Tag: Nord stream

What does the Gas Crisis Reveal About European Energy Security?

20220124 Gas Crisis European Energy Image 01

The recent record-high gas prices have triggered legitimate concerns regarding the EU’s energy security, especially with dependence on natural gas from Russia. This brief discusses the historical and current risks associated with Russian gas imports. We argue that decreasing the reliance on Russian gas may not be feasible in the short-to-mid-run, especially with the EU’s goals of green transition and the electrification of the economy. To ensure the security of natural gas supply from Russia, the EU has to adopt the (long-proclaimed) coordinated energy policy strategy.

In the last six months, Europe has been hit by a natural gas crisis with a severe surge in prices. Politicians, industry representatives, and end-energy users voiced their discontent after a more than seven-fold price increase between May and December 2021 (see Figure 1). Even if gas prices somewhat stabilized this month (partly due to unusually warm weather), today, gas is four times as expensive as it was a year ago. This has already translated into an increase in electricity prices, and as a result, is also likely to have dramatic consequences for the cost and price of manufacturing goods.

Figure 1. Evolution of EU gas prices since Oct 2020.

Source:  https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/eu-natural-gas.

These ever-high gas prices have triggered legitimate concerns regarding the security of gas supply to Europe, specifically, driven by the dependency on Russian gas imports. Around 90% of EU natural gas is imported from outside the EU, and Russia is the largest supplier. In 2020, Russia provided nearly 44% of all EU gas imports, more than twice the second-largest supplier, Norway (19.9%, see Eurostat). The concern about Russian gas dependency was exacerbated by the new underwater gas route project connecting Russia and the EU – Nord Stream 2. The opponents to this new route argued that it will not only increase the EU’s gas dependency but also Russia’s political influence in the EU and its bargaining power against Ukraine (see, e.g., FT). Former President of the European Council Donald Tusk stated that “from the perspective of EU interests, Nord Stream 2 is a bad project.”.

However, neither dependency nor controversial gas route projects are a new phenomenon, and the EU has implemented some measures to tackle these issues in the past. This brief looks at the current security of Russian gas supply through the lens of these historical developments. We provide a snapshot of the risks associated with Russian gas imports faced by the EU a decade ago. We then discuss whether different factors affecting the EU gas supply security have changed since (and to which extent it may have contributed to the current situation) and if decreasing dependence on Russian gas is feasible and cost-effective. We conclude by addressing the policy implications.

Security of Russian Gas Supply to the EU, an Old Problem Difficult to Tackle

Russia has been the main gas provider to the EU for a few decades, and for a while, this dependency has triggered concerns about gas supply security (see, e.g., Stern, 2002 or Lewis, New York Times, 1982). However, the problem with the security of Russian gas supplies was extending beyond the dependency on Russian gas per se. It was driven by a range of risk factors such as insufficient diversification of gas suppliers, low fungibility of natural gas supplies with a prevalence of pipeline gas delivery, or use of gas exports/transit as means to solve geopolitical problems.

This last point became especially prominent in the mid-to-late-2000s, during the “gas wars” between Russia and the gas transit countries Ukraine and Belarus. These wars led to shortages and even a complete halt of Russian gas delivery to some EU countries, showing how weak the security of the Russian gas supply to the EU was at that time.

Reacting to these “gas wars”, the EU attempted to tackle the issue with a revival of the “common energy policy” based on the “solidarity” and “speaking in one voice” principles. The EU wanted to adopt a “coherent approach in the energy relations with third countries and an internal coordination so that the EU and its Member States act together” (see, e.g., EC, 2011). However, this idea turned out to be challenging to implement, primarily because of one crucial contributor to the problem with the security of Russian gas supply – the sizable disbalance in Russian gas supply risk among the individual EU Member States.

Indeed, EU Member States had a different share of natural gas in their total energy consumption, highly uneven diversification of gas suppliers, and varying exposure to Russian gas. Several Eastern-European EU states (such as Bulgaria, Estonia, or Czech Republic) were importing their gas almost entirely from Russia; other EU Member States (such as Germany, Italy, or Belgium) had a diversified gas import portfolio; and a few EU states (e.g., Spain or Portugal) were not consuming any Russian gas at all. Russian natural gas was delivered via several routes (see Figure 2), and member states were using different transit routes and facing different transit-associated risks. These differences naturally led to misalignment of energy policy preferences across EU states, creating policy tensions and making it difficult to implement a common energy policy with “speaking in one voice” (see more on this issue in Le Coq and Paltseva, 2009 and 2012).

Figure 2. Gas pipeline in Europe.

Source: S&G Platt. https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/blogs/natural-gas/010720-so-close-nord-stream-2-gas-link-completion-trips-at-last-hurdle

The introduction of Nord Stream 1 in 2011 is an excellent example of the problem’s complexity. This new gas transit route from Russia increased the reliability of Russian gas supply for EU countries connected to this route (like Germany or France), as they were able to better diversify the transit of their imports from Russia and be less exposed to transit risks. The “Nord Stream” countries (i.e., countries connected to this route) were then willing to push politically and economically for this new project. Le Coq and Paltseva (2012) show, however, that countries unconnected to this new route while simultaneously sharing existing, “older” routes with “Nord Stream” countries would experience a decrease in their gas supply security. The reason for this is that the “directly connected” countries would now be less interested in exerting “common” political pressure to secure gas supplies along the “old” routes.

This is not to say that the EU did not learn from the above lessons. While the “speaking in one voice” energy policy initiative was not entirely successful, the EU has implemented a range of actions to cope with the risks of the security of gas supply from Russia. The next section explains how the situation is has changed since, outlining both the progress made by the EU and the newly arising risk factors.

Security of Russian Gas Supply to the EU, a Current Problem Partially Addressed

Since the end of the 2000s, the EU implemented a few changes that have positively affected the security of gas supply from Russia.

First, the EU put a significant effort into developing the internal gas market, altering both the physical infrastructure and the gas market organization. The EU updated and extended the internal gas network and introduced the wide-scale possibility of utilizing reverse flow, effectively allowing gas pipelines to be bi- rather than uni-directional. These actions improved the gas interconnections between the EU states (and other countries), thereby making potential disruptions along a particular gas transit route less damaging and diminishing the asymmetry of exposure to route-specific gas transit risks among the EU members. Ukraine’s gas import situation is a good illustration of the effect of reverse flow. Ukraine does not directly import Russian gas since 2016, mainly from Slovakia (64%), Hungary (26%), and Poland (10%) (see https://www.enerdata.net/publications/daily-energy-news/ukraine-launches-virtual-gas-reverse-flow-slovakia.html). The transformation of the gas market organization brought about the implementation of a natural gas hub in Europe and change in the mechanism of gas price formation. It is now possible to buy and sell natural gas via long-term contracts and on the spot market. With the gas market becoming more liquid, it became easier to prevent the gas supply disruption threat.

Second, Europe has made certain progress in diversifying its gas exports. According to Komlev (2021), the concentration of EU gas imports from outside of the EU (excluding Norway), as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschman index, has decreased by around 25% between 2016 and 2020. While the imports are still highly concentrated, with the HHI equal to 3120 in 2020, this is a significant achievement. A large part of this diversification effort is the dramatic increase in the share of liquified natural gas (i.e., LNG) in its gas imports – in 2020, a fair quarter of the EU gas imports came in the form of LNG. An expanded capacity for LNG liquefaction and better fungibility of LNG would facilitate backup opportunities in the case of Russian gas supply risks and improve the diversification of the EU gas imports, thereby increasing the security of natural gas supply.

However, the above developments also have certain disadvantages, which became especially prominent during the ongoing gas crisis. For example, the fungibility of LNG has a reverse side: LNG supplies respond to variations in gas market prices across the world. This change has intensified the competition on the demand side – Europe and Asia might now compete for the same LNG. This is likely to make a secure supply of LNG – e.g., as a backup in the case of a gas supply default or as a diversification device – a costly option.

In turn, new mechanisms of gas price formation in Europe included decoupling the oil and gas prices and changing the format of long-term gas contracts. The percentage of oil-linked contracts in gas imports to the EU dropped from 47% in 2016 to 26% in 2020. In particular, 87% of Gazprom’s long-term contracts in 2020 were linked to spot and forward gas prices and only around 13% to oil prices (Komlev, 2021). This gas-on-gas linking may have contributed to the current gas crisis: Indeed, it undermined the economic incentives of Gazprom to supply more gas to the EU spot market in the current high-price market. Shipping more gas would lower spot prices and prices of hub-linked longer-term contracts for Gazprom. In that sense, the ongoing decline in Russian gas supplies to the EU may reflect not (only) geopolitical considerations but economic optimization.

Similarly, this new mechanism also finds reflection in the ongoing situation with the EU gas storage. The current EU storage capacity is 117 bcm, or almost 20% of its yearly consumption, and thus, can in principle be effective in managing the short-term volume and price shocks. However, the current gas crisis has shown that this option might be far from sufficient in the case of a gas shortage (see, e.g., Zachmann et al., 2021).  One of the reasons for this insufficiency can be Gazprom controlling a sizable share of this storage capacity (see https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-9-2021-004781_EN.html). For example, Gazprom owns (directly and indirectly) almost one-third of all gas storage in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.  Combining this storage market position with a long-term gas contract structure may also lead to strategic behavior for economic (on top of potential political) purposes.

Last but not least, the EU gas market is likely to be characterized by increased demand due to the green transition agenda (see Olofsgård and Strömberg, 2022). Being the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel, natural gas has an important role in facilitating green transition and increasing the electrification of the economy. For example, Le Coq et al. (2018) argues that gas capacity should be around 3 to 4 times the current capacity by 2050 for full electrification of transport and heating in France, Germany, or the Netherlands. In such circumstances, the EU is not likely to have the luxury to diminish reliance on Russian gas.

Conclusions and Policy Implications

Keeping the above discussion in mind, should the EU try to diminish its dependence on Russian gas to improve its energy security? This may be true in theory, but in practice, this might be too costly, at least in the short-to-medium run.

The current situation on the EU gas market suggests that simply cutting gas imports from Russia is likely to lead to high prices both in the energy sector and, later, in other sectors of the economy due to spillovers. Substituting gas imports from Russia with gas from other sources, such as LNG, is likely to be very costly and not necessarily very reliable. Alternative measures, e.g., improving interconnections between the EU Member States or controlling transit issues via the use of reverse flow technology, are effective but have limited impact. Simply cutting down gas demand is not a viable strategy. Indeed, with the EU pushing for a green transition and the electrification of the economy, the EU’s gas imports may have to increase. Russian gas may play an important role in this process.

As a result, we believe that the solution to keep the security issue of Russian gas supply at bay lies in the area of common energy policy. It is essential that the EU implements and effectively manages a coordinated approach in dealing with Russian gas supplies. The EU is the largest buyer of Russian gas, and given Russian dependency on hydrocarbon exports, such a synchronized approach would give the EU the possibility to exploit its “large buyer” power. While the asymmetry in exposure to Russian gas supply risks among the EU Member States is still sizable, the improvements in the functioning of the internal gas market and gas transportation within the EU make their preferences more aligned, and a common policy vector more feasible. Furthermore, recent EU initiatives on creating “strategic gas reserves” by making the Member States share their gas storage with one another would further facilitate such coordination. Implementing the “speaking in one voice” gas import policy will allow the EU to fully utilize its bargaining power vis-à-vis Gazprom and spread the benefits of new gas routes from Russia – such as Nord Stream 2 – across its Member States.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Multidimensional Approach to the Energy Security Analysis of Belarus – Part 2: Economic and Geopolitical Trends

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Author: Mykhaylo Salnykov, BEROC

Energy security is a complex phenomenon incorporating a variety of economic, social and environmental aspects of a country’s life. Building on a previous FREE policy brief, published on September 5, which dealt mainly with the situation up until today, this text deals more with the future. It takes a detailed look at existing trends and discusses potential positive effects and challenges to energy security in Belarus. It also provides potential measures for addressing adverse effects of these trends on the country’s energy security.

When evaluating energy security consequences of external and internal factors, a decision maker is advised to view energy security as a complex phenomenon. The main components of Belarusian energy security identified in the first part of this paper published in the FREE Policy Brief Series September 5, 2011, include (i) primary energy source distribution (diversification of energy sources, especially away from natural gas as well as reducing the economy’s energy intensity), (ii) international trade considerations, (iii) the geopolitical context (with a special focus on diversification of energy suppliers and an optimal use of the country’s gas- and oil- transporting systems), and (iv) environmental considerations of the energy use (related to both actual and the perceived impact of the energy production and consumption on the environment).

Other dimensions of energy security also include the social impact of energy production and consumption, as well as the sustainability of energy use.

Below, I provide a detailed look at these and other existing trends. Potential positive effects and challenges in the context of energy security of Belarus will also be discussed. Finally, potential measures of addressing adverse effects of these trends on the country’s energy security will be suggested.

Main Energy Security Challenges for Belarus in 2011-2020

The following components of the energy security of Belarus are considered to be of primary importance:

  • Reducing energy intensity of the economy;
  • Diversification of energy sources used in heat and power generation, especially diversification away from natural gas consumption;
  • Diversification away from Russian fuel imports;
  • Securing stable operation of gas and oil pipeline systems close to full capacity;
  • Reducing impact of energy production and consumption on the environment.

The main trends in Belarusian and regional policy and economy, as well as their impacts on the aforementioned components of energy security are the following:

  • Natural shale gas and liquefied natural gas revolution in Europe;
  • Launch of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system in 2011-2012;
  • Construction of nuclear power plant station in Astravets;
  • New suppliers of hydrocarbons to Belarus.

I will purposefully not discuss important topics as carbon-free technologies development in Belarus, participation in the international carbon-reduction dialog, etc., since these trends are unlikely to become anything close to significant determinants of the Belarusian energy security puzzle within the next decade.

Natural Shale Gas and LNG Revolution in Europe

Recent developments in the technology of natural shale gas extraction in Europe and elsewhere, bring a lucrative prospect of boosting the world’s natural gas supply. Several of the European countries, including Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine and United Kingdom have announced plans to study fields with shale gas extraction potential. This could secure European gas supplies, drive gas prices in Europe down, and diversify European imports away from Russian natural gas. The natural shale gas extraction development factor will be further reinforced by the increased volumes of the LNG imports to Europe from the Americas and Northern Africa.

Contraction of gas prices in the European market will positively affect Belarusian economy as natural gas imports from Russia will become less expensive even if no active steps by the Belarusian government are undertaken. Nevertheless, the natural shale gas and LNG revolution will also widen the body of potential importers of natural gas via pipelines from Poland and Ukraine and by sea freight from seaports in the Baltic States. Specifically, in the summer of 2010, the Belarusian government announced having plans of negotiating a possible construction of a Belarusian LNG terminal in Lithuanian Klaipeda. This terminal is projected to have an annual capacity of five to eight billion cubic meters of natural gas which would be transported to Belarus via the pipeline system.

The shortcoming of the lower prices for natural gas and diversified body of importers in Europe is a reduced demand for Belarusian natural gas transit capacity as Russian exports to Europe contract. Moreover, potential transportation of shale gas from Poland via the pipeline system (see Figure 1) is likely to conflict with the Russian gas transit going into the opposite direction. From an economic perspective, it is very likely that benefits for Belarus obtained from lower gas prices will overweight potential losses from the reduced transit of Russian natural gas to Europe.

Figure 1. Natural gas and oil pipeline systems in Eastern Europe.

Source: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/Russia/images/fsu_energymap.pdf

From a political perspective, Belarus losing its role as a transit country would substantially weaken its position in foreign relations with both Russia and Europe.

A possible side effect of the lower prices for natural gas is reduced incentives for the Belarusian government to reform power and heat generating sector and contract the energy intensity of the economy. While the former outcome may be economically justified by lower gas prices and diversified sources of natural gas in the new economic environment, the latter raises serious concerns over the pace of economic modernization in the country.

On the other hand, the environmental impact is mixed. While lower incentive to modernize the economy could result in a slower progress of lowering the pollution intensity in energy use, increased incentives to use natural gas, one of the environmentally friendliest hydrocarbons, would play a positive role in ensuring that the intensity of pollution reduces.

Launch of the Nord Stream Pipeline System

Dubbed by the Belarusian President, Aliaksandr Lukashenka “the silliest Russian project ever”, the Nord Stream pipeline system will allow Russia to redirect 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas (nearly 33% of the current Russian gas exports) via this more direct route to the final consumers. Thus, if European demand for Russian gas stays unchanged, the gas transit through Belarus and Ukraine will drop to nearly 100 billion cubic meters from the current 158 billion cubic meters. The 100 billion cubic meters figure is close to the capacity of the Ukrainian gas pipeline system alone. Therefore, one may hypothesize that in the worst case scenario Belarus may suffer a complete loss of its gas transit revenues.

In fact, even optimistic scenarios of the distribution of the residual transit demand between Ukrainian and Belarusian pipeline systems, imply both a substantial reduction of volumes transferred via Belarusian pipeline system, and a decline in transit tariffs triggered by strong price competition between Belarus and Ukraine. As a result, profits from the gas pipeline system in Belarus are likely to diminish.

This negative outcome is reinforced by the above mentioned trends of increased extraction of natural shale gas in Europe as well as prospective development of the LNG trading routes with Northern Africa and Americas. A conservative estimation of the reduction of European demand for Russian natural gas indicates that it can be reduced by 28 billion cubic meters (17% of the current Russian imports). Coupled with the launch of the Nord Stream, the decline of transit volumes through Belarus and Ukraine can be nearly 75 billion cubic meters annually, which is more than a 50% reduction from current levels.

Notably, these 28 billion cubic meters is an equivalent of the natural gas consumption by Poland and Hungary alone, the European countries currently most dependent on Russian gas imports.

Thus, the launch of the Nord Stream presents a substantial threat to the stable operation of the Belarusian gas pipeline system and requires careful policy steps (which will be discussed further ahead).

The fact that Belarus loses an important lever of its transit capacity may lead to lower negotiation power in fuel prices dialog with Russia, thus, leading to the smaller subsidies for the Russian oil and gas imports. However, a reduction of the world gas prices due to the growing European production of natural gas and LNG trade is likely to at least partly offset this effect.

Reduced profits received from the natural gas transit is likely to lead to a decrease of budget funds available for technological modernization of the Belarusian economy, which, in turn, may lead to an inadequate pace of changes in energy efficiency and pollution intensity of energy use as well as slower modernization of the power and heat generating sector and diversification away from the natural gas use.

On the other hand, the launch of the Nord Stream and reduced negotiation power towards Russia could increase incentives for Belarus to diversify away from Russian fuel imports as subsidies for the Russian oil and gas imports will contract.

Construction of Astravets Nuclear Power Plant

Although the launch of the Astravets nuclear power plant is unlikely to happen before 2017-2018, debates around this controversial project and its rationale requires a discussion of its energy security implications long before the plant is constructed.

The projected two-reactor nuclear power plant has an operating capacity of 2.4 GW. Unadjusted for load fluctuations in demand, this figure is an equivalent of 63.5% of the electricity consumption in Belarus. A rough seasonally unadjusted estimate of the Astravets nuclear power plant electricity production is a 35-40% of the daily peak load electricity consumption in the country – a usual figure for the baseload demand figure. Therefore, it is expected that once in full operation, Astravets plant could provide for the entire baseload demand on electricity in Belarus.

Some opponents of the Astravets plant construction note that the plant’s capacity may be excessive as several other nuclear power plants are being constructed in the region, including a plant in Lithuania and Russia’s Kaliningrad oblast. It is suggested that it may be optimal for Belarus to purchase electricity from these plants rather than constructing its own. This view, however, does not take into consideration two important issues. Firstly, it is highly unlikely that anything but the excess baseload electricity production will be traded (i.e. limited volumes of energy at night for approximately 5 to 6 hours per day); at all other time Belarus would need to rely entirely on its thermal power plants to generate electricity. Secondly, shifting from the dependence on hydrocarbon imports to the dependence on electricity imports will not cause a substantial improvement of the country’s energy security.

Current production of electricity by fossil fuel operated power plants in Belarus is an equivalent of 18 TWh, 55% of the total electricity consumption in the country. A launch of the Astravets nuclear power plant would allow reducing fossil fuel operated power plants’ utilization to virtually zero level. In addition, nearly 15% of the combined heat and power plants may operate as heat plants only.

Yet, it is unlikely to lead to the substantial changes in the usage of the existing heat plants: while nuclear power plants can provide heat, Astravets is located far from densely populated regions of Belarus, which makes heat delivery to the final consumer close to impossible because of the high losses in transfer.

As a result of decreased utilization of power plants and CHP plants, demand for natural gas from the heat and power generating sector will be reduced by 38%. Thus, the share of natural gas in the sector’s consumption balance will shrink to nearly 50% from the current 91% figure. The Astravets plant launch will also lead to nearly 25% reduction of the sector’s demand for petroleum products.

Therefore, the economy-wide TPES of natural gas is likely to contract by 28.5% and TPES of crude oil and petroleum products by nearly 2% once the Astravets plant is in full operation. The estimated annual benefit from the reduced imports of hydrocarbons is likely to reach USD 1 billion at current fuel prices.

Overall, Astravets power plant launch is expected to have strongly positive effect on diversification of energy sources in heat and power generating sector as nuclear power will gain the second largest share among the energy sources used in the sector and the natural share will reduce to nearly 50% of the total consumption by the sector. The plant construction is also likely to have a positive effect on the energy intensity by reducing losses from the power generating sectors and by closure of obsolete plants.

Moreover, the effect on diversifying fuel imports away from Russia is two-fold. Although Belarus will be able to reduce its Russian gas imports by almost a third of its current level, nuclear fuel for the Astravets station is likely to be imported from Russia. Nevertheless, given positive shifts in Belarusian regime’s relations with the West, it is highly likely that by the time of the power plant launch, the current suspicion of the Belarusian government by the international community will have vanished and alternative importers of uranium would then become an option.

Overall, the Astravets plant will have very limited impact on Belarus’ role as a transit corridor for Russian hydrocarbons.

Environmental consideration is probably the most controversial issue with respect to the projected plant. The issue becomes even more uncertain when one takes into account not only objective environmental costs and benefits, but also subjective factors, such as suspicion of Belarusians to nuclear power – a legacy of the Chernobyl accident.

A nuclear power plant will undoubtedly lead to a reduction of pollution intensity in the Belarusian economy. Yet, there are a number of factors that may offset the seeming gains. Firstly, a low probability of technological disaster at the power plant, mean that most Belarusians consider the plant as an environmentally but dangerous project for the country. Secondly, Lithuanian environmentalists have expressed their concerns over the proximity of the projected plant to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius (only 40 km), especially as the Neris (Viliya) river that flows through Vilnius will be the main water source for the Astravets plant. Thirdly, international environmental experts rarely consider nuclear power plants considerably greener than their fossil fuel operated counterparts as uranium extraction and enriching produces substantial amounts of polluting substances at their fuel producing facilities. Finally, spent nuclear fuel treatment still remains one of the issues without a sustainable technological solution. Belarus is likely to export its nuclear waste to either Russia or Ukraine that have spent nuclear fuel storage facilities.

Therefore, from an environmental perspective, while Belarus will enjoy most of the benefits of the cleaner power generation, it is likely to create substantial trans-boundary environmental risks mostly for Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine.

New suppliers of hydrocarbons

Belarus currently attempts to diversify its oil supply by shipping Venezuelan crude to Black Sea and Baltic Sea ports. In addition, there exists a sound potential of diversifying Belarusian natural gas imports by gaining access to Ukrainian and Polish natural shale gas deposits as well as through constructing an LNG terminal at the Baltic Sea.

While the perspectives of these recent international advancements are not certain, in the case of sustainable progress they are likely to have important implications for the energy security of Belarus, which are closely interrelated to the implications of the shale gas and LNG revolution.

Emergence of new suppliers of hydrocarbons will have a positive impact on diversifying away from Russian fuel imports, but will also reduce incentives for the energy intensity and pollution intensity reduction as well as the modernization of the heat and power generating sector as economic stimuli for technological modernization fade away.

Diversification of hydrocarbon suppliers presents risks for the usage of Belarusian gas and oil pipeline systems. If oil would be transported from either Black Sea or Baltic Sea ports, this oil would compete with the Russian oil transport routes headed into the opposite direction to either Ukrainian Odesa seaport or Baltic refineries (see Figure 1). Pipeline transportation of shale gas from Poland would compete with Russian natural gas going in the opposite direction. At the same time, reduced revenues from transit of Russian hydrocarbons may be overweighed by benefits incurred from lower prices for hydrocarbons from the alternative sources.

Table 1 provides a summary of the reviewed trends and their impact on the energy security challenges faced by Belarus.

Table 1. Summary of the existing trends and their impact on energy security of Belarus

Policy recommendations

Table 1 suggests that the most of the vital energy security components will experience both positive and negative shocks in the nearest future. Nevertheless, it is possible to undertake a number of policy measures to enhance positive effects and secure against risks.

Reducing energy intensity of economy

All possible negative effects on the energy intensity reduction will be a result of either lowering incentives to modernize the existing technologies due to lower hydrocarbons prices or a reduced capacity to modernize due to drop in budget revenues. Yet, as discussed above, improving energy efficiency may become an important driver of economic growth in the foreseeable future.

Besides already existing Energy Efficiency Department of the Committee for Standardization and construction of the Astravets power plant having a positive impact on the energy intensity of the economy, the Belarusian government may also consider the following options:

  • Establishing a Research and Development (R&D) program on energy efficiency;
  • Creating a special energy efficiency fund to be used for the modernization and energy intensity reduction measures;
  • Imposing standards of energy use, especially in energy intensive sectors;
  • Introducing taxation schemes on energy use with industry-specific energy intensity reference values in order to provide additional incentives for businesses to undertake modernization and reduce energy intensity;
  • Issuing a mandate requiring gradual replacement and rehabilitation of obsolete equipment, especially in heat and power generating and energy intensive industrial sectors.

Heat and power generating sector diversification away from gas

Similarly, to the energy intensity challenge, the HPG sector diversification away from gas will be negatively affected by the reduced incentives to modernize and the lack of budget funds to impose these modernizations. Hence, the following measures may be considered:

  • Ensuring adequate progress of the Astravets power plant construction;
  • Imposing standards and taxation schemes of energy use by the sector;
  • Study options for electricity imports, especially in off-peak hours;
  • Gradually replace and rehabilitate obsolete equipment.

A number of steps to encourage use of specific fuel sources can be undertaken:

  • Study possibilities of expanding production and/or imports of coal;
  • Transfer some smaller-scale heat plants to coal and/or wood as environmental conditions permit;
  • Integrate production of fuel wood into conventional forestry and industrial timber procurement;
  • Assure quality standards and efficient use for forest chips.

While not being directly related to the sector’s diversification away from natural gas, the following measures will allow improving financial performance of the sector and, thus, providing additional resources to undertake modernizations in the sector:

  • Separate commercial operation of the sector’s state-owned companies from the government’s conflicting position as an owner, policy setter and regulator;
  • Imposing reporting standards, such as IFRS standards, in the sector in order to improve financial management of the companies and attract possible financiers;
  • Adopt and implement OECD 2005 Guidelines on corporate governance of state-owned enterprises. While a number of the guidelines are not applicable to the Belarusian noncorporatized companies such as Belenergo and Beltopgas, general principle allow for more effective management of the companies.

I purposefully omit an option of the ownership change of the heat and power generating sector’s companies in our policy recommendations, since this option is not consistent with the existing economic and political environment in Belarus.

Diversification away from Russian fuel imports

While all of the trends analyzed will have positive effect on diversification away from Russian fuel imports, this seeming progress is largely due to the fact that up until recently Belarus has been totally dependent on Russia’s fuel imports. Yet, a number of steps can be undertaken to further augment the diversification progress:

  • Ensuring adequate progress of the projects enhancing the diversification away from Russian fuel supply, namely LNG terminal in Kaunas, Astravets power plant and search of alternative suppliers of hydrocarbons;
  • Exploring possibility to access and explore Polish and Ukrainian shale gas fields with a possibility to operate some of the extraction facilities;
  • Studying an option to create a coal-bed methane extracting consortium with Ukraine to develop technology and extract coal-bed methane in coal-rich Eastern Donbas region;
  • Researching and developing biomass as a source of energy to replace a share of oil and gas usage.

Usage of pipeline system up to full capacity

It is next to certain that the configuration of the hydrocarbon routes in Eastern Europe is about to go through fundamental changes in the nearest future due to both reduced demand for Russian hydrocarbons from Europe and the launch of the Nord Stream pipeline system. Still, there exist a number of steps to ensure that Belarusian pipeline system is in operation and is enhancing the country’s energy security:

  • Creating a gas-transporting consortium with Ukraine to gain an additional market power to ensure adequate transit tariffs and share of volumes of the residual Russian gas exports to Europe after Nord Stream is launched;
  • If Russian hydrocarbons transit volumes fall below critical level, transfer to the reverse direction to make the best use of the Polish shale gas and Baltic seaports’ ability to receive oil for Belarus. By doing so, Belarus will ensure both hydrocarbons imports diversification and adequate operation of its pipeline systems;
  • Continuing search for alternative suppliers of oil and natural gas (including LNG) in order to assure adequate usage of the pipeline systems in the reverse direction.

Environmental effect

Similarly to energy intensity considerations, most of the negative effects of the current trends on the environment are related to either reduced incentives to modernize or reduced funds available for modernization projects. The following measures are intended to reduce pollution intensity of energy use:

  • Establishing a Research and Development (R&D) program on environmental effects of energy use;
  • Imposing environmental standards and taxes on energy use, especially in energy intensive sectors and bringing these policies closer to international standards;
  • Issuing a mandate requiring gradual replacement and rehabilitation of obsolete equipment, especially in heat and power generating and pollution intensive industrial sectors;
  • Establishing emission trade relations with the Kyoto Protocol Annex B countries to collect funds for the environmental modernization of equipment.

The following steps should be undertaken to minimize both actual and perceived environmental risks of the Astravets nuclear power station:

  • Working with the general public to educate them about modern technologies that guarantee nuclear power safety as well as inform them of virtually accident-free record of civil nuclear power besides Chernobyl disaster;
  • Establishing relations with the stakeholders that might be affected by the environmental impact of the projected power station, especially, local communities along Neris river;
  • On early stages, study the possibilities for the spent nuclear fuel treatment and reach the preliminary international agreements over the potential nuclear waste storage if needed;
  • Ensure compliance with the international standards of the power plant construction and operation and advertise this compliance strategy to the stakeholders.

Concluding remarks

Currently Belarus enters a completely new stage of its development as the old economic growth factors vanish, the political situation both within and outside the country transforms, and the geopolitical context changes. This new stage of the country’s development presents new challenges and new opportunities for Belarusian energy security, the key for any country’s independence. Careful consideration of the most critical energy security challenges coupled with professional and effective policy measures to tackle them is a vital task for securing Belarus’ economic growth, political sovereignty and quality of life improvement.

A Multidimensional Approach to Energy Security in Belarus

20110905 Policy Brief Energy Security in Belarus Image 01

Energy security is a complex phenomenon incorporating a variety of economic, social and environmental aspects. This brief outlines fundamental aspects of energy security in Belarus that decision makers, policy analysts and the general public should be aware of when trying to understand the consequences for energy security of existing and suggested policies as well as other domestic and external factors. This brief will pay special attention to the economic dimension of energy security (such as energy intensity of the economy and diversification of energy sources), international and geopolitical dimension (diversification of energy suppliers and use of the hydrocarbon pipeline system), as well as environmental considerations (actual and prospective environmental impact of the energy consumption and production).

Energy security is an issue of primary concern for decision-makers worldwide. This is especially true in many post-Soviet countries, where the current dependency on Russian energy imports is being reinforced by the high energy intensity of these economies – a legacy of the energy inefficient Soviet technologies coupled with a lack of technological modernization over the past two decades. Belarus, a landlocked country with a population of 10 million people, is one of the countries struggling to solve an energy security puzzle in the midst of perturbations of the energy markets and important changes in regional geopolitics.

Belarus’ economy has been growing steadily in the early 2000s with an impressive 7.7% average annual GDP growth – a figure surpassing the economic performance of its closest post-Soviet neighbors, Ukraine (7.6%) and Russia (7.5%). The 2010 economic crisis resulting in substantial downturns in Ukraine (-15.0%) and Russia (-7.9%), had very mild impact on the Belarusian economy, which grew 0.2% in 2010.

Despite the apparent robustness of the Belarusian economy as compared to its neighbors, the crisis revealed a major weakness of the Belarusian economic model, the country’s utmost dependence on economic and political relations with Russia. Belarus is trying to move away from the Russia-centered economic model, in an attempt to diversify the sources of its economic growth. Not surprisingly, Russia is using a number of economic and political levers, of which oil and natural gas are the most important ones, in an attempt to tame a rebellious ex-vassal.

As a result, Belarus recently faced a variety of new energy challenges that must be successfully tackled for the country to preserve its political and economic independence.

The Belarusian Economic Growth Drivers

Belarusian economic growth in the late 1990s-early 2000s was primarily driven by the combination of three main factors: (i) privileged access to Russian markets for Belarusian industrial and agricultural exporters and energy importers; (ii) preferential support of the enterprises and sectors with a large state share, especially those producing for export, and (iii) governmental policies on wage and price control, which resulted in temporary cost advantages for traditional exports (WB 2005). These factors were reinforced by the low capacity utilization that experienced a sudden drop in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed.

Immediately prior to the 2010 economic downturn, productivity growth was the main driving force of the industrial growth in Belarus (WB 2010a). For most economies in transition, productivity growth is driven by (i) productivity increases within the firms and (ii) labor reallocation. In Belarus, most of the productivity increase occurred due to the former driving force. Recent data show that productivity growth is slowing down – a sign that productivity improvements has so far been gained through “low hanging fruit” type of investments, but these are now coming to an end. (WB 2010a).

Productivity growth in 2004-2008 was reinforced by increasing capacity utilization from approximately 45% in 1996 to 57% in 2004 to almost 70% in 2009. Yet, it is commonly perceived that most of the underused capacities are outdated and need rehabilitation or replacement. Thus, the actual figures of the unused capacities may be well inflated. Therefore, the years of reclaiming unused capacities will soon become history, and Belarus is gradually approaching a point at which output growth would require either costly capacity expansion or increase of capacity-usage efficiency. Of these two alternatives, improvements in energy efficiency are the one that does not show signs of being exhausted in the near future.

Belarusian energy efficiency increased by nearly 50% between 1996 and 2008 as the government began designing and enforcing a comprehensive energy efficiency policy. The measures included among others (i) establishing a Committee for Energy Efficiency in 1993, which evolved into Energy Efficiency Department of the Committee for Standardization with a mandate to develop and implement the energy efficiency improvement strategy; (ii) substantial financing, amounting to USD 4.2 billion in 1996-2008 and USD 1.2 billion in 2008 alone ; (iii) political commitment to energy efficiency, as illustrated by two National Energy Savings Programs approved in 1996 and 2001 respectively and the 1998 Law on Energy Savings (WB 2010b).

Currently, Belarus’ energy intensity is the lowest compared to the neighboring CIS countries (see Figure 1). Specifically, in 2008 Belarus used 1.17 tons of oil equivalents (toe) to produce USD 1,000 of its GDP – a substantial advantage compared to Ukraine’s 2.55, Russia’s 1.60 and Moldova’s 1.50 toe/USD 1,000. Yet, despite substantial recent progress and good standing in its regional sub-group, Belarus is still far from its energy efficiency potential, as showed by comparison with the closest Western neighbors: Poland and Lithuania use respectively 0.41 and 0.46 toe/USD1,000 (IEA 2010). Economic modeling suggests that a baseline scenario of 50% decline in energy intensity within the next decade would be a source of an additional annual GDP growth by 3.5-7%.

Currently, as implicit subsidies from Russia in the form of cheap oil, natural gas and electricity diminish, economic growth induced by the productivity increase, and capacity reclaiming is being exhausted, it becomes apparent that the search for new sources of economic growth must incorporate energy security considerations.

Overview of the Energy Security Dimensions in Belarus

Energy security is a multidimensional issue, which requires considerations with respect to:

  • Primary energy sources distribution
  • International trade and the geopolitical context
  • Impact of energy on the environment

I will review them in turn.

1. Primary Energy Security Dimensions in Belarus

A reasonable diversification of energy sources results in a more sustainable energy model of the economy.
Currently, Belarus’ primary energy source is natural gas, which accounts for 63% of its energy supply (see Figure 2). Natural gas is primarily used for heat production (55% of the total natural gas supply) and electricity production (20%). Over 80% of Belarusian centralized heating stations use natural gas and nearly 95% of electric energy in the country is produced with natural gas as a primary fuel.

Notes to figure 2:

  1. The percentage scores may not add up to unity due to independent rounding, other omitted uses and secondary supply sources.
  2. Net of exports.
  3. Combustible renewables and waste.
  4. Combined heat and power plants.

The second biggest share (29%) is crude oil and petroleum products, mainly used in the transport sector as well as the residential, commercial and public services sectors. All other primary energy sources account for less than 10% of the total primary energy supply. Renewable sources of energy are virtually unused in Belarus.

In sum, the analysis of the Belarusian energy balance reveals a disproportionately large share of natural gas use, especially in electricity and heat generation. It is therefore clear that, in the context of emerging tensions over the imported Russian natural gas, substantial changes in the electricity and heat generation sector will be needed.

2. International Trade Considerations and Geopolitical Context

Belarus produces only 14% (4 Mtoe per year) of its total primary energy demand and nearly 15% of its oil and gas consumption, thus being totally dependent on fossil fuels imports from Russia. Prior to the escalation of the conflict with Russia, almost the entire demand for natural gas and oil was satisfied by Russian imports at discounted prices, which was often viewed as an implicit subsidy of the Belarusian economy. Currently, Russia is reducing these implicit subsidies by narrowing the gap between prices charged to Belarus and to the EU.

An important difference between natural gas imports and oil imports is that while natural gas imports are entirely consumed by the Belarusian domestic market, a large share of crude oil imports is processed and exported as petroleum products (see Table 1). Therefore, while reducing dependency on Russian gas imports may be achieved, to a large extent, by a transition to alternative energy sources and improvements in energy, the same approach is unlikely to work for oil imports, since no transition to other sources of energy is possible for oil refineries and efficiency increase is limited to losses minimization. Thus, the only alternative to reduce dependency on Russian oil imports is diversification of oil suppliers.

In early 2010, the Belarusian government has signed an agreement with Venezuela on continuous supply of crude oil to Belarus. The first delivery was made by a railroad transfer from the Ukrainian sea port of Odessa; the following deliveries were made through the Estonian Muuga seaport and the Lithuanian Klaipeda seaport by railroad. Belarusian government has announced that it expects nearly 4 million tons of Venezuelan oil to be delivered in 2010, and the quantity is expected to grow to 10 million tons (i.e., 42.5% of the current oil imports) in 2011 and onwards. The average price for Venezuelan crude in 2010 was USD645 per ton (compared to USD 402 per ton of Russian oil), according to the national statistics committee.

Land transport of Venezuelan oil from seaports remains the most questionable issue. While railroad transfer proved to be a reasonable intermediate solution, a sustainable and cost-efficient transportation of Venezuelan oil is possible only through pipelines. Although the Lithuanian and Latvian legs of the former Soviet Druzhba pipeline system can be used, they require major investments to allow for reverse transfer from Baltic seaports to Belarus. The Ukrainian Odessa-Brody oil pipeline, in reverse direction, is the most likely route for a large share of Venezuelan oil, as Ukrainian government signed an agreement with Belarus for transfer of 9 million tons of Venezuelan crude in 2011. Yet, the deal is heavily threatened by Russia which was using the Odessa-Brody pipeline in the opposite direction until 2010 and is losing an important lever of influence over Belarus as the country diversifies its oil imports.

Another crucial energy security consideration from the geopolitical perspective for Belarus is its own pipeline systems (see Figure 3 below).

In 2009, nearly 62.2 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas (36.9% of total Russian natural gas exports to the non-CIS countries) and 89.6 million ton of Russian oil (36.2% of total Russian crude exports) went through Belarusian pipelines. For comparison, Ukraine, another major transfer route for Russian hydrocarbons, transports 95.8 billion cubic meters of Russian gas (56.9% of Russian exports) and nearly 30 million tons of Russian crude (12.1% of Russian exports). Thus, almost the entire (93.8%) Russian natural gas exports as well as a substantial share of Russian oil exports (48.3%) are transported via Ukrainian and Belarusian pipeline systems.

Until recently, Belarusian oil and gas transit capacity has been a powerful lever in its relationships with Moscow. In an attempt to diversify its hydrocarbon export routes, however, Russia has announced the construction of an alternative Nord Stream pipeline system (see Figure 4) in 2005. The two-legged 1,200 km pipeline system will transport natural gas from Russian Vyborg to German Greifswald under the Baltic Sea, thus making it the longest sub-sea pipeline in the world. Each leg has a projected capacity of 27.5 billion cubic meters per year (55 billion cubic meters for the entire system). The first leg is projected to be in full operation by late 2011, the second by late 2012.

Although the Nord Stream transfer capacity is below the annual transfer of natural gas through Belarus, it represents an important strategic instrument in Russian foreign policy to manipulate Belarus and Ukraine as they compete for a residual share of the Russian natural gas transfer. Recent trends in European energy security policy headed towards increase of energy efficiency, diversification of hydrocarbons importers and shale gas revolution will undoubtedly lead to a decrease in the European demand for Russian gas, which, in the worst case scenario, may completely eliminate Belarus from the Russian gas transfer system, as Belarusian and most of the Ukrainian gas pipeline capacity become redundant.

3. Impact of Energy on the Environment

Belarus lies around the average, both in Europe and in the Eastern European region, when it comes to pollution intensity of its energy use, (see Figure 4 below). While there is room for improvements in terms of the impact of energy on the environment, this concern is of second order as compared to the above discussion on energy intensity. Moreover, it is believed that improvement of energy efficiency of the economy through implementation of modern technologies will bring along reduction of pollution intensity as well.

Despite the fact that current environmental implications of energy use are not especially worrisome, Belarus still remains one of the countries that suffered the most severe consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.

About 20% of Belarusian territory was affected by the accident and nearly 17% of its agricultural land. Costs to the economy are estimated in the order of 32 to 35 times the Belarus state budget in 1985. Nearly 22% of the national budget was spent in 1991 on remediation measures, although the figure has contracted to 6% in 2002 and 3% in 2006%. The total spending of Belarus due to consequences of the Chernobyl disaster over the period 1991-2003 exceeded USD 13 billion.

Besides the direct impacts on health, several social problems followed the worst civil nuclear accident, including the loss of rural livelihoods and outward migration of qualified workforce accompanied by inward migration of unqualified workforce and people who have economic difficulties elsewhere. A significant amount of agricultural land in the area of the radioactive fallout is still unavailable for cultivation. Development of the area remains a challenge, especially in small towns accommodating migrants from outside Eastern Europe, predominantly from Central Asia. Radioactive pollution is still a concern in the affected areas.

Not surprisingly, Belarusian population remains cautious about plans to construct the first nuclear power plant in Astravets, in the Hrodna Voblast, as nuclear power is still considered a source of substantial risks, despite extensive media campaigns and policy assurances on the exceptional nature of the Chernobyl accident.

Concluding remarks

A changing geopolitical context and gradually shifting priorities in the Belarusian foreign policy will undoubtedly affect various dimensions of the energy security of this transitional Eastern European country.

When evaluating consequences of external or internal factors for energy security, it is necessary to keep in mind that this is a complex, multifaceted issue. The main concerns to be considered about Belarusian energy security include primary energy source distribution (diversification of energy sources, especially away from natural gas, and reduction of the economy’s energy intensity), international trade and geopolitical context (with a special focus on diversification of energy suppliers and an optimal use of the country’s gas- and oil- transporting systems) and environmental considerations of the energy use (related to both actual and prospective impact of the energy production and consumption on the environment). Other dimensions of relevance include social impacts of the energy production and consumption, sustainability of the energy use another important elements beyond the scope of this brief.

The main trends that will alter energy security in Belarus within the coming decade most likely will include the shale gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) revolution, the launch of the Nord Stream, possibly the construction of the Astravets nuclear plant as well as the effort of Belarus to diversify hydrocarbon suppliers.

In the next part of the analysis forthcoming in the FREE policy brief series I will analyze in detail these and other existing trends and will discuss their potential positive effects and challenges as well as potential measures for addressing the adverse effects in the context of energy security of Belarus.

Recommended Further Reading

  • Cherp, A, A. Antypas, V. Cheterian and M. Salnykov. 2006. Environment and security: Transforming risks into cooperation. The case of Eastern Europe: Belarus-Moldova-Ukraine. UNEP/UNDP/UNECE/OSCE/REC/NATO Report.
  • Chester, L. 2010. “Conceptualizing energy security and making explicit its polysemic nature”. Energy Policy, 38(2): 887-95.
  • CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) 2010. CIA World Factbook. (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2003.html)
  • IEA (International Energy Agency) 2010. “Key World energy statistics”.
  • WB (World Bank) 2005. “Belarus – Window of opportunity to enhance competitiveness and sustain economic growth – a Country Economic Memorandum for the Republic of Belarus”.
  • WB (World Bank) 2010a. “Belarus – Industrial performance before and during the global crisis: Belarus economic policy notes.”
  • WB (World Bank) 2010b. “Lights out? The outlook for energy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union”.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.