Energy is one of a nation’s most vital prerequisites for its economic and social development.
A country that lacks adequate energy resources, or the technology and the equipment to transform its resources into energy in a timely manner, inevitably lacks economic and national security.
Turkey has been dominantly using fossil fuels totaling to 85% in her energy mix. However, except lignite which has a very low calorific value, high ash and sulfur content as well as high moisture, Turkey is almost totally import-dependent for natural gas, oil and hard coal. This practice does not only upset out the ecological system, it also wreaks havoc on our economy. The ecological and economic burden of this policy may subside as the country switches over to using a more renewable energy mix together reinforced with a rational demand side management. Increasing Turkey’s energy efficiency will lead to a significant drop in our primary energy consumption. In other words, it is possible to achieve the same economic growth by using less energy (by reducing our energy intensity). According to reports by the Chamber of Mechanical Engineers, our potential for energy savings is 50% for buildings, 20% for industrial use and 15% for transportation. Focusing on reduction of energy efficiency, next to energy savings, also means additional employment potential.
In order to have a better idea of the role Turkey’s energy imports play in our current account deficit; it is worth to note that our energy imports in 2019 totaled 41.18 billion dollars. When you consider our total imports for the year, which was 202.7 billion dollars, we realize that energy costs occupy 20,3% of the total imports bill. And as markets fluctuate and the price of oil, natural gas and coal goes up, alongside USD-TRY exchange rate, this bill will only increase further. Simply put, this situation is not sustainable.
Despite these pessimistic figures, on the full part of the bottle, there exists a very significant potential of renewables in the country while those sources are almost fully under-utilised. The claims that Turkey does not have adequate natural energy resources are unfounded. To the contrary, the country has more than enough solar and wind renewable energy potential as well as significant potential of geothermal energy.
Installed Capacity versus Peak Demand: A growing Idle Capacity
Turkey’s total installed capacity of the licensed power plants already exceeded 85 thousand MW at the end of 2017 while it increased to 91.267 MW at the end of 2019. 28,4% of this total installed capacity is natural gas-fired plants while 9,8% are (imported) hard coal-fired plants at the end of 2019. The plants which are operating by imported fuels are supplying almost 39% of Turkey’s electricity generation.
A significant portion of these plants are operating under low capacity thanks to lack of proper policy planning, which is yet another problem the industry is facing. Current installed capacity is way over our peak demand and the difference between the two keeps growing.
The Chamber of Mechanical Engineers (Orhan Aytaç) who has prepared the diagram above stated the 2019 reliable generating capacity as 398.7 billion kWh and the ratio of actual generation to reliable generation capacity to be at 76%. The increase in demand for electricity was below expectations causing a large gap with the reliable generating capacity of our current power plants. Despite a 4% increase in the installed capacity in 2019 (compared to 2018) the generation almost stayed at same levels and the capacity utilization rate further decreased.
To summarize this significant divergence, let’s refer to TEİAŞ (Turkish Electricity Transmission Company (temporary) 2019 figures:
- Installed Capacity: 91.267 MW (end of 2019)
- Total Electricity Generation: 304.252 GWh (304 billion kWh)
- 2019 Nameplate (Project) Generation Capacity: 474.424 MW
- The Ratio of Actual Electricity Generation to Nameplate Generation Capacity: 64%
- 2019 Reliable Generation Capacity: 398.708 MW
- The Ratio of Actual Electricity Generation to Reliable Generation Capacity: 76% (*)
(*) Calculated by Chamber of Mechanical Engineers (O. Aytaç)
This translates to a significant idle capacity in Turkey’s electricity generation infrastructure. Such a display, can hardly be defended by excuses such as maintenance and/or seasonal fluctuations of peak demand. Furthermore the Ministry insists on constructing 3 nuclear power plants and additional new power plants which are heavily dependent on imported sources. Accordingly, the prudent thing to do is to steer away from unnecessary and wasteful investments and to focus on plans to enhance the contribution of our existing plants through a rational and renewed electricity generating policy approach. Such efforts should be supports by a policy with concrete targets to significantly increase the share of renewables and decreasing the energy intensity. Our current installed capacity as well as our reliable generation capacity has a very significant safety margin against our peak demand for the coming years.
Another energy security risk: Over-Dependency to Limited Suppliers
Another risk in our energy dependency debacle is the Russian Federation’s overwhelming share in it. Depending on a single or a group of countries for any country’s energy needs is a security risk in itself, but Turkey’s situation is slightly more perilous since it is a NATO country while in dire need of Russian oil, gas and coal resources. Our dependency for Russia in natural gas has somewhat came down to 48% in recent years thanks to TANAP (via Azerbaijan) pipeline and our cash LNG purchases exceeding 10% of the total. However a 48% dependency is still a very high figure. Our dependency to Russia is significant in crude oil and petroleum products as well. Our crude oil and product purchases from Russia in 2018 was 25.2% of our total, but with the impact of the US embargo on Iran, it has shot up to 46.36% in November of 2019. Our crude oil imports from Iran has been declining steadily since 2019 and is currently close to zero
Our dependency on Russia does not end there. Russia’s share in our coal imports is at a commanding 40%. But the real danger will be the Akkuyu NPP, if it ever comes to be, where Russia will have absolute control over its construction, operation, uranium and nuclear waste management processes. This is just a footnote in the potential dangers of nuclear energy. It is also important to note that the location of Akkuyu NPP creates a triangle shape along with Russia’s military bases in Syria, Latakia and Tartus. As Turkey stands squeezed between Russia and the US in Syria, the additional burden of Akkuyu NPP with its economic burden and environmental uncertainties with regards to transportation and waste management will only add to current risks. In order for this risk to subside, we must work on a comprehensive foreign policy that goes along our energy policy.
Energy and Sustainability, or Sustainable Energy Policies
“Sustainability” is a term that has been gaining popularity in recent years. According to UN’s Bruntland Commission’s 1987 report, sustainability means “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Full sustainability will only be achieved when everyone, everywhere can fulfill their needs indefinitely.
This description if applied to energy thus means, using energy resources responsibly so that upcoming generations may also fulfill their energy needs. Sustainable energy means using clean and renewable energy resources instead of non-renewable ones. It means energy produced from resources that cannot be utilized.
Among these resources are wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, hydroelectricity, waves, tides, etc. Another way to achieve sustainability is by increasing energy efficiency. Turkey has more than enough potential to realize all these policies.
The Chamber of Mechanical Engineers report on their January 2018 presentation details our unused renewable energy potential as follows:
If we could operate the existing power plants in full capacity, we could increase Turkey’s generating capacity between 95 – 145 billion kWh (Orhan Aytaç, Member of the Energy Policies Working Group of the Chamber of Mechanical Engineers).
If Turkey could use its idle renewables capacity for electricity generation, this would further increase the generation capacity approximately by 610 billion kWh which is more than twice the current electricity consumption. Increasing energy efficiency in all sectors will further contribute a 25% to these figures.
It is imperative that we start using this idle capacity, not for only our sake, but also for the sake of future generations. When we increase the share of renewables in our energy mix, we support our ecosystem, we stand against climate change and global warming, we decrease our energy dependency and we increase employment, among other advantages. Claims that “Sun does not shine for 24 hours, that winds are whimsical and the energy we generate from them are not storable”, have all been debunked thanks to recent technological developments.
Electricity is stored in a variety of ways and certain generation methods are activated under certain conditions only. Costs for wind and solar plants are now capable to compete with those of power plants with conventional sources. Hence, efforts to discredit renewables via unsubstantiated claims and hoaxes are nothing but a waste of valuable time.
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) proposes that the share of renewables in the world’s energy complex may double in size and the capacity to store electricity may triple by 2030. It further says that battery capacity to store electricity may increase by 17-fold while the cost of storage decreases by as high as 66%. All that stands between us and a better energy future is the strength and determination to explore and be open to new ideas and practices.
While concluding, it is noteworthy to repeat what we should understand from sustainability and sustainable energy policy. “According to the United Nations (the UN’s Brundtland Commission popularized the term in 1987), sustainability is defined as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ True sustainability is when everyone, everywhere can meet their basic needs forever.
Using the above definition for sustainability, sustainable energy is energy that meets the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable energy is about finding clean, renewable sources of energy—sources that renew themselves, rather than sources that can be depleted.”
As Nietzsche once said, “Do I advise you to love thy neighbor? I suggest rather to escape from thy neighbor and to love those who are the farthest away from you. Higher than the love for thy neighbor is the love for the man who is distant and has still to come.”