Securing and Diversifying Europe’s Future Energy Needs

Jonathan Collingwood, TAP Director of Corporate Services and the Greece Country Office, says the TAP natural gas pipeline reached a milestone with construction of the Greek section completed. Testing has begun ahead of planned gas deliveries to Europe in October 2020.

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GIG: Construction of the Greek section of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) was recently completed. When will trials start, and what else needs to be done before the project is commercially operational? When do you expect the project to be fully operational?

Collingwood: The overall progress of the TAP project, in all three of its host countries – Greece, Albania, and Italy – has exceeded the 90% mark. In Greece, we’ve also completed the stage of mechanical construction and have begun the testing phase.

Specifically, on 25 November 2019, TAP started to introduce the first natural gas into a 2 km section of the pipeline between River Evros and the compressor station at Kipoi. This is the initial stage of the pipeline commissioning process, which aims to ensure that the infrastructure is safe and ready for operations.

We will dedicate the upcoming months to the successful commissioning of the pipeline along its various sections, with progressive testing, in order to be prepared for operations and the start of commercial gas deliveries to Europe. In parallel, we are preparing for commercial operations as an independent transmission operator (ITO).

Introducing gas into the TAP pipeline system is a significant milestone towards the start of Shah Deniz Stage II gas deliveries to Europe through TAP, planned to start in October 2020.

GIG: When will links to other neighbouring countries and networks be completed?

Collingwood: TAP’s route can facilitate gas supply to several southeastern European countries, while its landfall in Italy provides multiple opportunities for further transport of Caspian gas to the wider European markets.

TAP is providing tie-in points in certain locations along the pipeline route. Currently, there are five such points planned in Greece and two in Albania. TAP will have an interconnection point at Nea Mesimvria [in Thessaloniki] with the Greek national natural gas transmission system (DESFA), and at Komotini with the interconnector to Bulgaria (IGB) currently under construction, following relevant agreements and in line with national and European legislation.

GIG: What kind of impact do you expect this project to have on the energy market in Greece? What is its importance for the broader region?

Collingwood: TAP is a project of major significance for its host countries, for the region of southeastern Europe, and for the entire continent. TAP contributes to the diversification and security of energy supply as well as decarbonisation. Furthermore, new gas supplies will increase gas-to-gas competition, offering a more competitive environment for industry and end-consumers. As well as addressing energy poverty, this offers a cleaner environment across Europe; for example, through improved air quality.

In Greece, TAP’s impact is both extensive and multifaceted. It brings strategic, geopolitical, financial, and social benefits, while also serving as a roadmap for further large-scale investments in the country. By offering exit points along its route, it additionally accommodates and supports efforts to expand the domestic pipeline network.

The financial benefits of TAP are clear. TAP is one of the largest foreign direct investments currently implemented in Greece. It contributes to the national economy in many ways. To date, the project has directly invested more than €1.4 billion in the procurement of local goods and services in the country. During construction, major supply and engineering procurement construction (EPC) contracts were awarded to Greek companies or joint ventures that included Greek companies. Additionally, we collaborated with approximately 800 domestic small and medium enterprises (SMEs), offering them both financial benefits and significant expertise. At the peak of construction activities more than 3,500 people were employed for the project, the majority of whom were locally recruited, while TAP also generated indirect employment.

We have efficiently cooperated with all competent authorities, throughout all developmental phases, and our collaboration remains strong as the project is gearing up to the start of operations. This kind of cooperation and reliability is key in the implementation of large-scale investments.

GIG: What were the main difficulties you encountered in building the Greek section of the pipeline? To what extent did archaeological findings slow you down, and how did you cope with the delays?

Collingwood: A project the magnitude of TAP is challenging and complex. It involves certain risks and issues to be addressed, mitigated, or minimised. These can be best managed with extensive preparedness, professional project management, and responsible and respectful behaviour towards stakeholders and local communities.

At TAP, we take pride in remembering that the way in which we achieve our results is just as important as the results themselves. For us the ultimate challenge was, and still remains, to complete construction in line with high safety standards while caring for the environment and the communities living near the pipeline.

As for archaeology, one cannot expect to construct such a major project in a country like Greece and not come across archaeological finds. This fact, coupled with our core commitment to respect and protect the cultural heritage of our host communities, drove our extensive preparation and work to identify and avoid known archaeological sites in Greece. It also informed our decision to conduct robust cultural heritage studies, implement comprehensive cultural heritage management plans, and collaborate with the competent archaeological authorities – the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports and local Ephorates of Antiquities – along the route of TAP.

In cooperation with these authorities, more than 400 archaeological excavations and investigations across the pipeline route were performed and more than 650 archaeologists, specialists, and archaeological workers were engaged. Relevant findings have been documented, conserved, and studied by the competent Ephorates of Antiquities.

GIG: How will the various other pipeline projects that are planned in the region affect you?

Collingwood: ΤΑΡ is a specific infrastructure project developed and constructed in the context of implementing a greater infrastructure project, the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC). The SGC itself is one of the most extensive energy value chains ever developed globally. It involves six countries and spans more than 3,500 km.

The implementation of the TAP project has been supported with binding host government agreements in Greece and Albania. TAP’s design pertains exclusively to the construction of 878 km of pipeline extending from the Greek-Turkish border to the Adriatic shores of Italy via Albania. Therefore, TAP greatly contributes to the core EU target of diversifying and securing energy supply for Europe.

It does so by bringing a new source of gas into Europe by means of a new route, thus enriching the existing energy mix. Any further diversification of the European energy mix can only support this fundamental goal.

GIG: How does the international push for more renewable and clean energy affect you?

Collingwood: Developing renewable energy is vital for Europe’s transition towards a low carbon economy. In order for renewables to achieve their full potential, however, investments in complementary energy sources will still be required. Natural gas is a complementary energy source and – due to its versatility, price, and performance characteristics – is regarded as the best energy commodity to partner with renewable energy.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an EU commitment, which we support by contributing to the gradual decarbonisation of the economy, especially in southeastern Europe, along with our contribution to the diversification and security of energy supply. Being the cleanest form of fossil fuel, natural gas is globally recognised as the most significant transitional resource on the way to a more renewables-based energy mix.

GIG: What are your strategic priorities going forward?

Collingwood: The beginning of commissioning in Greece is a key milestone for TAP. Our strategic priority going forward is to ensure that the pipeline continues to be successfully constructed, tested, and commissioned, so as to prepare for operations and the start of commercial gas deliveries to Europe in October 2020. In parallel, we are running a market test – the regulated process through which shippers can get access to additional long-term capacity in TAP and thereby enable the expansion of TAP’s capacity to 20 billion cubic metres of natural gas annually (bcma).

It has been an exciting journey and we look forward to bringing a new source of gas into Europe by means of a new route, contributing to a more diversified and secure energy mix.

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