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The year in review: what shaped the energy industry in CEE in 2023

2023 signalled some return to calm, almost going back to pre-COVID levels. However, again this year, diversification was a key word with several countries from Central and Eastern Europe looking at new sources, new routes and new suppliers.

Ensuring energy security in CEE: the vital role of Azeri gas

It was a very important year for Azeri gas. Already in January, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Péter Szijjártó reminded us how increased natural gas production in Azerbaijan could play an important role in the energy security of Central Europe. Then, in February, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the two countries with the Hungarian prime minister underlining how “in the current situation, it is clear that the most realistic scenario for diversification is to transport the energy produced in Azerbaijan to Europe.” In fact, later during the year, the ministers of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, together with the minister of Azerbaijan signed an MoU in Sofia to support the realisation of the Solidarity Ring transmission corridor.

Other countries and companies followed later during the year, like the Romanian natural gas producer Romgaz which signed a contract with Socar Trading for the delivery of up to 1 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas to Romania until March 2024. The Czech Minister of Industry and Trade Jozef Síkela underlined the importance of Azeri gas in replacing Russian supplies, mentioning the role that green hydrogen imports could play. Also, Serbia’s state-owned Srbijagas signed a contract for the delivery of up to 400 million cubic metres (mcm) of gas from Azerbaijan to Serbia by the end of next year. Finally, earlier in December the 109-kilometre gas pipeline connecting Serbia and Bulgaria was officially put into operation, connecting once again Serbia and Central-Eastern Europe with gas from Azerbaijan and other sources.

The year of cooperation

It was also a year in which countries cooperated more, building on the experience of the previous crises. In May, the European Commission launched the first-ever international tender for joint purchasing of EU gas supplies, through the AggregateEU mechanism.

After four successful rounds, European Commission’s Vice-President, Maroš Šefčovič recognised that “companies are interested in the joint purchase of gas as an opportunity to improve the security of supply and negotiate better prices.”

Also, storage played an important role this year as EU countries reached their target of filling gas storage facilities to 90 per cent of capacity roughly two and a half months ahead of the 1 November deadline, according to Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE).

A new game-changing chapter for the Romanian energy sector

An incredible milestone was achieved by OMV Petrom and Romgaz when they reached the final investment decision for the Neptun Deep Project and when its execution phase began in August.

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“With the final investment decision for the Neptun Deep project, we are opening a new game-changing chapter for the Romanian energy sector,” said Christina Verchere, CEO of OMV Petrom. “The estimated natural gas production is equivalent to around 30 times the current annual demand of approximately 4,300,000 households. It is also a major step forward for our Strategy 2030 that aims at supporting the energy transition in Romania and in the region”.

The Neptun Deep gas field in the Black Sea will contribute to the energy security of Romania and the region and is estimated to boost state budget revenues by approximately 20 billion euros.

Great news for consumers: the provisional agreement to reform the EU’s electricity market design

On the power side, what has been one of the biggest stories of the year, almost came to an end in December, after the European Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement to reform the EU’s electricity market design (EMD), to make electricity prices less dependent on volatile fossil fuel prices, shield consumers from price spikes, accelerate the deployment of renewable energies and improve consumer protection.

“Great news for our consumers,” as defined by Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy. “With renewables playing an increasing part in the EU’s energy mix, it is about time that our citizens and businesses start reaping the benefits of the clean energy transition on their bills. A future-proof electricity market design is a key asset in triggering investments in clean power production and flexibility, supporting our efforts to reach a climate-neutral energy system while ensuring prosperity.”

The era of “global boiling”

This year also proved that the era of “global boiling” has arrived, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared: “Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning.”

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According to the report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the challenges associated with global warming have become “even greater” due to a continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions – with “insufficient” pace and scale of the current and planned measures to tackle climate change.

Also, CEE leaders expressed their concerns and called for an acceleration of the energy transition and emissions reduction, while addressing the UN General Assembly earlier in September. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s Prime Minister said that despite the summer of 2023 being the hottest on record, States continue to talk, rather than act, on tackling the main drivers of regular migration or implementing existing transnational agreements. Also, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, called for an acceleration of the just energy transition and emissions reduction, underlining the opportunities brought forth by digitalisation, innovation and new technologies. Slovakia’s president Zuzana Čaputová highlighted that the challenges the world faces today have one common denominator: they are caused by humans. As the emissions still exceed the targets set by the Paris Agreement, the worst-case scenario is avertable. To this end, global emissions must peak before 2030.

Indeed a major milestone was achieved at COP28, which took place this year in Dubai, where it was agreed, among other things, to triple renewable energy capacity globally and double the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030; accelerate efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power; accelerate efforts globally towards net zero emission energy systems, utilising zero- and low-carbon fuels well before or by around mid-century; transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science; phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible.

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