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

September 3, 2020, 10:14 AM UTC

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
eamon.barrett@fortune.com

CARBON COPY

Exxon exit

Exxon Mobil was removed from Dow Jones Industrial Average this week, which the Journal called the “latest sign of the waning influence of America’s struggling energy sector.” The Dow now includes just one energy company, Chevron, which accounts for just 2.1% of the price-weighted index.

Hydrogen growth

Three energy companies in New York are spending over $3 billion to establish three power plants that will eventually produce electricity from hydrogen. In their initial stage, the plants will run on natural gas but will eventually shift to “green hydrogen,” which is produced from water in a process powered by renewable energy. Mitsubishi is providing the technology for the hydrogen-powered plants.

Plastic dump

A cohort of the world’s largest plastics companies are lobbying the U.S. government to pressure Kenya into reversing its limits on plastic usage and waste imports, according to the New York Times. Across Africa, imports of plastic trash quadrupled in 2019—a year after China blocked such imports.

Re: location

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency launched a new program with $500 million of initial funding to relocate Americans at risk of flooding. The funding could increase by billions. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has a similar program worth $16 billion. The funds mark a dramatic change in government policy, which has long preferred to subsidize people living in flood-prone areas rather than admit “defeat” at the hands of climate.

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CLOSING NUMBER

28 trillion tonnes

That’s the total mass of ice that has disappeared from the Earth’s surface since 1994, which scientists investigating the melt have described as “staggering.” The research team says the runoff could mean sea levels rise one meter by the end of the century, with roughly 1 million people displaced for every 1cm rise.