ANKARA: Following a decision by Iran to cut gas flows to Turkey last week, Ankara began ordering gas-fuelled power plants to decrease their gas use by 40 percent as of Monday.
The sudden move emphasized the need to diversify energy suppliers for the country. Households, schools and hospitals are, for now, exempt from the measures.
Iran’s natural gas consumption recently hit a record high at about 692 million cubic meters per day in households, commercial and smaller industries mainly because of harsh winter conditions, but the country cited a gas leak in a Turkish station for the disruption of exports to Turkey for up to 10 days.
Turkey is no exception to the record highs of daily gas consumption, which reached around 288 million cubic meters on Jan. 19.
Turkey is almost fully dependent on imported gas from Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia, while Iran alone provided about 16 percent of the country’s natural gas needs last year.
The decision worried several industrial representatives, as it did not discriminate between sectors with cold storage rooms or furnaces.
“Such a gas cut means greater financial loss for some key sectors such as glass, medicine and ceramic factories as well as those producing meat and dairy products,” Mehmet Ogutcu, a former diplomat and currently the president of London Energy Club, told Arab News.
The sectors that use the most electricity, namely the iron and steel sector, and the clothing industry, are expected to record high losses and will face disruption in export commitments.
“The production could be at risk if the interruption continues to grow in the coming days,” Ogutcu said.
“It will damage the economy and industrial production especially at a time when exports and production were accelerating.”
Companies in industrial zones were notified of the three-day restriction on Friday and will be allowed to use gas only on allotted days.
The prospect of electricity cuts to industrial sites is also on the horizon, and might affect households as well, although gas prices have become discouraging for citizens, as they increased by 25 percent for residential use and 50 percent for industrial use in January.
Turkey’s domestic gas consumption rate increased from 48 billion cubic meters to 60 billion in a year, while there are some 18 million natural gas subscribers across the country.
“I have repeatedly warned about a potential outage for the last six months. It also happened in the European countries,” Ogutcu said.
“Turkey should have taken necessary measures beforehand when the first signs appeared.”
According to Ogutcu, Turkey either had to decrease gas demands and simultaneously develop plans to increase energy efficiency, or develop alternative energy resources like liquefied natural gas.
Turkey imports LNG from the US, Morocco, Qatar and Nigeria, but it still remains much more expensive than natural gas imports for Ankara.
About a third of Turkey’s natural gas needs are currently met through LNG deliveries.
“There are ongoing projects in the Black Sea for gas discoveries with some drilling testing. But it will take at least seven or eight years to reap the benefits of that project,” Ogutcu said.
Turkey’s 405 billion cubic meter gas discoveries in the Black Sea were accepted as the largest offshore gas discovery in the world in 2020.
Similar gas supply cuts have happened in the past, but did not result in power outages in the industrial sector on such a great scale.
Experts emphasized the need to learn lessons from this latest crisis and to design alternative energy sources.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently announced that Turkey is still interested in transporting Israeli gas to Europe — a potential step to diversify much-needed gas sources.
Last week, a blast in the southeastern province of Maras resulted in another disruption in the flow of crude oil through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline.
“In the past decade, Turkey has succeeded in further diversifying its energy sources with more energy suppliers, the growing use of LNG and renewables,” Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News.
“The first unit in the Rosatom-built nuclear power plant in Akkuyu is expected to be operational in 2023 and Turkey has discovered gas reserves in the Black sea that will be another future source of energy.”
According to Lindenstrauss, the problem today is less related to the issue of diversification and more to the sharp devaluation of the Turkish lira alongside rising energy prices, which translates into difficulties for the purchase of LNG.
“Obviously, Turkey would also benefit if it were able to sign contracts to import gas, or be a transit route for gas, from the Eastern Mediterranean, but this has not been possible until today mainly because of political reasons,” she said.
Even in the unlikely scenario that neighboring states overcome the hurdles between them, Lindenstrauss thinks that it is still only part of the solution to Turkey’s growing energy needs, and short-term energy shortage problems from time to time will be a recurring problem.
This year, Turkey’s natural gas storage capacity has reached 3.8 billion cubic meters.