Turkey’s push for energy security needs more renewables than gas

On Aug. 21, Turkey President Recep Erdogan announced the discovery of some 320 billion cubic meters of natural gas in the Tuna-1 fields in the Black Sea—roughly seven times the volume of gas Turkey imported in 2019. Erdogan claims the gas would “fundamentally resolve” Turkey’s reliance on energy imports, but it might not help energy security in the long run.

Erdogan claims the newly-found gas will be ready to pipe by 2023, although experts doubt the speed of that development. Extraction projects can take a decade while the size and quality of the gas discovery has yet to be independently verified. Moreover, seven years’ worth of gas is hardly enough to ensure Turkey’s energy security.

Turkey is a net importer of energy, costing the country $43 billion in 2019—or 20% of its total import bill. Some 99% of the country’s gas needs come from abroad. Erdogan has pushed to, at the very least, diversify Turkey’s source of gas imports since the Turkish air force downed a Russian jet over the Turkey-Syria border in 2015.

At the time, Russia supplied 55% of Turkey’s gas. That volume shrank to 24% in the first quarter of 2020, with Turkey increasing supplies from Azerbaijan and the U.S. Turkey’s recent discovery in the Black Sea could give the country extra leverage when it comes to renegotiating contracts with its existing suppliers. A contract with Russia’s Gazprom, for example, is due for renewal in 2021.

But Erdogan’s push for greater energy security has brought Turkey closer to conflict with its neighboring states. Last month two warships—one Turkish, one Greek— collided in the Mediterranean. Both countries are scouting for fossil fuels in the azure waters there, where their overlapping territorial claims threaten to spark a conflict.

Interestingly, Erdogan has an ambition for Turkey to not only eradicate its dependence on energy imports but to become a net exporter of energy, too. Achieving such a dream would require not only discovering new deposits of fossil fuel (which countries need to stop drilling for) but also installing significant amounts of renewable energy.

Here, Turkey is actually on track to become one of the top five producers of renewable energy in Europe by 2024, according to the International Energy Agency. Solar power is leading Turkey’s expansion of renewable energy and the IEA expects wind power to be an import contributor, too.

Yet increased energy security for Turkey could mean greater insecurity for neighbors—as evidenced by Erdogan’s desire to export. If not carefully managed, the global distribution of renewable energy in the future could be just as much a source for conflict as the distribution of fossil fuels today.

More below.

Eamon Barrett


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