the low electricity consumption, whose reasons are ample, sometimes due to geographical limitations and atmospheric restrictions, especially in hilly areas. The electric GRID distribution and maintenance could be better, where the electricity surplus is concentrated in a few sectors based in metro cities. During the Covid Preventive lockdown, seventy percent of power consumption drop in rural India has been noticed; this development questions India’s energy policies which heavily relied upon fossil fuels for energy production. Four states, named Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Madhya Pradesh, comprise 550 million tons of coal, equivalent to 75-80 percent of coal consumption. The argument in favor of coal is due to its cost-effectiveness and availability.  

Another reason for low rural development is the GRID-electrification system, being the primary source of power supply in the rural household, reported monthly energy consumption of 39 kWh, half of India’s national energy consumption average, which is a significant obstacle to the adoption of modern technology for overall growth in rural areas. The reason is not alone political but mismanagement of electricity distribution. As the question of this paper addressed, Why Nuclear? Why not other sources of non-Fossil fuels energy?   

Mathematical Evidence  

For example, the number of atoms of Uranium 235 per kilogram is 2.564×1024 releasing the energy per gram is around 2.29×104 kWh. [Dr S.N Ghosal, Nuclear Physics].  Thermal plants produce the same energy after running for 229 hours at the capacity of 1 MW. When one kilogram of coal burns, it generates 8.926 kWh after exhausting the total mass of 2.56×103 kg. The above estimates demonstrate the advantage of using uranium for power generation. 

However, the nuclear economic constraint unrevealed the enormous cost comes alongside Nuclear Power Plant projects, especially the cost of 1000 megawatts generation is around 5500 dollars, whereas natural gas provides the same quantity of energy for under 1000 dollars; the construction durations refrain policymakers to entertain the nuclear reactor as a feasible power generation source where it takes around seven years to complete and 15-16 years to breakeven.

Nuclear dependency globally was now 10 percent, peaked at 17.7 in 1996, and this is the second obstacle for nuclear energy globally. However, India’s view, contrary to the other nations, being the largest reserve of Thorium, gives an upper hand to maximize energy production by establishing thorium reactors which are undergoing the three-stage plan. Besides thorium reactors, SMRs are in consideration, especially the recent development in the USA where private firm Nu Scale advanced to develop the Small Modular Nuclear Reactor with the capacity of generating 50 Megawatts, which is not par to the level of traditional reactors but corresponds to the resilience it could provide electrifying those lands where electric GRIDs yet not connected. The rural area primarily benefits from such development as such modules are self-sustainable, where the reliance will be on water recycling, limiting water misuse.

The case of Jadugoda was an infamous case where Uranium plant radiation contributed to severe health deterioration, highlighted by Kyoto university research. Radiation is one of the critical issues alongside nuclear waste, which hinders nuclear energy’s ability to obtain massive consent, especially in rural areas.

Other Renewable sources talking about Hydropower, India has 18 pressurized heavy water reactors in operation, with another four projects launched totaling 2.8 GW capacity. India 2019 took over Japan, becoming the fifth-largest hydropower producer generating 162.10 TWh from 50 TWH installed capacity. Close to 100 hydropower currents are used, contributing around twelve percent to the total power generation. The procedure of hydropower generation emphasizes water flow tremendously; without the fast running, the water plant will be defunct and fail to produce power. This forces the policymakers to ignore the natural effects on the regions of the water flow is adequate. 

Climate change models are clear about the cascading impacts of global warming trends on the glaciers of the Himalayas, the primary source of water in the region that sustains the drainage network within the mountain chain. The current hydro onslaught in the Himalayas deliberately ignores contentious externalities such as social displacement, ecological impacts, and environmental and technological risks. In the rural areas, if the regions do not have such a large flow of water, it will discourage the policy marker from implementing it even if one state possesses water, it will obstruct the construction of such projects because of shortage of water and possibly drainage hindering to fulfill the critical water needs, especially in the Punjab region.

 Wind energy mechanical power through wind turbines as of 28 February 2021, India installed wind power capacity was 38.789 GW, the world’s fourth largest installed wind power capacity. Like hydropower, nature requires to perform its task where the wind flow determines the total power production. If a region is not naturally gifted, then feasibility is under question.

The last alternative Fossil fuel, which is heavily praised by the young generation, is solar energy. The country currently has 44.3 GW installed capacity as of 31 August 2021, where solar energy has the potential to generate electricity for rural areas and simultaneously reduce Fossil fuels consumption. The New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) expected “the total investment for upgrading to 100 GW solar power capacity cost around $94 billion. The cost-efficiency factor is a plus point of solar energy. However, the pace still needs to catch up in the quest to replace conventional sources of energy.   

The fossil fuels burned by the factories in the urban areas are the primary power contributor supplying power to the rural areas. This system heavily depends on the GRIDs vulnerable to atmospheric shifts such as storms.  

Moreover, even a minor breakdown might defuse the electricity power supply GRIDs for days, if not weeks. To tackle these issues, Portable Nuclear plants could be set up to give the villagers access to electricity without interruption. The reduction of size assists the government official in planning the safety strategy more swiftly simultaneously; cost efficiency is another factor where a policymaker can cut factory expenses.

Figure 1 GRID-level system costs for dispatch able and renewable technologies Materials requirement for various electricity generation technologies (source: US Department of Energy)

Figure 1 deciphers the cost relationship enabling us to comprehend the long-term financial cost when the connection cost among other eco-friendly energy sources is too high compared to fossil fuels. Nuclear energy outperforms all existing energy sources considered eco-friendly in connection cost and balancing cost. This development also illustrates that the factories lean more towards fossil fuels because of the low cost. However, economically speaking, the employment of such industries could be more sustainable in the long term.

The Photovoltaic, Hydro, and onshore alternatives, well-established sources of energy production, are not that reliable, and variation in power generation discourages them from being considered a superior replacement. 

Solar is affordable but unreliable because intermittency issues require storing backup, and the production depends mainly upon the sun, like the wind, for turbine energy. In contrast, coal requires man labor to extract from the mines and ignite it to produce energy if we consider the process in abstraction. The case of nuclear is different nuclear energy do rely on 239 Uranium and 242 Plutonium, in some cases 232 Thorium to attain the level where power could be generated, and uranium, to be precise, is scared in quantity to solve the enormous issue Enrico Fermi already in the 1940s, stated that nuclear reactors operating with ‘fast’ neutron are capable to fission not only the rare isotope U-235 which indicates towards A fast-neutron reactor.

The Covid and Rural development     

During the lockdown, seventy percent of the power consumption drop in rural India has been noticed; this development questions India’s energy policies which heavily relied upon fossil fuels for energy production. The GRID-electrification, the primary source of power supply in the rural household, reported monthly energy consumption of 39 kWh half of India’s national energy consumption average, which is a significant obstacle to the adoption of modern technology for overall growth in rural areas. A significant downfall has been noticed in the employment sector, tabled whether it could replace fossil fuel, which constitutes a significant number in employing rural workers. 

Deloitte’s study of the European nuclear industry suggested that nuclear provides more jobs per TWh of electricity generated than any other clean energy source. According to the report, the nuclear industry sustains more than 1.1 million jobs in the European Union. Aggressive promotion of nuclear energy will impact all other fields, such as education, the health sector, and employment. Running a conventional reactor requires a team who can resolve the complex task; however, if the reactor is small and portable, the operation fixations reduce significantly. 

Providing adequate function training will become the source of employment while reducing fissile fuel dependency. At the same time, nuclear reactors require sophisticated hands to run the function, which could reduce the unemployment created by fossil fuel industries in response to a carbon tax or depletion of fuels, more precisely, a severe rise in fuel prices.    

The Limits    

Although the enormous potential for nuclear energy possesses few areas that are still vulnerable whose exploitation might invite catastrophic such as the illegal transfer of nuclear energy by non-state actors, one of the critical issues India is facing is news of uranium confiscations currently haunts the world that India security vulnerability enabled the private persons to have a hand over fissile materials, the other issue that should be considered is the maintenance of nuclear plants Chornobyl is an excellent example of what extend of potential a nuclear disaster possesses still in several regions in Ukraine radiation exist. [Barry W. Brook, “Why nuclear energy is sustainable and has to be part of the energy mix”].

India needs to accelerate the nuclear problem while strictly abiding by the security norms of the nuclear policy widely accepted as a nuclear safety benchmark. Meltdown, Hazardous nuclear waste and maintenance predominated the circle of nuclear crisis (except France and Sweden, as a significant proportion of electricity generation depends on nuclear plants); currently, SMR is echoing to minimize such externalities; however, the effectiveness of such small module reactors must be scrutinized under tests before it could be considered as a genuine alternative to traditional reactors.

Conclusion   

Nuclear energy is far superior to other fossil fuel energy alternatives. However, the low adaption is one of the critical issues that require tackling by incentivizing the research to develop several small scales portable nuclear reactor modules that stand on the international security parameters and simultaneously ensure a low probability of accidents. The employment prospect from nuclear reactors is enormous, and as the depletion of fossil fuel takes place could become the most employment service-providing sector.

 Two types of reactors are mainly highlighted first is a conventional nuclear reactor, and the second is portable nuclear reactors; government, in the long term, must concentrate on building small-scale reactors so cost efficiency will favor the rural people. Nuclear energy is a multi-sectoral project where the industries and the household will have greater access to electricity, but the complexity of reactor management advances specialization in education. Such problems are vital if India has any dream of total nuclearization.

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Azerbaijan seeks to become the green energy supplier of the EU

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image source: azernews

Recently, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Hungary and Romania signed an agreement to build a strategic partnership regarding green energy.   According to the document of the text, these four countries will be working together to develop a 1,195 kilometer submarine power cable underneath the Black Sea, thus effectively creating an energy transmission corridor from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Romania and Hungary.   For Europe, this is a golden opportunity that must be seized upon.

According to the International Monetary Fund, “Europe’s energy systems face an unprecedented crisis. Supplies of Russian gas—critical for heating, industrial processes and power—have been cut by more than 80 percent this year.  Wholesale prices of electricity and gas have surged as much as 15-fold since early 2021, with severe effects for households and businesses.  The problem could well worsen.” 

For this reason, Europe should switch as soon as possible to green energy supplies, so that they will rely less upon Russian gas and oil in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.   This will enable Europe to be energy independent and to fulfill its energy needs by relying upon better strategic partners, such as Azerbaijan, who are not hostile to Europe’s national security and the West more generally.  

By having this submarine power cable underneath the Black Sea, Azerbaijan can supply not only Hungary and Romania with green energy, but the rest of Europe as well if the project is expanded.   Israel, as a world leader in renewable energy, can also play a role in helping Azerbaijan become the green energy supplier of the EU, as the whole project requires Azerbaijan to obtain increased energy transmission infrastructure.  Israel can help Azerbaijan obtain this energy transmission infrastructure, so that Azerbaijan can become Europe’s green energy supplier.    

According to the Arava Institute of the Environment, “Israel, with its abundant renewable energy potential, in particular wind and solar, has excellent preconditions to embark on the pathway towards a 100% renewable energy system. Accordingly, Israel has already made considerable progress with regard to the development of renewable energy capacities.”   The Israeli government has been pushing hard for a clean Israeli energy sector by 2030.   Thus, Israel has the technical know-how needed to help Azerbaijan obtain the infrastructure that it needs to become the green energy supplier of Europe following the crisis in the Ukraine.

Given the environmental conditions present in Azerbaijan, which has an abundance of access to both solar and wind power, with Israeli technical assistance, Azerbaijan can help green energy be transported through pipelines and tankers throughout all of Europe, thus helping to end the energy crisis in the continent.   In recent years, Europe has sought to shift away from oil and gas towards more sustainable energy.     

With this recent agreement alongside other European policies, these efforts are starting to bear fruits.   In 2021, more than 22% of the gross final energy consumed in Europe came from renewable energy.   However, different parts of Europe have varying levels of success.   For example, Sweden meets 60% of its energy needs via renewable energy, but Hungary only manages to utilize renewable energy between 10% and 15% of the time.    Nevertheless, it is hoped that with this new submarine power cable underneath the Black Sea, these statistics will start to improve across the European Union and this will enable Europe to obtain true energy independence, free of Russian hegemony.  

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Energy Technology Perspectives 2023: Opportunities and emerging risks

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The energy world is at the dawn of a new industrial age – the age of clean energy technology manufacturing – that is creating major new markets and millions of jobs but also raising new risks, prompting countries across the globe to devise industrial strategies to secure their place in the new global energy economy, according to a major new IEA report.

Energy Technology Perspectives 2023, the latest instalment in one of the IEA’s flagship series, serves as the world’s first global guidebook for the clean technology industries of the future. It provides a comprehensive analysis of global manufacturing of clean energy technologies today – such as solar panels, wind turbines, EV batteries, electrolysers for hydrogen and heat pumps – and their supply chains around the world, as well as mapping out how they are likely to evolve as the clean energy transition advances in the years ahead.

The analysis shows the global market for key mass-manufactured clean energy technologies will be worth around USD 650 billion a year by 2030 – more than three times today’s level – if countries worldwide fully implement their announced energy and climate pledges. The related clean energy manufacturing jobs would more than double from 6 million today to nearly 14 million by 2030 – and further rapid industrial and employment growth is expected in the following decades as transitions progress.

At the same time, the current supply chains of clean energy technologies present risks in the form of high geographic concentrations of resource mining and processing as well as technology manufacturing. For technologies like solar panels, wind, EV batteries, electrolysers and heat pumps, the three largest producer countries account for at least 70% of manufacturing capacity for each technology – with China dominant in all of them. Meanwhile, a great deal of the mining for critical minerals is concentrated in a small number of countries. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo produces over 70% of the world’s cobalt, and just three countries – Australia, Chile and China – account for more than 90% of global lithium production.

The world is already seeing the risks of tight supply chains, which have pushed up clean energy technology prices in recent years, making countries’ clean energy transitions more difficult and costly. Increasing prices for cobalt, lithium and nickel led to the first ever rise in EV battery prices, which jumped by nearly 10% globally in 2022. The cost of wind turbines outside China has also been rising after years of declines, and similar trends can be seen in solar PV.

“The IEA highlighted almost two years ago that a new global energy economy was emerging rapidly. Today, it has become a central pillar of economic strategy and every country needs to identify how it can benefit from the opportunities and navigate the challenges. We’re talking about new clean energy technology markets worth hundreds of billions of dollars as well as millions of new jobs,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The encouraging news is the global project pipeline for clean energy technology manufacturing is large and growing. If everything announced as of today gets built, the investment flowing into manufacturing clean energy technologies would provide two-thirds of what is needed in a pathway to net zero emissions. The current momentum is moving us closer to meeting our international energy and climate goals – and there is almost certainly more to come.”

“At the same time, the world would benefit from more diversified clean technology supply chains,” Dr Birol added. “As we have seen with Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, when you depend too much on one company, one country or one trade route – you risk paying a heavy price if there is disruption. So, I’m pleased to see many economies around the world competing today to be leaders in the new energy economy and drive an expansion of clean technology manufacturing in the race to net zero. It’s important, though, that this competition is fair – and that there is a healthy degree of international collaboration, since no country is an energy island and energy transitions will be more costly and slow if countries do not work together.”

The report notes that major economies are acting to combine their climate, energy security and industrial policies into broader strategies for their economies. The Inflation Reduction Act in the United States is a clear example of this, but there is also the Fit for 55 package and REPowerEU plan in the European Union, Japan’s Green Transformation programme, and the Production Linked Incentive scheme in India that encourages manufacturing of solar PV and batteries – and China is working to meet and even exceed the goals of its latest Five-Year Plan.

Meanwhile, clean energy project developers and investors are watching closely for the policies that can give them a competitive edge. Relatively short lead times of around 1-3 years on average to bring manufacturing facilities online mean that the project pipeline can expand rapidly in an environment that is conducive to investment. Only 25% of the announced manufacturing projects globally for solar PV are under construction or beginning construction imminently, according to the report. The number is around 35% for EV batteries and less than 10% for electrolysers. Government policies and market developments can have a significant effect on where the rest of these projects end up.

Amid the regional ambitions for scaling up manufacturing, ETP-2023 underscores the important role of international trade in clean energy technology supply chains. It shows that nearly 60% of solar PV modules produced worldwide are traded across borders. Trade is also important for EV batteries and wind turbine components, despite their bulkiness, with China the main net exporter today.

The report also highlights the specific challenges related to the critical minerals needed for many clean energy technologies, noting the long lead times for developing new mines and the need for strong environmental, social and governance standards. Given the uneven geographic distribution of critical mineral resources, international collaboration and strategic partnerships will be crucial for ensuring security of supply.

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