Turkey may be energy-poor, but it is vying to become a transit hub.
Transmission lines traversing Turkish territory are important to meet its own natural gas and oil needs. But Turkey also wants to become an energy trading hub and has signed a number of agreements to achieve that. However, not all those agreements have been realized, because the issue is not only economic but is also geopolitical. Bilgi University Emeritus Professor Ilter Turan outlines Turkey’s position in the global energy equation for Dunya Executive’s readers.
What is Turkey’s current position among existing and planned international energy-transmission projects?
There is an environment of constant uncertainty and reevaluation about energy transmission routes in the world. Therefore, it is easier to interpret developments not only as economic phenomena, but as geopolitical events that include competition among giant energy companies and each country trying to promote its own self-interests.
Turkey’s pipeline network includes a gas route in the north through Thrace and another from the Black Sea. It also receives natural gas from two separate pipelines from Iran and Azerbaijan. And there are the Kirkuk-Yumurtalık and Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil
pipelines entering from the east.
Will Turkey be an energy transmission hub?
When you look at the present situation, Turkey has not become strategic in terms of energy transmission.
The Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project, or TANAP, which is currently under construction, will be completed by 2019 at the latest. TANAP ships Azeri gas through Turkey to the Greek border, where it connects with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, or TAP, which goes on to Italy. For now, only Azeri gas will be transmitted, but others sources, such as Kazakh, Iraq, Israel, even Turkmen gas, may be added. Iranian gas may also be added, but for now the political situation there is unpredictable. There is another route called TurkStream under negotiation with Russia that will supply gas to Europe and Turkey through Thrace. It will take time for the agreements to be shaped and actualized.
Will all of these routes be built?
We can not predict what the longterm energy mix will be. However, we can make some observations about the routes that could be built now. Let’s look at Israeli gas, for example. Immediately, we can see some political complications. Unless there is an agreement on the future of Cyprus, it will be difficult for the route to become operable. My personal belief is that if the United States, Britain and Israel agree on the construction of this line, Cyprus would not constitute a serious obstacle. But there are other important developments, including in Egypt, where significant new resources were found in the Nile, and so there is a strong possibili- ty that the gas could be exported via Turkey.
What needs to be done to turn these negatives into advantages?
Turkey may become an energy-trading nation through which energy transmission routes pass. Unfortunately, there is a growing perception that Turkey is now risky. This risk is not just about ensuring pipelines safety, but the lack of confidence in the political and legal environment. According to a gossip, the idea of sending gas via Turkey was put to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to which he said: “It is very reasonable, but I cannot trust the policies of the current Turkish government in this matter.”
If Turkey wants such a position, it must show greater effort. The current connections are likely to meet Turkey’s future gas demand and we may be able to import more gas from Iran in the future. For this to happen, Iran would need to improve its technology and become a more efficient gas producer and also become more integrated into the global community. But if we want to be a country that has a direct effect on world energy markets and regulate the buying and selling of energy, we have to try to fulfil those needs.
Could the transfer of Turkmen gas though Turkey be viable?
Turkmen gas may reach Turkey via two possible routes: either connected to Iranian pipelines or though the Caspian via Azerbaijan in pipelines connected to existing infrastructure. But there are serious problems concerning the legal status of the Caspian, which was drawn up by Iran and the former Soviet Union.
According to the current polit- ical geography, there is no legal structure of sovereignty and usage rights that takes into account all the littoral states. Iran and Russia are not in favor of changing an agreement that works in their favor and makes the Caspian an Iranian and Russian inner sea. Other states do not have the power to change that for the time being.
What can be said about renewable energy in terms of ensuring energy diversity?
Opposition to nuclear energy has increased after the accident in Japan. But I do not think it is sustainable, because nuclear remains an important source of energy despite everything. When viewed from this aspect, it will not be easy to remove coal as an energy source completely. Because, in the latest analysis, every country will not want to be dependent on a single source and will want to have some of the energy it can produce inhouse. Countries will see this as necessary for long-term security. Imported energy storage is a way to deal with short-term disturbances only. Although the production costs of renewable energy have decreased, the most important obstacle in the way of providing more energy from renewable areas for now is the storage problem. There is no sun at night, no wind at times. If you do not regulate the electricity you generate from the dam, you would have more than you need, or vice versa, you can face electricity production which is not enough for the demand. In this context, Germany’s low carbon priority “Energiewende”, energy conversion project is an experiment and will be an important example in terms of knowing how far we can go in renewable energy.