With growth, Turkey's energy dependence on the rise
Turkey's vulnerability to external energy shocks can only be resolved in the long term, experts say.
By Erisa Senerdem Dautaj for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 29/02/12
While Turkey is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, skyrocketing energy needs to fuel the economy have created a notable gap between domestic supply and demand, making the country highly dependent on external energy sources.
A worker checks the valve gears in a natural gas control centre of Turkey's Petroleum and Pipeline Corporation, 35km west of Ankara. [Reuters]
According to a 2010 report on energy efficiency published by the Energy Efficiency Association (ENVER), Turkey imported 64% of its energy resources and received the rest from domestic sources. Last year this amounted to an energy import bill of $49.6 billion, compared to total imports of $236.9 billion, putting pressure on Turkey's high current account deficit.
Haluk Direskeneli, an Ankara-based energy expert, noted that Turkey is very rich in renewables such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and biomass energy. He said Turkey had to make long term investments in these fields, using its domestic labour force, technology and financial resources, to break its dependence on other countries for power.
Authorities are aware of the benefits of renewable energy resources, but it requires time to implement a new energy policy, Petroleum Platform Association Secretary-General Altan Kolbay told SES Türkiye.
"There is huge demand for energy in order to sustain growth," Kolbay said, adding that one could not simply shift from current energy sources to renewables. "It is like trying to change the car's wheel while you are driving very fast."
However, Mustafa Ozcan Ultanir, a professor at Ufuk University and former chairman of the Wind Power and Hydropower Plants Businessmen's Association, argued that Turkey's own energy resources were not currently sufficient and external dependency was inevitable for the time being.
"I do not see external dependency as inconvenient. We have to import in order for the industrial sector to manufacture its products," Ultanır told SES Türkiye, adding that the situation was no different in other countries in the world. On average, countries worldwide imported about 60% of their energy.
The real problem is Turkey's unsuccessful management of such external dependency, according to Ultanır. "Turkey imports natural gas primarily from three countries: Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan, but it pays different prices to each of these countries," he said.
Turkey meets 32% of its energy needs with natural gas, 31% with oil, 20% through coal, 9% through hydropower and 8% through other energy resources, according to ENVER's report. Of these, the country imports 97% of its natural gas, 93% of its oil and 20% of its coal -- its three primary energy resources.
According to figures by Turkey's Energy Markets Regulatory Board, Turkey imported 21% of its natural gas and 43% of its crude oil from Iran in 2010, making it a critical player in Turkey's energy trade. But it is also a major vulnerability, given the Iran's increasing international isolation.
"Any kind of cutback by Iran would affect the Turkish economy very negatively and put it in difficulty," Necdet Pamir, a former board member on the World Energy Council's Turkish National Committee and chief editor of enerjienergy.com, told SES Türkiye. Pamir said he believed sanctions by the UN to block Iran's oil and natural gas exports are unlikely due to China and Russia's stand on the issue, adding that Turkey would not undertake any unilateral action in this regard.
Ultanir, however, warned that the situation might change in the event of a war, and suggested Turkey had to develop a "plan B" to prepare for any possible event.
Iran argues it plans to carry out uranium enrichment for purely peaceful purposes, but the West and the International Atomic Energy Agency have expressed doubts over Iran's nuclear programme. The UN has imposed four sets of sanctions against Iran, and the US and the EU have followed with additional unilateral sanctions.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities are also planning to build at least two nuclear plants by 2023 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. Turkey has already reached an agreement with Russia to construct a nuclear energy plant in Mersin's Akkuyu district.
A second plant in the northern province of Sinop is also being planned as Turkish authorities look for a partner. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said that Turkey would also start talks with China for a third nuclear power plant to be built in the northwest.
"[Nuclear energy] is externally dependent, very expensive and poses many problems for the long run, hence it should not be even thought of as an alternative," Engin Ture, the chairman of Solar Energy Industrialists' and Industry's Association, told SES Türkiye.
Turkey would need to import not only the technology but also about 80% of the labour force for generating nuclear energy, according to Ture. There are also associated costs to safely remove the nuclear power plants after 30 to 40 years, when they become inoperative, he added, stressing the serious problem of what will then be done with the nuclear waste.
However, Ultanir disagreed, saying he saw nuclear energy as the cleanest resource for the future. "There is a strong lobby against nuclear energy [in Turkey] but nuclear energy is a reality of our age and is a resource used by developed countries," he said.