Bulgaria/EU/Germany: Bulgarian government announced on March 15 that it would start a feasibility study on creating a “gas hub” in the port of Varna. The announcement was made as the state company Bulgartransgaz signed a 1.22 million EUR ($1.5 million) contract with a Bulgarian-Swiss consortium AF-EMG Consult for this purpose. The feasibility study should be completed by July and the EU has committed 920.000 EUR ($1.2 million) for the study financing. Therefore, it appears that the EU endorses Bulgaria’s plans, considering that the government made the formal announcement on the feasibility study on the last day of official visit of the EU Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič. His visit was supposed to be more about Bulgaria’s progress towards the 2020 targets for energy efficiency and the country’s national energy and climate plan for 2030. However, given the reports, it appears that Šefčovič also endorsed the German Chancellor Angela Merkel support for the creation of a gas hub in Varna which was made in a political statement during her visit in January this year. The EU is not the only one to support the project, considering the phone call discussion that the Bulgarian Prime Minister had with Russian President Putin over the matter just days before Šefčovič’s visit to Sofia. However, it is unclear what Bulgaria aims to develop. The definition of the “gas hub” requires a somewhat flexible and natural evolution of markets, in such a way that a trading platform is established in a specific place, allowing better and more efficient energy transit, qualities that are also determined by geography. Bulgaria has worked for a number of years to increase its role of a transit country for Russian gas to Europe and even develop itself into an energy trading center for the region.
Serbia/Russia/EU: The Serbian government have sent several amendments to the country’s agreement with Russia regarding its gas imports to Parliament for approval. The changes are reportedly creating the possibility for Serbia to sell Russian gas to other countries in the region. According to the proposed amendments the limitation for annual deliveries of up to 5 billion cubic meters of gas (which is valid under the agreement until 2021) would be erased. While the proposed changes will likely be approved by the Parliament, Serbia currently has gas interconnections only with Bosnia’s Republica Srpska, so it should invest in building new infrastructure if reselling Russian gas to the region is really the goal/the priority of the government. On March 1, the government announced plans for building a “Serbian Stream” that would revive the idea of the South Stream – bringing gas from Russia, through Bulgaria, Serbia, into Europe. Such a project would actually make sense for the recent announcements regarding the build-up of a Varna “gas hub”, which appear to be also supported by the EU.
Bulgaria/Greece: The Bulgarian energy Ministry announced on March 16 that ten companies from Turkey, India, Russia, Greece, Germany and Bulgaria have requested to participate in the tender supply pipes for a 185-km (115 miles) gas pipeline connecting Greece to Bulgaria (IGB). The leg is attached to the Southern Corridor Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) which has recently received funding from the EBRD and the EIB, aiming at bringing Azeri gas into Europe.
Global Energy Geopolitics/U.S./Saudi Arabia: The U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry travelled to London last week to discuss with senior Saudi officials the potential for a bilateral nuclear cooperation. This comes after Saudi Arabia opened the bid for construction of its first nuclear power plant and before the visit of King Salman to Washington this week. An agreement between the two countries on Saudi’s right to enrich and reprocess fuel is currently negotiated. While Washington avoids have such agreements, as working on nuclear development programs can jump-start a nuclear weapons program, it can’t avoid the current negotiations. Not discussing with Saudi Arabia, would make Riyadh work with other countries on the matter, including Russia or China. More importantly, while Saudi Arabia wants to secure a nuclear agreement for energy development, its plans are connected with the regional power balance in the Middle East and its own national security imperatives – notably, tying into its relationship with Iran. This week will be crucial for the way the bilateral negotiations evolve and whether the U.S. will relax its nonproliferation guidelines.
For the first time, a working “proton battery” was demonstrated by the researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia to have the potential, with further development, to store more energy than the lithium ion batteries that are currently available. In the same time, Prof. Trung Van Nguyen, at the University of Kansas is said to have come closer to develop an advanced hydrogen-bromine flow battery that would help store electricity from solar or wind farms for later use, an application that would increase efficiency for the entire industry. Nguyen said in an interview for Phys.org that the new hydrogen-bromine battery could be commercialized soon, and it could easily be scaled to MW (power) MWh (energy) scales, coming in modular container form, about 1MWh in a full-size container.
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