IEA report on Turkey omits facts and problems

Turkey’s energy sector was most recently evaluated via the annual Turkey 2021 Energy Policy Review report published last week by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Unfortunately, when we evaluate the IEA report and its shortcomings, we see that it is not up-to-date in terms of data and omits problems of the energy sector in Turkey.

The stage which the global climate crisis has now reached includes an increased number of states that have signed the Paris Agreement, which has led to new measures and projections that will affect energy composition. The situation in Turkey is evaluated via annual reports. The latest example of which is the Turkey 2021 Energy Policy Review report published last week by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Let us evaluate the IEA's report and its shortcomings, taking into account the reports published by other institutions.

The IEA report refers to Turkey’s efforts to diversify its natural gas resources. What is remarkable, however, is that while TurkStream and TANAP are presented as models, it ignores the fact that both are connected to the same suppliers, from which Turkey currently buys gas. TurkStream’s supplier is Russia and TANAP is Azerbaijan. In fact, Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan are historically suppliers to Turkey. These two new pipelines mean different routes, but the seller is the same. While the increase in LNG capacity has been noted, the dominant status of the pipelines has been slightly over-emphasized.

When the oil issue is analyzed, Turkey’s dependence on foreign resources was reported as 93 percent in 2019, according to out of date IEA data. The main suppliers of oil are: Iran, Iraq, Russia and Saudi Arabia. A meaningful decline in consumption is unlikely, except for a shift to alternative sources of oil.

Renewable resources

In terms of investments in renewable resources, the report cites a 50 percent increase in Turkey’s capacity over the past five years. This is a promising development for Turkey. This increase makes Turkey the fifth best capacity building country in Europe and the 15th in the world. The main areas of renewable investments are solar, wind, and geothermal. Considering Turkey’s potential in renewable energy, according to the IEA, these resources can be used not only in electricity generation, but also in heating. However, despite Turkey’s remarkable potential, only 3 percent of this is being used in solar energy and 15 percent in wind energy.

The report states Turkey’s nuclear power plan as follows: Turkey plans to build three nuclear plants consisting of 12 reactors. The first is the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, which is under construction. This plant has a capacity of 4.8 gigawatts. It is expected to be operational in 2023. As the IEA only considers energy diversity and planned outcomes, it does not include the Akkuyu agreement or the questions regarding the plant in Turkey. The report only mentions the 15-year purchase guarantee given by the Electricity Generation Company (EÜAŞ) for the set prices for the electricity produced by the plant. Turkey’s efforts concerning nuclear energy are highlighted. At this point, there is bad news for those who have reservations about nuclear plants: There may be more nuclear plants.

A new kind of foreign dependence

Turkey’s coal policy changed after 2015 with offered incentives for coal production and power plants. In its report, the IEA cited the reason for Turkey’s increase in coal production as reducing the share of natural gas in electricity generation. This echoes the statements of Turkey’s official institutions. However, the problems of the quality of coal used in Turkey and the increase in Turkey’s coal imports were not mentioned. Whereas, according to the May 2020 report of the Turkish Hard Coal Enterprises (TTK), Turkey’s total coal imports increased from 36.2 million tons in 2016 to 39.1 million tons in 2018. There is a huge contradiction in the policy of reducing dependence and using imported coal.

If we continue with another example and report, in 2019, 97 percent of the 39.5 million tons of coal consumed by Turkey, or 38.3 million tons, were imported. Almost 60 percent of the imported coal is used in thermal power plants to generate electricity. The increasing share of this type of coal, most of which is imported, in electricity production is noted as follows in TMMOB reports: The share of coal in electricity generation 10 years ago was around 20 percent, but it was close to 60 percent in 2018. In other words, there is a new kind of foreign dependence. However, the type of coal used in electricity generation in thermal power plants is predominantly lignite. For example, nearly 90 percent of the lignite coal produced and imported goes to thermal power plants.

In this case, it is possible to say that instead of reducing dependence on foreign resources by producing domestically, Turkey continues to keep its dependence on foreign coal resources. In other words, coal imports are being introduced to substitute natural gas imports.

A similar problem is seen regarding the effects of coal. The report said coal-related air pollution in certain cities is alarming. However, the government’s purchase guarantees for power plants were either never mentioned in the overall coal projection or briefly mentioned in one sentence.

Coal and the climate

The climate crisis has been included in the projections of almost every institution, resulting in country-based emission charts also to be included in IEA reports. Thus, the IEA report noted an increase in Turkey’s carbon emissions. When the graphic is examined, the energy sector has the lion’s share of carbon emissions.

When reviewing emission values according to energy sources, let us look at a residence that consumes 3,500 kWH of electricity annually. If this house switches to coal, its carbon dioxide emissions will be 3,500 kilograms on average, compared to 1,700 kilograms when natural gas is used. Wind energy releases the lowest amount of carbon dioxide with 35 kilograms per year among all renewable resources.

It should be noted that while the climate crisis has sounded alarm bells all over the world, the “rate of damage to the environment” compared to coal and natural gas is not adequately discussed. This is one of the factors that explains Turkey’s failure to develop policies to fight the climate crisis.

In conclusion, the “Turkey 2021, Energy Policy Review” published by the IEA is not adequately up-to-date in terms of data. More noteworthy, however, is that this report is distanced from the problems of the energy sector in Turkey. It lies somewhere between neutral and insensitive. For instance, while Turkey’s transition to renewable resources is appreciated, it is never questioned why this has caused protests in the country and public reactions against hydroelectric power plants (HES) and wind power stations (RES). In other words, the methods of applying these policies has not been discussed. A similar approach is also seen in the field of nuclear energy. The Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in the south of the country, in the Mediterranean city of Mersin, has several issues starting from its agreement to its construction. These aspects are not covered in the report. Moreover, while Akkuyu is becoming a fait accompli by each passing day, the report states that three more plants are in the works. Thus, the nuclear nightmare is not over.

When we come to the topic of coal, the report covers Turkey’s coal policy at length. What is interesting here are the topics that are not covered: The air pollution caused by coal, the privileges the government grants to certain power plants, purchase guarantees given beforehand, and the lack of adequate emphasis on the relationship between the climate crisis and coal use.

While the incentives offered to coal in electricity generation in Turkey were initiated via policies aimed at reducing foreign dependency, the report disregards that fact that increased coal imports have developed a new dependence. However, I think the most problematic element of the IEA country report on Turkey is that while it encourages the world to take measures to fight against the climate crisis, the IEA has not warned Turkey adequately regarding this. At the same time, coal imports are decreasing in Europe, and some states, including China, have promised “zero carbon emissions.”  When the IEA prepared the report, it had met almost exclusively only with Turkey’s official institutions. In fact, many organizations, especially TMMOB in Turkey, are drawing a very different picture of energy than that of the IEA.