As we near 2021, Southeast Europe’s concerns about security and diversity of energy supplies and over-reliance on Russian gas are now history, a senior energy expert said, noting that after many years of inactivity, a number of new projects are being tackled . Electricity brings a lot of gas into the region.
“We are moving from a time when Russian gas is flowing into the region and being distributed in the region to the events.” Julian Bowden, senior visiting scholar at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES) in London, said during an online IENE conference hosted by New Europe on December 10th.
“The region’s concern about security and supply diversity is now history. This discussion now, this problem is over. There is a lot of other gas out there and it can reach the market. We saw it in 2019-2020 and we will see more next year. There’s plenty of supplies, ”said Bowden.
He stressed that Southeast Europe is a collection of small, unconnected markets. “If we ignore Romania, most of the gas supply was imported – 70% was imported from Russia. Russia was dominant in the supply scene. Most of the gas came through Ukraine, via the Trans-Balkan Pipeline through Romania, Bulgaria to Greece and the section to Turkey. So it is both an import and a transit pipeline, ”said the Oxford expert.
He noted that trust in Russia was certainly a driver for the issue of security of supply.
Bowden recalled that there has been a large number of interconnection projects over the past decade, defining liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects that have been tried to be put together but basically nothing has happened despite many European Union initiatives. “But then, in 2019 and 2020, a lot of things started to happen,” he said. “The re-export of gas to Bulgaria started in 2019 and has continued. In relation to the Bulgarian market, this flow of gas from Greece to Bulgaria was indeed significant. TurkStream has started up. Romania has started to use its link with Hungary much more than before and the river between Hungary and Romania has actually become quite significant, ”said Bowden.
He added that Romania had completed Phase 1 of the BRUA project to support gas interconnection maintenance.
However, the Oxford energy expert noted that one of the effects of Russia’s TurkStream gas pipeline was that the Transbalkans system was emptied overnight as the gas passed through Turkey through the first section of the new Russian pipeline.
Bowden said some of these trends would continue into 2021. He recalled that the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) will start operating later this month and will increase in the course of 2021, bringing gas to the region and to Greece and Bulgaria via the South Corridor from Azerbaijan.
He added that the ITUC’s original idea was to load it with gas from TAP. “Of course I don’t see Alexandroupolis LNG without IGB. Alexandroupolis, if it occurs in its current configuration, is far too big for the Greek market, so Alexandroupolis is not a Greece project, but a regional project, and gas has to be moved and So they need capacity to move it on and on. I think this is where the ITUC will play a role across the southern gas corridor, ”Bowden said.
In addition, the TurkStream onshore section towards Hungary through Bulgaria and Serbia should be put into operation. “Much of it has already been built in Bulgaria and Serbia,” he said. “The interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria (IGB), a project that has been around for many, many years, is currently being built and is scheduled to go into operation in mid-2021. Croatia LNG starts in January. All of these things can be banked because they happen, they will happen. And then we can add to the list if we go in the mid-2020s, Alexandroupolis LNG, Romania Black Sea maybe. What will happen now to the Trans-Balkans pipeline? Will we see it turn back to Ukraine? That’s a good question, ”he said.
The expert said another positive development is that the prospects for a regional gas hub are rapidly improving. “One of the prerequisites for a hub is diversity, as the markets are interconnected. I think we can put a big check mark on this box, ”he said.
Regarding interconnectivity, he said that given the market size and likely market growth, there is likely to be sufficient capacity in the interconnectors and planned LNG terminals. “For example, it’s hard to understand why in a TurkStream world where there is third-party access – assuming there is a separate connection between Bulgaria and Serbia – it’s a little redundant for me.” Bowden said.
He noted that when you add up all current and future projects, “ironically, Russia’s market share in this region is now threatened”.
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