Thursday, July 22, 2010

North Stream and the island of Gotland

Export of natural gas from Russia to the EU is decisive for the EU’s energy security and a decisive link for the future is the gas pipeline North Stream that will be laid along the bed of the Baltic Sea from a landfall in Vyborg outside St Petersburg to Lybmin in Germany. ( Read about North Stream ). The pipeline is 1,200,000 meters long and its diameter is 1.2 meters. Using that information I estimate that every pipe segment is 10 meters long. (Does anyone know the exact length?) That means that they will weld together 120,000 segments.

North Stream and the island of Gotland

A stock of pipes for North Steam in Slite’s Harbour

When one studies the pipeline’s length one can see that Gotland lies approximately halfway between Russia and Germany and the harbour of Slite on Gotland has become the centre for the construction effort. On the quay in the harbour they have an incredibly large store of the pipes and when I visited the Harbour it was full of activity.

North Stream and the island of Gotland

Handling of North Stream’s smallest pieces

To lay the pipeline they have a specially constructed vessel and I was fortunate that they were loading it with pipes when I was there. To see the piles of pipes, the pipes in detail and the specially constructed vessel gives one a good idea of the project’s enormous size. One obtains a concrete picture of the scale of the energy flow to the EU and how important that energy flow is for our society. According to the enterprise’s website they can supply gas for 26 million households when the project is complete.

North Stream and the island of Gotland

North Stream and the island of Gotland

Pipes are loaded for transport to their final resting place

In his speech in Almedalen in Visby Jan Björklund, the leader of the Liberal Party of Sweden, discussed the piles of pipes on the quay in Slite and he associated them with the debate on nuclear energy:
“Only a few tens of kilometers from here, in the harbour of Slite, pipes are loaded and unloaded. Out at sea they are put together into one long pipeline from Russia to Germany. Piece by piece the pipeline is constructed on the seabed of the Baltic for the gas trade.

The German Green Party’s leader Joschka Fischer got what he wanted. He forced his coalition partner Gerhard Schröder to close down German nuclear energy. But their hopes on what would come in its stead were not realized. Windpower was expanded greatly but was insufficient in the long run. So now the gas pipeline is being built.

There are two main explanations for why we in Sweden are unique, for why we can brew our morning coffee and warm the children’s porridge in the microwave oven without contributing to the greenhouse effect.

One explanation is luck. The rivers that run from the mountains to the Gulf of Bothnia give us nearly half of all our electricity. The remaining four undisturbed rivers must remain undeveloped. We must become better in our nation at preserving biological diversity and those rivers are unique.

The other explanation is that PM Tage Erlander and PM Olof Palme made a strategic decision to develop Sweden’s nuclear power industry. This gives us nearly the other half of the electricity we need. Erlander had not heard of the greenhouse effect.

But in 10-15 years Tage Elander’s and Olof Palme’s reactors will begin to be decommissioned due to their age. They must then be replaced by new, modern nuclear energy. Otherwise we will lose nearly half of our electricity production.

It will take nearly 15 years to receive energy from new reactors if they decide to build them. Therefore, it is imperative that the decisions must be made now during the coming four-year electoral period. That is why nuclear energy will be an issue in the coming election.”

North Stream and the island of Gotland

Planned use of natural gas in the EU

The fact is that the EU plans to increase its imports of natural gas by 80 to 90% by 2030. This increase is due partly to the fact that production of natural gas within the EU will decline during this period while they simultaneously plan to expand production of electricity using natural gas. Today most natural gas is imported from Russia, Norway and Algeria.

North Stream and the island of Gotland

Future use of natural gas in the EU

The EU’s increased need for electricity production from natural gas can be partly due to the planned phasing out of nuclear energy in Germany that Jan Björklund suggested in his speech in Almedalen. However, it can also be associated with the fact that the EU needs to increase its regulatory power capacity. During each 24 hour period one needs more current during the daytime compared with the baseload that one needs during the night. Windpower cannot be regulated and thus can only form part of baseload supply. Electricity from solar cells has a time structure that gives current during the day when the need is greatest and so fits well into the consumption time structure. The largest part of the baseload supply still comes from coal-fired and nuclear generation while natural gas and hydroelectric power are mainly used for regulating electricity supply according to the moment-by-moment requirement.

How important is North Stream for the EU? The fact that Gazprom is participating in the financing of the gigantic project means that they will also export gas in the pipeline from Russia to Germany. Today there is sufficient gas export capacity to do this via Belarus and Ukraine but there have been disruptions in the supply. China has also emerged as a new threat in terms of exports of natural gas from Russia. Natural gas consumption in China is increasing and they cannot satisfy this increase with domestic production. Without the investment in North Stream this gas could very easily be lapped up by China.

I have myself previously been critical of the gas pipeline and as far as the branch-line to Sweden is concerned I am still critical. But when we discuss the EU’s energy security then it is completely clear that the pipeline is an important piece in the puzzle for the future and the next 20 years will certainly involve a great deal of natural gas. However, without doubt there will come a day when the Russian gas supply begins to wane and the EU must already now begin to plan for that.

Discuss at Alekletts Energy Mix:

Gulf spill won’t dampen U.S. appetite for oilNatural gas, the green choice?

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