Op-ed articles

The stakes of energy in the Mediterranean

Francis Perrin
Francis PerrinSenior Fellow at the OCP Policy Center in Rabat, Morocco, and Senior Research Fellow at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs

"The discovery of natural gas deposits has made the Eastern Mediterranean a new energy-producing region at the gates of Europe."

The Eastern Mediterranean, a New Natural Gas Region

Lying at the crossroads of three continents, the Mediterranean Basin is both environmentally fragile and rich in energy resources, be they renewables, such as the wind and the sun, or fossil fuels buried underground. In this article, Francis Perrin, a geopolitical expert, provides his analysis of the impact of current and planned natural gas production projects in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The discovery of natural gas deposits has made the Eastern Mediterranean a new energy-producing region at the gates of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, after thousands of years of history and political turmoil among civilizations.

Natural gas production began off the coast of Egypt, and then more recently spread to Israel. Two deposits have been discovered off the coast of Cyprus and yet another offshoreRefers to sea-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "offshore license" or "offshore drilling". from Gaza. Exploration will soon begin in two blocks in Lebanese waters, where the outlook appears promising. As a result, the Levant is emerging as a new natural gas region, that is, a zone containing significant proven reserves and destined to supply international markets. Will this be the source of new troubles or, on the contrary, a step toward cooperation and peace? It seems likely that the answer is both...

The pessimistic perspective cannot be ignored: war in Syria, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the “apple of discord” (Cyprus) between Turkey and Greece, and tensions between Israel and Lebanon already foul the air, which could become even worse with the smell of gas. Nevertheless, so far the obvious political risks have not hindered the new economic developments, because the countries have a mutual interest in developing the natural gas fields. If they do not, they will all lose.

Egypt, which at the beginning of the decade was still a net exporter of natural gas, needs the resources from its enormous Zohr natural gas field to meet domestic demand. Israel is seeking to improve its energy independenceThe ability of a country or region to meet all its energy needs without having to import primary or final energy. with help from its Leviathan and Tamar gas fields. Lebanon has to finance its reconstruction. And, with its promising Aphrodite gas field, Cyprus, a member of the European Union (E.U.), can play a role in the “Energy Union” policy pursued by the European Commission to reduce the bloc’s dependence on Russia.

These aspirations are all converging in an era of budding cooperation. This is perceptible in the gas pipelinePipeline used to transport gas over a long distance, either on land or on the seabed. project between Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy under negotiation and to which the E.U. could contribute financing. As another example, Egypt has signed two contracts with Israel to import natural gas and is currently in negotiations with Cyprus, while waiting for Zohr and other projects to gather steam.

Russia and Turkey

Along with the E.U. and the unavoidable United States, two other major powers are following the events closely.

Russia, the main supplier of Europe, could be worried about new competition. But the strategy of Gazprom, its big public energy utility, is to try to ensure a degree of control over the projects in the area by acquiring equity interests. In the case of Zohr, the Egyptian gas field which went into production in December 2017, the Russian petroleum company Rosneft bought a 30% stake in a consortiumA consortium is an association of individuals, companies, organizations, governments ... with the Italian group ENI, which holds a 60% interest, and BP, which owns the remaining 10%.

Turkey is well aware of its key geographical position. Its offshore natural gas potential may be more limited, but the country is at the center of a vast network of gas pipelines, some already in operation and some in the planning stage. There is Turkish Stream (or Turkstream), which Russia wishes to substitute for the direct gas pipeline originally planned for southern Europe. Another pipeline, bringing natural gas to Europe from the Caspian Sea via Azerbaijan and Georgia, will also cross Turkey. There are pipeline projects as well in Iran and Iraq, for when the two countries have gained a better footing in the international markets. Besides the pipelines, there is another means to transport natural gas: by liquefying it. Liquefied natural gas (LNG)LNG is composed almost entirely of methane. Liquefying the gas reduces its initial volume by a factor of around 600... can be shipped in tankersVessel used to transport bulk liquids in huge tanks. The best-known tankers are oil tankers, which carry crude oil. ; this is a more flexible means of transportation, without the restrictions of a fixed route.

Lastly, let us not forget two other big Mediterranean oil and gas producers: Algeria and Libya. Libya, which produces more oil than gas, has an immediate priority to increase its oil production and exports, in a highly unstable political and security situation. Algeria must take care – rather like Egypt – that its rapidly growing domestic energy consumption, particularly of electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... , does not gradually weaken its ability to export natural gas. To this end, the country has committed to a large-scale renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... development program and has not ruled out tapping shale gasShale gas is found in deeply buried clayey sedimentary rock that is both the source rock and the reservoir for the gas... resources in the Sahara.


Francis Perrin, a graduate of the Institut des Sciences Politiques and the Faculté de Sciences Economiques in Grenoble, is a specialist in energy geopolitics and has directed and collaborated with many specialized journals in the oil and gas sector. He is a Senior Fellow at the OCP Policy Center in Rabat, Morocco, and Senior Research Fellow at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS).



Patricia Marin
Patricia MarinHead of renewable ocean energies at Pôle Mer Méditerranée in France’s Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region

"The cost of floating wind turbines is currently higher than that of conventional varieties as they are still in the demonstration phase."

Floating Wind Turbines, the Mediterranean Version of Ocean Energy

Floating wind turbines, which are the subject of research and development in many countries around the world, offer a solution for capturing the strongest and most regular winds offshoreRefers to sea-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "offshore license" or "offshore drilling". . They are the only feasible source of ocean energy in the Mediterranean Sea. Given France’s geographical location and the technical know-how of its businesses, the country is well-placed to play a role in this emerging sector. In this article, Patricia Marin, head of renewable ocean energies at Pôle Mer Méditerranée in the south of France, provides her analysis.

Among the various types of renewable ocean energies, only wind energyEnergy derived from the wind. Wind power involves converting the kinetic energy of moving air (wind) into electricity. appears to be viable in the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean’s currents and waves are not strong enough to warrant the installation of underwater turbines or wave powerWave power involves capturing the energy of ocean waves to generate electricity... systems typically found in oceans, and thermal energy requires warm tropical waters with temperature differentials at various depths.

Floating wind turbines should be the number one choice for offshore wind energy. BathymetryTopography of the seabed and ocean floors. Bathymetric readings are used to map water depths. , which is the science of measuring the depths and relief patterns of the sea bed, has revealed that the floor of the Mediterranean can drop off sharply beyond the shore. Fixed‑bottom wind turbines installed on the sea bed are only possible within a depth of 50 meters and would therefore require building foundations near the coast. On the Mediterranean coastline, however, tourism is often the most profitable economic sector and any plans to fill the horizon with wind turbines would meet with resistance from local residents and officials.

Floating wind turbines, which can be anchored further off the coast, have already passed the prototype stage. Tests have been carried out in Japan, notably off the coast of Fukushima, and in Norway. A prototype was installed off the coast of Portugal over a three-year period in waves sometimes exceeding 15 meters. In France, the Floatgen demonstrator inaugurated in October 2017 will be hosted at the SEM-REV testing site located in the waters of Le Croisic and operated by the Centrale Nantes engineering school. Scotland has gone one step further with the construction of its first floating farm; hosting three wind turbines, the project took three years to complete.

In the Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey have the potential for wind energy development in certain areas, while Italy has one such project underway. Yet, France should be the leader in this sector simply because the Gulf of Lion has the most favorable wind patterns, with a total potential capacity estimated at 3 gigawatts.

In 2015, France approved four pilot wind farm projects, three of which in the very windy Gulf of Lion in the Mediterranean. Two of the projects will be located in the Occitanie region, off the coast of Gruissan and Port Leucate, and each comprise four 6-megawatt wind turbines. The third farm will be in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, off the coast of Marseille, and have three 8‑megawatt wind turbines. The fourth farm will be located off the island of Groix in the Atlantic. The long-term plan is to set up farms of several dozen floating wind turbines to obtain capacities of 500 megawatts.

The first step in installing floating wind turbines is the consultation process. Residents are less affected since the turbines will be placed more than 15 kilometers offshore, but due consideration must be given to the sea’s primary users, especially fishermen but also maritime shipping companies and military authorities. Impact studies are also conducted to examine the ramifications on marine life. Floating wind farms will be categorized as protected areas, which could benefit the development of these organisms.

The Need for Lower Costs

Floating wind turbines can be just as large as their fixed-bottom equivalents, which are typically around 200 meters tall from the base to the blade tip, with capacities of 8 to 10 megawatts today and 15 megawatts in the near future. The technical challenges have more to do with floating and anchoring systems, which experts in the offshore oilDescribes crude oil produced offshore, either in shallow water (depths up to 700 meters) using standard methods, or in deep water... and gas sector are very familiar with. Special infrastructure will also need to be set up at the relevant ports. Floaters, such as those planned in France, measure between 50 and 80 meters and need to be assembled before they are towed offshore. If a serious maintenance problem arises, the wind turbine can be brought back to the port for repairs. The ports of Marseille-Fos and Port‑la‑Nouvelle will handle port-related services for France’s Mediterranean projects.

The cost of floating wind turbines is currently higher than that of conventional varieties as they are still in the demonstration phase. But, over time, the improved output from giant wind turbines combined with wind regularity and savings on installation and maintenance should bring the cost down to that of a fixed-bottom turbine. This is a necessary condition for the sector’s development. As a leader in this new industry, France hosts the largest global conference on floating wind turbines every two years (FOWT), bringing together some 800 experts from more than 20 countries. Apart from Japan and Scotland, the most advanced countries in this area are the United States, particularly its west coast, Taiwan and Australia.


Patricia Marin is the head of renewable ocean energies at Pôle Mer Méditerranée in France’s Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region. Pôle Mer Méditerranée is a competitiveness cluster launched in 2005 at the initiative of the DCNS naval group and a selection of key industry entrepreneurs and laboratories, including Thales, ECA, CNIM, Ifremer, Principia and Université du Sud Toulon Var. Patricia is an engineer in fluid mechanics and worked at Thales and Naval Group before taking up her position at Pôle Mer Méditerranée.


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