IGB launch proves Azerbaijan's genuine role as Europe's trusty gas supplier amid impending cold winter
By Ayya Lmahamad
The extremely unstable situation in the heart of Europe, triggered by the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine, and the consequent energy crisis, has raised the question of how Europe will survive the incoming cold winter. For some time already, Europe was taking different steps toward diversifying its gas supplies to eliminate its dependence on a single supplier- Russia.
The EU and Azerbaijan have been in active and continuous dialogue on increasing gas supplies amid the energy crisis. On October 1, Azerbaijan made another consequential contribution to Europe’s gas security. The inauguration ceremony of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria was held in Sofia with the participation of heads of several states and representatives of international organizations.
This is indeed an event of strategic importance and the result of successful negotiations, mutual understanding, and trust between Azerbaijan and its European partners.
Addressing the inauguration ceremony, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that the IGB project will play an important role in strengthening the energy security of Europe and diversification of gas supplies.
“Last year, our gas export was around 19 billion cubic meters, out of which 8.2 billion to Europe, and that was an increase of 40 percent in comparison with the previous year. This year, we will increase our export up to more than 22 billion cubic meters and 11.5 billion cubic meters will go to European consumers,” he said in his address in Bulgaria.
The commercial launch of the IGB is a new stage in the operation of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and the Southern Gas Corridor as a whole.
Key contribution to Europe’s energy security
Arriving in Sofia for the inauguration of IGB, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen underlined that this pipeline is a game-changer for Bulgaria and a key contribution to Europe’s energy security.
"Europe has everything it needs to break free from Russian fossil fuels. The inauguration of the Bulgaria-Greece interconnector is a game changer. Together, let’s shape a strong and resilient energy Union," she tweeted.
Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca also noted that the launch of IGB is an important step in meeting the energy needs of Europe.
“This is a moment that we await with great interest and hope. This is an important stage in our joint efforts at the European level to meet our energy needs while reducing our dependence on Russian gas,” he said.
The prime minister also emphasized that importing gas from Azerbaijan through IGB now represents a viable alternative source that will provide Romania and other countries with access to the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP).
Diversification of natural gas supply
Addressing the ceremony of the commercial launch of the IGB, Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca also said that the interconnector significantly contributes to the diversification of the natural gas supply.
In the meantime, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis noted that the IGB is an energy bridge that brings Greece and Bulgaria even closer, while dramatically changing the energy map of the region.
“The beginning of IGB’s commercial operation constitutes an exceptional moment for not just South-East Europe, but for Europe more broadly. This pipeline significantly bolsters energy and supply security for all interconnected countries in the Balkans, as well as that of the European continent as a whole,” he said.
The prime minister noted that it will break the stranglehold of Russian gas on Bulgaria and of course, it will in conjunction with the rest of the infrastructure projects underway in the region, contribute to the development of a reliable natural gas network.
Moreover, Bulgarian Prime Minister Galab Donev said that the IGB will ensure diversification of sources of natural gas supply not only for Bulgaria but also will allow the transfer of natural gas from Greece to Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Central Europe.
“Yet the potential of IGB will become even more evident after the entry into operation of the LNG terminal near Alexandroupolis expected by the end of next year, which will provide further access to multiple sources of supply on the international LNG market,” he said.
The IGB will ensure affordable gas prices for Bulgaria and its partners, Bulgarian Prime Minister Galab Donev said.
“IGB will ensure the diversification of sources, as well as of routes of supply of natural gas for Bulgaria, which is a key to ensuring the energy security of the country. The fact of the existence of this interconnector renders our country less vulnerable and thus improves our negotiating positions,” he said.
Ilham Aliyev’s role
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, during his speech, praised Ilham Aliyev’s role in the diversification of energy supplies in Europe.
“I congratulate our Bulgarian and Greek friends on the successful completion of this interconnector. The project is also important for Serbia. I must say that without the presence of our friend Ilham Aliyev, it would not be easy for any of us to hope for the diversification of gas and electricity supplies,” he said.
He added that the IGB is extremely important also for Serbia, as the work already started on the construction of the interconnector between Serbia and Bulgaria.
“I hope that in 2023 we will also be able to hold a big ceremony for its commissioning in our country, which will be of great importance for Serbia and the entire Western Balkans,” he said.
Moreover, a member of the governing council of the Bulgarian National Bank, Iliya Lingorski, said that Azerbaijan’s president made a promise of a reliable gas supply many years ago and kept this promise.
“IGB could come into existence only if it was properly funded and be properly funded, it had to be anchored via the anchor of a reliable gas supply and the relevant contractual agreements and commitments. It was President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev who made such a promise long ago, many years ago. It was our partners from Azerbaijan who kept this promise and turned it into long-term contractual engagements and agreements at very competitive prices. If I can slightly rephrase the common proverb, a friend and a partner in need, is a friend and a partner indeed. So, we thank you for your partnership and friendship,” he said.
Gas supplies & Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria
The status of a gas power country is relatively new for Azerbaijan. To recall, with the completion of the TAP (Trans-Adriatic Pipeline) construction on December 31, 2020, Azerbaijan began commercial gas supplies to Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor. Last year, TAP transported 8.1 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe. By late 2022, Azerbaijan plans to increase gas supplies to Europe to 9.1 billion cubic meters, and in 2023, the volume of gas supplies is expected to reach 11 billion cubic meters.
Less than two years have passed and Azerbaijan is continuously strengthening its position in its new status. The memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation in the energy sector signed between Azerbaijan and the EU testifies to Azerbaijan's growing authority and credibility.
Azerbaijan has already proven to be a reliable partner, supplier, and actor in the world market and managed to increase gas exports in a short period of time in this direction.
It is worth underlining that Azerbaijan has enough gas reserves in order to increase gas supplies to the world market, but what is needed is investments and infrastructure projects. There must be investments in infrastructure in Europe, building new interconnectors and of course, agreeing on the terms.
The IGB gas pipeline is designed to connect the Greek national gas transmission system (DESFA S.A.) and the Trans-Adriatic gas pipeline (TAP AG) in the area of Komotini (Greece), and with the Bulgarian gas transmission system (Bulgartransgaz EAD) in the area of Stara Zagora. The total length of the gas pipeline is 182 km, the diameter of the pipe is 32'', and a design capacity of up to 3 billion m3/year in the direction of Greece-Bulgaria.
The pipeline is designed to increase its capacity up to 5 bcm/y depending on market interest and the capacities of neighboring gas transmission systems.
Ayya Lmahamad is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @AyyaLmahamad
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