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South Africa: an Arduous but Necessary Journey to Ease the Energy Crisis

South Africa is struggling with an unprecedented energy crisis resulting in daily load shedding for prolonged hours. Corruption, mismanagement of resources, and political conflicts are the root causes of the energy crisis. Lack of investment in energy infrastructure development, regulatory challenges, and outdated integrated resource plans further exacerbate the situation. Load shedding has been hampering business operations across sectors, increasing operational costs and negatively impacting GDP growth. While renewable energy can help combat the energy crisis, political resistance, and insufficient government support hinder the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. However, recent government initiatives are likely to expedite a shift towards renewable sources.

South Africa’s power supply marred by a range of deep-rooted issues

South Africa has been grappling with a significant energy crisis for the past several years, since 2007, leading to daily load shedding to prevent the collapse of the electric grid. Corruption, inability to cope with growing demand, political infighting, poor maintenance practices, limited investment in the energy sector for developing new infrastructure and maintaining running plants, and inefficient operations at Eskom (government-owned national power utility) have driven the energy crisis in the country.

Corruption is considered the major cause of this energy crisis. It is alleged that Eskom executives, through bribery and theft, made Eskom lose about US$55 million per month for the past several years. Also, the supply of low-grade coal to Eskom by a coalition in control of the coal supply has led to the regular collapse of Eskom’s power plants.

Additionally, the absence of an updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) further exacerbates the energy crisis. IRP (first launched in 2011) aims to project and address the electricity demand in the country. The government last updated its IRP in 2019, when it outlined annual auction and decommissioning plans until 2030. IRP must be updated regularly to include new advancements in the development of power generation technologies to align with the most effective scenarios for generating electricity.

Setbacks in renewable energy construction projects due to escalating costs have further spiked the energy crisis in South Africa. Around half of the projects awarded under the re-launch of South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) in 2021 failed due to increasing energy costs. REIPPPP is a government initiative to increase electricity capacity through private sector investment in renewable energy projects by allowing independent power producers (IPPs) to bid for and develop renewable energy capacity. Some projects have also been sidelined due to a lack of connections to the national grid.

South Africa an Arduous but Necessary Journey to Ease the Energy Crisis by EOS Intelligence

South Africa an Arduous but Necessary Journey to Ease the Energy Crisis by EOS Intelligence

GDP growth and sectors’ outputs affected by the ongoing electricity shortage

Rolling power cuts have negatively impacted the country’s economic growth, businesses, and households. It significantly affected the day-to-day operations across sectors. The economic costs associated with load shedding have negatively impacted the country’s GDP growth since 2007. It decelerated from 4.7% in 2021 to 1.9% in 2022 due to various factors, including power cuts and volatile commodity prices, among others. It further declined to 0.9% in the first half of 2023, mainly due to the energy crisis. Lowering GDP growth is likely to limit tax revenue and, thus, limit government spending.

Energy-intensive industries, particularly mining, have been severely impacted by power outages. Mining production fell by 3.7% in Q4 2022 compared to Q3 2022. Overall, the mining sector contracted by over 7% in 2022, in contrast to 2021. In 2023, mining production contracted by a further 1.5% in Q3 compared to Q2.

Other industries also continue to be affected. Agricultural output declined by 3.3% in Q4 2022 compared to Q3 2022. Manufacturing production fell by 1.2% in Q3 2023 in contrast to Q2 2023. The trade sector saw a decline of 2.1% in trading activities in Q4 2022 compared to Q3 2022. The food and beverage industry has also faced the consequences of power outages. Although the food and beverages industry is less electricity-intensive than other manufacturing industries, daily power outages have still led to increased operational costs and reduced output. Extensive load shedding also caused disruptions across retail operations and supply chains, negatively impacting food and beverage manufacturers’ pricing and profit margins.

The financial toll on businesses increased significantly, especially regarding the expenses associated with diesel purchases to run generators in the absence of power from the grid.

Transition to renewable energy hindered by political resistance and policy gaps

South Africa is blessed with abundant sunshine and wind, but the transition to renewable energy from coal power plants is not going to be a quick fix for the energy crisis in the near future. This is mainly due to political resistance by people with a vested interest in the fossil fuel industry and a lack of clear policies/regulations to promote renewable energy deployment.

Inconsistencies and a lack of coordination between energy companies and the government hinder existing policies aimed at encouraging the deployment of renewable energy. Additionally, the dominance of Eskom managing R&D investments related to power generation and market control hampers the deployment of renewable energy.

Despite the establishment of REIPPPP, renewable energy generation has not increased sufficiently to address the crisis. According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), only 7.3% of energy was generated from renewable sources in 2022. Concerns about job loss and insufficient grid infrastructure further hamper the transition to a more sustainable energy landscape.

Renewable energy growth driven by international collaborations

However, the government has begun to understand the importance of renewable energy in tackling energy shortages and has been promoting the sector. This has resulted in increasing foreign investment in renewable energy projects in South Africa. The increase in renewable projects due to retiring coal power plants is also likely to help combat the ongoing energy crisis.

For instance, in mid-2022, Scatec, a Norway-based renewable energy company, signed a 20-year contract with Eskom to supply 150MW to the national grid through various projects with a capacity of 50MW each.

Similar to this, in April 2023, Lions Head Global Partners (a UK-based investment banking and asset management firm), Power Africa (a US government-led presidential partnership initiative aimed at increasing access to electricity in Africa) in collaboration with the US Agency for International Development, Flyt Property Investment (a South Africa-based property development company), and Anuva Investments (a South Africa-based real estate and renewable energy investment firm) announced investment of US$12.1 million in Decentral Energy Managers, an independent power producer that focuses on renewable energy in South Africa.

Also, in September 2023, the USA proposed to invest US$4.8 million in partnership with the US African Development Foundation and the US Departments of Energy, Commerce, and State through Power Africa to support initiatives aligned with South Africa’s ‘Just Energy Transition Partnership’ (JETP) investment plan. JETP is an agreement forged among the governments of South Africa, the USA, France, the UK, Germany, and the EU, aimed at expediting the phased shutdown of South Africa’s coal-fired power plants and speeding up the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The USA has been the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the renewables space in tenders issued by the South African Department of Energy under REIPPPP.

In addition, in August 2023, South Africa signed several agreements with China to strengthen energy security and transition. China, being the leading installer of hydro, wind, and solar power and having close diplomatic and economic relations with South Africa, is expected to help the country with solar equipment while providing technical expertise.

Moreover, the REIPPPP launched the sixth round of the bid window in April 2022 to incorporate an additional capacity of 5.2GW into the energy mix. Still, only five bidders were chosen in Q4 2022 and are expected to generate around 17% of the total anticipated capacity.

Power crunch partially eased by soaring rooftop solar installations

An increase in the installation of rooftop solar systems by individuals and businesses to prevent disruptions to their operations caused by prolonged load shedding is also likely to help tackle the energy crisis. South Africa’s installed rooftop solar PV capacity increased by about 349% from 983MW in March 2022 to 4,412MW in June 2023.

The introduction of tax rebates for households and businesses for rooftop solar system installation is anticipated to stimulate increased adoption of rooftop solar systems across the country. For instance, in March 2023, the government proposed a tax rebate of 25% of the rooftop solar installation cost, up to a maximum of US$817.74 from March 2023, and a tax rebate of 125% of the businesses’ cost of investment in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass. This is expected to expand electricity generation and help ease the ongoing energy supply crisis.

Hope for improved power management brought by government activities 

The government is slowly doubling up its efforts to encourage more participation of IPPs in renewable energy generation. This is expected to help boost power generation and, thus, play a crucial role in addressing the energy crisis in the near future. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) approved over 15 IPPs between May 2022 and June 2022. As of June 2023, the country has an extensive pipeline of wind and solar projects, amounting to 66GW of capacity. Projects amounting to a capacity of over 5.5GW are expected to be operational by 2026.

The state has taken various initiatives to improve energy security, ease renewable energy project licensing requirements, and encourage participation from the private sector to generate renewable energy in the country. In October 2023, the World Bank approved a US$1 billion Development Policy Loan (DPL) to support the government’s initiatives to enhance long-term energy security and facilitate a low-carbon transition.

In July 2023, the South African Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition (DTIC) launched an initiative called ‘Energy One-Stop Shop’ (EOSS), aimed at accelerating the issuance of regulatory approvals and permits required before initiating the development of a project. As a result of this initiative, over 100 projects amounting to a capacity of over 10GW worth US$11 billion are being developed.

Along with this, in July 2023, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) finally decided to proceed with splitting Eskom into three different identities: generation, transmission, and distribution. NERSA authorized the National Transmission Company of South Africa to operate independently of Eskom, for which the Independent System and Market Operator (ISMO) Bill was passed in 2012 and implemented in 2013. The company will have non-discriminatory access to the transmission system, authority to buy and sell power, and will be responsible for grid stability. This is expected to improve electricity supply security, stabilize Eskom’s finances, and establish a foundation for long-term sustainability.

Moreover, in May 2023, two new ministers were appointed: a Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity to focus specifically on addressing the power outages, and a Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation, with the specific responsibility of overseeing the government’s performance.

Furthermore, South Africa’s JETP initiative implemented in 2021, supported by funding worth US$8.5 billion, is expected to integrate efficient energy production methods, reduce the adverse impact of power generation on the external environment, and improve energy security.

EOS Perspective

Endemic corruption within the government-owned national power utility and primary power generator, Eskom, has exacerbated the load shedding in South Africa. A deteriorating grid also significantly threatens the country’s economic stability. There is a great need for energy storage initiatives to optimize grid efficiency, improve power transmission across regions, and combat load shedding. With the split of Eskom, grid efficiency is expected to improve, and it is also anticipated to foster involvement from IPPs.

Alongside promoting the increased participation of IPPs, the newly appointed Minister for Electricity also stresses extending the life of coal-fired powered stations. Coal continues to be the predominant source of energy mix, constituting 80% of the total system load. While this approach might help the country with the immediate pressures of power supply requirements, more emphasis should be placed on reducing South Africa’s dependency on coal and the transition to green energy to stabilize energy distribution as well.

While various initiatives and programs have been implemented to encourage participation from IPPs to generate energy, it all comes down to execution, which the government currently lacks. Not enough funding support is being offered by the government to the participants. For instance, of the total power generation capacity anticipated from the participants in the fifth bidding round of REIPPPP, only half of the anticipated capacity, amounting to 2.58GW, is expected to come online. Most projects did not reach a financial close, or for many projects, legal agreements were not signed due to high interest rates, slow production of equipment post-pandemic, and increased cost of energy and other commodities. These issues led to increased construction costs beyond the budget initially set for the projects by the bidding companies. With soaring costs, the projects require greater financial support from the government to reach financial closure.

Also, the endless blame game between Eskom and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy makes it difficult for IPPs to enter the market and provide clean energy to the country. Eskom’s dominance in the electricity sector is likely to continue to influence initiatives implemented to encourage participation from IPPs.

However, with increasing government efforts to encourage IPPs to generate energy in the long run, the private sector is expected to play a crucial role in pioneering the shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources and tackling the energy crisis.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commercial Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale?

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Nuclear fusion has recently gained attention as a potential source of clean energy. It was a result of the US National Ignition Facility in California achieving a major milestone in December 2022 in which researchers were able to produce more energy than was used to ignite it for the first time. Several countries are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment project called ITER, focused on the construction and operation of an experimental fusion reactor located in France. Large-cap companies such as Google and the ministries regulating energy policies across the globe are also investing in fusion energy projects and start-ups to promote fusion energy generation. Despite huge investments, commercializing fusion energy still has a long way to go due to certain technological and operational challenges associated with the generation of this type of energy.

Ever-increasing carbon emissions due to the ongoing rise in energy consumption are driving the need for accelerating energy generation from renewable sources. As of October 2022, over 40% of global carbon emissions were caused by power generation. As per the International Energy Agency, carbon emissions from energy generation increased by 0.9% in 2022, in comparison with 2021, to reach 36.8GT.

Additionally, the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, particularly in Europe, further augmented the need for energy generation using renewable sources. The surge in energy demand from households and industries is putting pressure on the existing energy supplies, thus resulting in high energy prices.

So far, solar and wind energy sources have been prominently used across countries to meet the rapidly increasing energy demand. Nuclear fusion is another alternative renewable source as it does not emit carbon emissions or produce long-lived radioactive waste products, unlike nuclear fission.

Nuclear fusion is an energy-intensive process and requires high temperatures for fusion reaction. In the nuclear fusion process, energy is released by combining two atomic nuclei into one heavier nucleus. The released energy is then captured and converted into electricity by a fusion machine. This process is also the key source of energy in the sun and other stars.

Nuclear fusion releases around four million times more energy as compared to coal, gas, or oil, and four times more than nuclear fission technology. Nuclear fusion can provide energy to an extent that can power up homes, cities, and whole countries.

Current state of the nuclear fusion energy

The potential of generating nuclear fusion energy has been recognized since the 1950s. Countries across geographies have been involved in nuclear fusion research, led by the EU, USA, Russia, and Japan, along with vigorous programs underway in China, Brazil, Korea, and Canada. Various experimental fusion devices have been designed and constructed to advance and transform the way fusion energy is generated. These include tokamaks, stellarators, and laser-based technology devices. Tokamaks and stellarators have been used more commonly for fusion energy research experiments.

Some of the tokamaks and stellarators built across countries for generating fusion energy include the Joint European Torus (JET), started in the UK in 1978, the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, started in Germany in 1994, Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) started in South Korea in 1995, the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak- (MAST) initially started in the UK in 1997 and further upgraded to MAST-U in 2013, and Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) started in China in 2000, among others. Six countries, including China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, the USA, as well as the EU, are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment, ITER, an experimental fusion reactor currently under construction in France through EURATOM, the European Atomic Energy Community. ITER idea was first launched in 1985 and established in 2007. Its first experiment was scheduled to start in 2025 but is delayed due to Covid-19 disruptions. It is aimed at producing 500MW of fusion power from 50MW of input heating power.

Further, in 2017, China launched the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) project as a follow-up to the ITER. This tokamak device is aimed at producing an extremely powerful magnetic field to confine plasma and generate fusion energy. This magnetic field can contain and control hydrogen gas ten times hotter than the core of the sun. CFETR is aimed at producing a peak power output of 2GW once completed in 2035, bridging the gap between scientific experiments and commercial use.

Extensive progress has been noticed in studying laser-based technology for fusion energy generation. Some of the facilities that use laser technology to produce fusion energy include the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the USA and the Laser Mégajoule (LMJ) in France.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also supports its member states in research activities related to fusion energy generation. It also organizes various workshops on fusion power plant concept demonstrations, technical meetings, and coordinates research activities.

Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale?by EOS Intelligence

Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale? by EOS Intelligence

Some of the breakthroughs achieved in fusion energy experiments to date

There has been significant progress in the research and development activities focused on nuclear fusion energy generation. Researchers are continuously emphasizing optimizing the condition of plasma through changes in density, temperature, and confinement time to achieve the required level of performance for a power plant. Several nuclear reactors were able to sustain high temperatures during the fusion process. For instance, in January 2022, the EAST reactor in China sustained temperatures of 126 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is nearly five times hotter than the sun, for 17 minutes, and thus, broke the record for longest sustained nuclear fusion.

In February 2022, the Joint European Torus (JET) achieved a record performance for sustained fusion energy of 59MJ over five seconds.

Also, in September 2022, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) experiment achieved plasma temperatures of 120 million kelvins for up to 20 seconds, a key demonstration of simultaneous high temperatures and plasma stability.

Recently, in December 2022, a major breakthrough was achieved at the US National Ignition Facility in California by using inertial confinement fusion, which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers for the first time in the world. The laser shot released 3.15MJ of energy in comparison with the 2.05MJ pumped to the hydrogen isotope pellet by lasers. This breakthrough is likely to pave the way for abundant clean energy in the future.

Breakthroughs driving further investment in fusion energy R&D

Breakthroughs achieved over the past years in various projects have attracted significant investment by both the government and private sector in the research and development of fusion energy. For instance, in February 2023, Israel’s Ministry of Energy (MoE) proposed to provide US$11.5 million to establish a national nuclear fusion institute in Israel. This initiative includes major universities of Israel, namely the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Technion and Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as NT-Tao, an Israel-based start-up which is engaged in the development of a compact system for nuclear fusion.

Similarly, in October 2022, the UK government announced to provide US$249.6 million of funding for the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project’s first phase, which will include concept design by the UK Atomic Energy Authority by 2024. STEP is a program aimed at designing and constructing a prototype fusion energy plant by 2040.

In March 2022, the US Department of Energy (DOE) proposed to provide around US$50 million of federal funding to support US scientists involved in conducting experimental research in fusion energy science. Of this, US$20 million was to support tokamak facilities and US$30 million to support fusion research to improve the performance of fusion and increase the duration of burning plasma. In addition to this, the US government’s budget for the financial year 2023 included US$723 million for the Office of Science Fusion Energy Sciences research in enabling technologies, materials, advanced computing and simulation, and new partnerships with private fusion efforts. This amount included US$240 million for the ongoing construction of ITER tokamak. Also, the budget for the financial year 2024 includes US$16.5 billion to support climate science and clean energy innovation, including US$1 billion to advance fusion energy technology.

Private funding in fusion companies has also increased significantly in the recent past. As per the Fusion Industry Association Report 2022 published in July, private sector funding amounted to about US$4.8 billion in total, witnessing an increase of 139% since 2021. Fusion companies also received an additional US$117 million in grants and other funding from governments. Big resource groups such as Equinor, based in Norway, Google, and Chevron, based in the USA, have also invested in fusion energy research. For instance, in July 2022, Chevron, together with Google and Japan-based Sumitomo Corporation, invested in TAE Technologies, a US-based nuclear fusion start-up, in a US$250 million fundraising round to build its next-generation fusion machine.

In addition to this, entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, are also providing financial support. In December 2021, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) raised around US$1.8 billion in series B funding from various key investors, including Bill Gates, DFJ Growth, and Emerson Collective, among others, to commercialize fusion energy.

Companies engaged in nuclear fusion energy generation

More than 35 companies are engaged in fusion energy generation for commercial use, such as Tokamak Energy, General Fusion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Helion Energy, Zap Energy, and TAE Technologies, among others. These fusion companies are increasingly emphasizing collaborations and experimenting with new technologies to produce fusion energy and make it available for commercial use.

In March 2023, Eni, an energy group based in Italy, and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) based in the USA, a spin-out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), signed a collaboration agreement aimed at accelerating the industrialization of fusion energy.

In February 2023, TAE Technologies achieved a breakthrough in its hydrogen-boron fusion experiment in magnetically confined fusion plasma. This experiment was a collaboration between Japan’s National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFT) and TAE Technologies.

Also, in February 2023, Tokamak Energy proposed to build a new fusion energy advanced prototype at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus, UK, using power plant-relevant magnet technology. It also built the first set of high-temperature superconducting magnets for testing nuclear fusion power plants. This supermagnet can confine and control extremely hot plasma created during the fusion process.

Certain breakthroughs achieved over the years in the nuclear fusion energy field have encouraged the entry of various start-ups across geographies. For instance, Princeton Stellarators, a US-based start-up focused on building modular, utility-scale fusion power, was founded in 2022. Another start-up named Focused Energy, a Germany-based fusion company, was founded in 2021 to develop a fusion power plant based on laser and target technology. In September 2021, the company raised US$15 million in seed funding led by Prime Movers Lab, along with additional investment from various entrepreneurs.

Start-ups are also emphasizing raising funds to create new fusion technologies and make a significant impact on the industry. In February 2023, NT-Tao, an Israel-based nuclear fusion start-up founded in 2019, raised US$22 million in a series A funding round aimed at developing a high-density, compact fusion reactor to provide clean energy.

Additionally, in January 2023, Renaissance Fusion, a France-based start-up founded in 2020, raised US$16.4 million in a seed funding round led by Lowercarbon Capital. The company is engaged in the development of a stellarator reactor for fusion energy generation.

Challenges to nuclear fusion energy generation

Although a lot of companies and governments across geographies are investing in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments, building full-scale fusion-generating facilities requires advanced engineering, advanced vacuum systems, and superconducting magnets. One of the key challenges in the fusion process is the requirement of extremely high temperatures to produce energy. Also, it becomes difficult to control plasma at such high temperatures.

Additionally, the lack of availability of materials that can extract heat more effectively while withstanding their mechanical properties for a longer duration is another challenge affecting the fusion energy generation process.

Moreover, fusion research projects are also facing capital and financing challenges due to high upfront costs, return uncertainty, and long project duration. The capital investment involved in building and operating a fusion reactor is high due to complex technology that requires significant investment in R&D, high energy requirements, use of advanced materials, and regulatory requirements aimed at ensuring the safety and low environmental impact of the fusion reactor. The cost of building a fusion reactor ranges between tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. It can vary depending on various factors such as size, design, location, materials, and technology used.

Since fusion energy is a new technology, there is uncertainty about when nuclear fusion will become a viable and cost-effective energy source, such as other energy sources, including wind and solar. This makes it difficult for investors to invest in fusion projects and predict the return on investment.

However, ongoing research and development activities aimed at building advanced, highly efficient, and cost-effective fusion reactors and commercializing fusion energy generation at a large scale are likely to overcome these challenges in the long term.

EOS Perspective

Accelerating climate crisis is driving the investment in nuclear fusion research and development as it does not create carbon emissions and long-lasting nuclear waste products. Over the past several years, various fusion research projects, university programs, and start-ups have achieved breakthroughs in the fusion energy field. The most recent breakthrough at the US National Ignition Facility in California, which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers, has paved the way to the nuclear fusion gold rush and sparked excitement among investors, companies, and researchers.

Many fusion companies, such as Commonwealth Fusion Systems and TAE Technologies, are claiming to exceed breakeven by 2025 and commercialize fusion energy by 2030. Billions of dollars have been invested in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments but no company or projects have been able to achieve breakeven yet.

Several new fusion projects are planning on using advanced materials and putting a new generation of supercomputers to tweak the performance of ultrahigh-temperature plasma, but commercializing fusion energy is still far from reality. Moreover, the fusion process is very complex, requires extreme temperatures for fusion reactions, and involves huge energy costs. Thus, alternative clean energy sources such as wind and solar will likely remain the near-term methods to meet sustainable energy demand. At the same time, it should be expected that the increasing government support and investment by large cap organizations and entrepreneurs are likely to help set up viable fusion power plants in the future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: Europe’s Energy Woes – The Way Forward

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Europe is struggling to build up energy supply ahead of anticipated growth in demand due to economic rebound after pandemic outbreak and the winter months. Considering the knock-on effect of the energy crisis on industrial growth and consumer confidence, the prime focus for Europe is not only to respond to the mounting energy issues in the short term, but to also establish energy sustainability and security for the future.

In October 2021, the European Commission published an advisory for the member states to take some immediate steps to ease the effect of the energy crisis. Governments were urged to extend direct financial support to the most vulnerable households and businesses. Other recommended ways of intervention included targeted tax reductions, temporary deferral of utilities bill payments, and capping of energy prices. About 20 member states indicated that they would implement the suggestions outlined by the European Commission at a national level. While these measures may aid the most vulnerable user segment, there is not much that can be done to safeguard the wider population from the energy price shocks.

Energy security and sustainability is the key

While a magical quick-fix for Europe’s energy crisis does not seem to exist, the ongoing scenario has exposed the region’s vulnerabilities and serves as a wake-up call to move towards energy security and self-sufficiency.

Diversify energy mix

In general, petroleum products and natural gas contribute significantly to Europe’s energy mix, respectively accounting for about 35% and 22% of the total energy consumed in the EU. The remaining energy needs are fulfilled by renewable sources (~15%), nuclear (~13%), and solid fossil fuels (~12%).

The high dependence on fossil fuels is one of the main reasons behind Europe’s ongoing energy crisis. In order to mitigate this dependency, Europe has made concerted effort in the development of renewable energy production capabilities. In 2018, the European Commission set a target to achieve 32% of the energy mix from renewables by 2030, but in July 2021, the target was increased to 40%, clearly indicating the region’s inclination towards renewables.

Expediting renewable energy projects could help Europe to get closer to energy self-sufficiency, although the intermittency issue must also be accounted for. This is where nuclear energy can play a critical role.

After Fukushima disaster in 2011, many countries in Europe pledged to phase-out nuclear energy production. France, Germany, Spain, and Belgium planned to shut down 32 nuclear reactors with a cumulative production capacity of 31.9 gigawatts by 2035. However, in the wake of the current crisis, there is a renewed interest in nuclear power. In October 2021, nine EU countries (Czechia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) released a joint statement asserting the expansion of nuclear energy production to achieve energy self-sufficiency. France, which generates about three-fourth of its electricity through nuclear plants, is further increasing investment in nuclear energy. In October 2021, the French government pledged an investment of EUR 1 billion (~US$1.2 billion) in nuclear power over the period of 10 years.

Look beyond Russia

More than 60% of EU’s energy needs were met by imports in 2019. Russia is the major partner for energy supply – in 2019, it accounted for 27% of crude oil imports, 41% of natural gas imports, and 47% of solid fossil fuels imports. While Europe is accelerating the development of renewable energy production, fossil fuels still remain an important source of energy for the region. In the face of escalating political differences with Russia, there is a need to reduce energy reliance on this country and to build long-term partnerships with other countries to ensure a steady supply.

EU has many options to explore, especially in natural gas imports. One of them is natural gas reserves in Central Asia. The supply link is already established as Azerbaijan started exporting natural gas to Europe via Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), operational since December 31, 2020. In the first nine months, Azerbaijan exported 3.9 billion cubic meters of gas to Italy, 501.7 million cubic meters to Greece, and 166 million cubic meters to Bulgaria. Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) is a proposed undersea pipeline to transport gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan. This pipeline can connect Europe with Turkmenistan (the country with the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves) via Azerbaijan. As a result, Europe has heightened its interest in the development of this pipeline.

Eastern Mediterranean gas reserve can also prove to be greatly beneficial for the EU. In January 2020, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel signed a deal to construct a 1,900 km subsea pipeline to transport natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean gas fields to Europe. This pipeline, expected to be completed by 2025, would enable the supply of 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Israel and Cyprus to European countries via Greece.

Africa is another continent where the EU should try to strengthen ties for the imports of natural gas. Algeria is an important trade partner for Europe, having supplied 8% of natural gas in 2019. Medgaz pipeline connects Algeria directly to Spain. This pipeline currently has the capacity to transport 8 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and the ongoing expansion work is expected to increase the capacity to 10.7 billion cubic meters per year by the end of 2021. In addition to this, Nigeria is planning the development of a Trans-Sahara pipeline which would enable the transport of natural gas through Nigeria to Algeria. This will potentially open access for Europe to gas reserves in West Africa, via Algeria. Further, as African Continental Free Trade Agreement came in to effect in January 2021, the natural gas trade within countries across Africa received a boost. Consequently, liquefied natural gas projects across Africa, including Mozambique’s 13.1 million tons per annum LNG plant, Senegal’s 10 million tons per annum Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project, and Tanzania’s 10 million tons per annum LNG project, could help Europe to enhance its gas supply.

Business to strive to achieve energy independence

While governments are taking steps to reduce the impact of the energy crisis on end consumers, this might not be enough to save businesses highly reliant on power and energy. Therefore, businesses should take the onus on themselves to achieve energy independence and to take better control of their operations and costs.

Some of the largest European companies have already taken several initiatives in this direction. Swedish retailer IKEA, for instance, has invested extensively in wind and solar power assets across the world, and in 2020, the retailer produced more energy than it consumed.

There has also been growing effort to harness energy from own business operations. In 2020, Thames Water, a UK-based water management company, generated about 150 gigawatt hours of renewable energy through biogas obtained from its own sewage management operations.

However, a lot more needs to be done to change the situation. Companies not having any means to produce energy on their own premises should consider investing in and partnering with renewable energy projects, thereby boosting overall renewable energy production capacity.

Energy crisis is likely to have repercussions on all types of businesses in every industry. Larger entities with adequate financial resources could use several hedging strategies to offset the effect of fluctuating energy prices or energy supply shortage, but small and medium enterprises might not be able to whither the storm.

Economist Daniel Lacalle Fernández indicated that energy represents about a third of operating costs for small and medium enterprises in Europe, and as a result, the ongoing energy crisis can trigger the collapse of up to 25% of small and medium enterprises in the region. Small and medium enterprises need to actively participate in government-supported community energy initiatives, which allow small companies, public establishments, and residents to invest collectively in distributed renewable energy projects. By early 2021, this initiative gained wide acceptance in Germany with 1,750 projects, followed by Denmark and the Netherlands with 700 and 500 projects, respectively.

EOS Perspective

Europe must continue to chase after its green energy goals while developing alternative low-carbon sources to address renewables’ intermittency issue. This would help the region to achieve energy independence and security in the long term. In the end, the transition towards green energy should be viable and should not come at a significant cost to the end consumers.

On the other hand, immediate measures proposed so far do not seem adequate to contain the ongoing energy meltdown. Further, energy turmoil is likely to continue through the winter, and, in the worst-case scenario, it might result in blackouts across Europe. If the issue of supply shortages remains difficult to resolve in the short term, a planned reduction in consumption could be the way forward.

In view of this, Europe would need to actively encourage energy conservation among the residential as well as industrial sectors. Bruegel, a Brussels-based policy research think tank, suggested that the European governments could either force households to turn down their thermostats by one degree during the winter to reduce energy consumption while not compromising much on comfort, or provide financial incentives to households who undertake notable energy saving initiatives.

This is perhaps a critical time to start promoting energy conservation among the masses through behavioral campaigns. Like businesses, it is necessary to enhance consumers’ participation in the energy market and they should be encouraged to generate their own electricity or join energy communities. The need of the hour is to harness as well as conserve energy in any way possible. Because, till the time Europe achieves self-sufficiency or drastically strengthens the supply chain, the energy crunch is here to stay.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Mexico’s Energy Reforms – The Balancing Act

Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto seems to be a man on a mission. Since his term started in July 2012, he has worked towards weeding out the inefficiencies and monopolies plaguing several sectors in Mexico and has received much appreciation for that. But this time, has he gone too far? With Pemex being Mexico’s much-guarded jewel, the attempt to bring in private investment seems much more ambitious than the previously introduced overhaul in the labor laws and telecom sectors.

President Enrique Peña Nieto took a bold step in June 2013 by reforming the country’s quasi-monopolistic telecom sector, voicing his seriousness about bringing real changes to Mexico’s economy by tackling inefficiencies and welcoming foreign investment. While the results of the telecom reforms remain yet to be seen, he has moved to an even more ambitious project – to allow foreign investors to enter Mexico’s energy sector, which has been closed to private participation since 1938.

Pemex, which is the world’s 10th largest oil producer, has been a government monopoly for over 75 years. The country’s oil output has been falling since 2004, as a result of its inability to explore unconventional (deeper) sources driven by lack of investment and outdated technology. It is expected that if further exploration is not undertaken, Mexico will become a net energy importer.

To combat this, the president sent a bill to congress that aims to end the state’s 75-year old monopoly over the energy sector. According to the proposed bill, private oil exploration companies would gain access to the Mexican oil reserves under profit-sharing contracts for upstream oil and gas development (exploration and production).The bill also cover reforms regarding the restructuring of Pemex to make it more transparent and accountable.

The bill also encompasses reforms in the electricity market, wherein it looks to allow private participation in electricity generation, while maintaining transmission and distribution under state control. While few amendments to partially allow private participation in the electricity sector have been introduced in the past, they have left much to be desired. The current amendments only allow private companies to generate or import electricity for self-supply or to undertake cogeneration. In addition, Independent Power Producers that produce less than 30 MW of electricity and exclusively sell to the state-owned Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) or export to other countries are allowed to generate electricity under the existing amendments. As against the state-owned CFE choosing the players from which it would like to purchase electricity, these reforms would boost competitiveness in the sector by establishing an independent system wherein power generator participation would be decided based on lowest generation costs.

These reforms are expected to boost investments in the oil sector by about US$10 billion per annum. Further, an influx of investments is expected to help Pemex offset its current US$60 billion debt. In addition, they are also expected to bring down electricity prices in the country (which are 25% higher than that in the USA), boost employment, and strengthen the participation of renewable energy in the energy mix primarily underpinned by private participation in electricity generation.

While these reforms spell out immense benefits for Mexico’s economy, their implementation and outcome are a different story altogether. The Mexican population that applauded and supported the government through the education and telecom reforms, is now much less convinced regarding this arm of reforms. Mexicans have for long considered Pemex to be symbol of their national independence and the oil found beneath Mexico’s soil and water, a part of their national heritage. Moreover, March 18th – the day when president Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the country’s oil industry in 1938 is celebrated proudly as a national holiday. Unlike the case of the previous successful reforms, the government faces much opposition from the leftist groups. However, with full support for the reforms from Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) parties, which control more than two-third seats in congress, there are strong chances of this proposed law becoming a reality.

The bill also falls short from the point of view of leading global oil exploration companies. While the reforms give foreign companies access to extract and exploit oil, share risks and profits, they would not be able to have a share in the resources. This makes the Mexican agreements far less lucrative for large oil players when compared with proposals offered by neighboring oil-producing countries, such as Brazil and Columbia, which allow the producers to own a certain amount of oil in their books. Thus, although leading oil companies, including Shell, Chevron, BP, and Exxon Mobil have welcomed the wave of reforms in Mexico, their participation will largely depend on the nature and attractiveness of the final profit-sharing agreements.

Therefore, while these reforms look at altering history, it remains extremely premature to predict their outcome. These reforms run the risk of offering ‘too much’ from the eyes of the Mexican public or ‘too little’ from the point of view of resource-hungry energy companies and can only be a success if they manage to find the perfect balance between both the stakeholders. Thus, the key question that remains is not regarding the approval of reforms, but if these reforms will actually manage to stir foreign investment into the Mexican oil sector.

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