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The untapped renewable energy potential of the Black Sea region

The Black Sea region has always been considered as a bridge between Europe and Asia. When it comes to the energy sector, the status of all these countries might be different, as some are producers, some rely heavily on imports and some others just serve as corridors. But the future is one and only and over the last years all these countries have started working in the same direction.

In particular, concerning renewable energy sources, significant advantages have been introduced across the countries, such as feed-in tariffs, renewable energy zones, green certificates and other attractive incentives. Next week, the energy community will get together to discuss the renewable energy potential of the Black Sea countries at the Black Sea Energy Week, to be held online on 29-30 September.

Growing energy demand

Today, the local energy demand in the countries of the region is forecast to grow in line with the GDP, with Turkey alone registering 5.1 per cent electricity demand growth since 2002.

But when we talk about the Black Sea region, we cannot include only the countries that are surrounded by the Sea itself (Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Ukraine, Turkey and Russia).

For Lulin Radulov, member of the Black Sea Energy Research Centre (BSERC), the Black region encompasses all countries that are members of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), which also includes Albania, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Armenia, Greece and Serbia.

“The second question we need to ask ourselves is if nuclear is considered a renewable energy source or not,” he tells CEENERGYNEWS. “Nuclear energy is the third pillar of Bulgaria’s energy policy, after energy efficiency and RES. Also, natural gas appears here as an intermediate fuel, which facilitates the transition.”

Nuclear energy is also an important component of Ukraine’s energy mix. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), nearly 65 per cent of the country’s total energy demand is covered by domestic production thanks to nuclear energy, as Ukraine is the world’s seventh-highest producer.

On the other hand, Georgia has developed an energy sector based largely on hydropower and fuelwood, in addition to imports of fossil fuels. It is also an important transit country for the region, with major oil and gas pipelines running across its territory.

Untapped potential

Early in April, Brussels-based member-led association SolarPower Europe and Finnish university LUT have launched a new report entitled 100% Renewable Europe: How to make Europe’s energy system climate-neutral before 2050. The study modelled a 100 per cent renewables scenario for Europe to reach climate neutrality before 2050. It was the first of its kind to model a fully renewable pathway to achieving climate neutrality for the European energy system, presenting different transition pathways, with varying levels of ambition. Will it be a reality for the Black Sea region as well?

“The Black Sea present strong resources of renewable energy on each of the six surrounding countries,” says Güray Erol, Secretary General of the Turkish Wind Association (TWEA-TÜREB), the oldest renewable energy association in Turkey acting as the umbrella organisation for all stakeholders in wind energy.

“Thanks to the hinterland of this region, the demand will absolutely help to design such a good scenario to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy,” he tells CEENERGYNEWS.

“Because of the historic energy generation capacities of those countries, such a transformation will not only be a strong step to reach climate neutrality but also may create a transformation within the industrial development, by enhancing engineering skills, manufacturing chains and smart distribution solutions.”

Achieving energy security is at the top of the authorities’ agenda for many countries in the region. By the end of 2020, Romania plans to meet the obligations set by the EU in terms of greenhouse gas emissions through its legislative package Climate changes – renewable energies. Bulgaria adopted the Renewable Sources Act already in 2011, regulating the generation and consumption of energy from renewable sources.

“All countries have good solar energy potential and good prospects for using Distributed Energy Resources (DER),” adds Mr Radulov.

“But they are very different,” he continues. “The wind potential is limited in all countries but Romania and Serbia have good water potential. There are always opportunities to learn from each other.”

Turkey’s energy sector ready to take off

As of 2019, Turkey had an installed wind capacity of 7.27 gigawatts (GW) and more than 3 GW of licensed wind capacity under construction. This means that there is an onshore wind potential of 37 GW and a completely untapped offshore wind potential of 11 GW.

Turkey’s wind turbines.

“Turkey needs to have simple and applicable planning,” Mr Erol explains. “2020, which will be the end of the first subsidised era, will be justified with more than 10 GW installed in wind energy. Such capacity announcements and applications are unique gates for new projects and Turkish authorities can easily combine their views, necessities, requirements and willingness to complete a plan where to announce newly available capacities for wind energy regularly.”

According to him, all stakeholders, the Turkish wind industry, as of today, can easily double or triple the installed capacity within a decade thanks to the local know-how and its regional hub positioning.

“Our onshore wind potential stands strong and as most of the Turkish sites are still young, re-powering them in the next decade may again boost the installed wind fleet, by better using existing resources,” he says. “About offshore, we consider that the potential is remarkable and together with the improvement of technology and amelioration of the economic aspects, Turkey would be on a competitive edge.”

“I strongly believe that, if Turkey will announce an ambitious mid-term plan of 35-40 GW backed by a reasonable mechanism to internationally finance it, all market players will be ready and present to contribute.”

Georgia’s solar and hydro revolution

Georgia also could reach a 100 per cent renewable future, thanks to its tremendous resources in hydro, wind and solar.

“It will depend on the pace of technologies development,” points out Giorgi Chikovani, CEO of the Georgian Energy Development Fund, one of the speakers of the Black Sea Energy Week. “It is essential that we also include other resources like hydrogen. For sure the energy demand is growing in the whole region and solar and wind will be limited at some point.”

Forty per cent of the electricity comes from the energy produced in summer. However, for the cold season, the country needs storage.

Enguri hydroelectric power station.

“There are no plans to produce green hydrogen locally so far, but we are actively engaged in this sense and there are many international players like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank which are ready to support us,” he tells CEENERGYNEWS.

Technology is quite expensive for now, so in the short term, Georgia will exploit its natural resources as much as possible.

“But we want to ready for the future as well, maybe with some small pilot projects,” he adds.

More aids needed

Mr Radulov mentions the system of tariffs for purchase of energy from RE intermittent resources in various modifications, for instance, demand-side management (DSM) or demand-side response (DSR), as the most effective support.

However, financial aid is not the same everywhere. Mr Chikovani hopes for more State support, especially for the less profitable months of the year.

For him, the biggest challenge is the intermittence of resources like wind and solar. Reserve capacities are scarce and limited and it would be unlimited only with the technological capacity of store energy resources, like with hydrogen and batteries.

“When it comes to hydropower, we are not talking about a natural obstacle but more of a commercial one,” he points out. “Almost 50 per cent of the energy generation comes during summer, a time when there is a surplus of energy. But we are interested in producing energy in winter, when both the demand and prices are higher. The State is offering its support to hydropower operators only during the eight months of winter and not during summer when it would be more convenient.”

Same goes for solar plants. At this point, there is no aid for photovoltaics but the state is planning to have the same kind of support as for hydro, only spread during the wintertime.

“For wind, it won’t be as much of a problem but for solar we would have the same issues as fro hydro,” Mr Chikovani underlines.

In Turkey, TWEA-TÜREB Secretary General mentions a first subsidy mechanism called YEKDEM (Turkish feed-in-tariff), which will be completed at the end of this year. It’s highly expected that a second mechanism will be announced. During 2019, TWEA-TÜREB has presented its opinions and have proposed figures and models to the authorities, to reflect the expectation of the Turkish wind industry.

“Additionally, 2 YEKA tenders (multi megawatts [MW] large scale concession rights tendered against the use of local equipment) happened, each for a 1,000 MW capacity,” Mr Erol continues.

For the sake of decarbonisation of Turkish industries and to continue on the economic growth in wind energy, Mr Erol is looking forward to having an updated support scheme which mitigates uncertainties.

“Corporate PPA’s or carbon credits can also be good replacements to complete the financial picture for our future projects, however, a supportive legal framework should be always available to confirm the interest of the government,” he underlines. “We have to highlight that, the outcome of those support mechanisms for Turkey has not been only more than 200 wind projects under operation, but also 20,000 direct and indirect jobs on around 70 companies running their activities on the industrial side. Many of turbine suppliers qualify Turkey as their regional hub for engineering and erection or maintenance services.”

Indeed, if rightfully exploited, the Black Sea untapped energy potential could actually serve as a bridge between today’s use of resources and a future based on renewables.

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