High prices, overseas dependence affect energy, say Turks

High prices, overseas dependence affect energy, say Turks

Barçın Yinanç - barcin.yinanc@hdn.com.tr
High prices, overseas dependence affect energy, say Turks High prices are perceived as one of the most critical problems in the energy sector and the area in which the government has been most unsuccessful in terms of energy policy, a recent poll has revealed. 

The dependence on imported energy is seen as another major problem for the sector, according to Professor Volkan Ediger, the director of Kadir Has University’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Energy, which commissioned the poll. 

“Natural gas is the most used energy source in households; the consumer wants continuous access to energy sources,” said Ediger. 

Tell us about the poll.

I think this poll is a first of its kind since it is about the Turkish public’s energy preferences. The poll was conducted last November with 1,204 people who were interviewed face to face.

In the first part, we asked questions to see the patterns on household energy consumption. Some 65 percent of consumers said they were spending the largest amount of money on energy for heating and then lighting. Some 54 percent use natural gas, 25 percent use coal and 12 percent use wood for heating. While natural gas is the most used energy source, the highest bill is paid for electricity, since 50 percent said electricity was the energy source they spend the most money on.

One of the questions we asked in this section was about electricity cuts. Some 47 percent said electricity cuts happened one or two times, and that’s pretty normal. In addition, we saw that in some regions, electricity cuts are more frequent, especially in Southeast Anatolia. Probably that is because of security problems and unauthorized use is also highest in that region.

One of the most interesting findings is about insulation. Some 65 percent do not have any system of insulation. That means there is a big room for this type of industry. And also we have to do more to raise awareness. As income levels increase, more are inclined to have insulation.

In the second part, we asked questions on consumer preferences. The findings show that natural gas is the public’s number-one preference as an energy source. When asked which energy source they would prefer to use in their house if they cost the same and were easily accessible, 63 percent said natural gas. Solar energy came second at 21 percent, followed by wind at 6 percent.

Can we say that the public prefers clean energy and has a high awareness of renewable sources?

Let me put it this way: the Turkish public likes natural gas. It is clean and easy to use. There is no danger in using it and it is relatively cheap. The poll shows that the bill they pay for natural gas is quite high compared to their income; still it is the cheapest option they can have. I also believe that the public knows that Turkey is geographically in an advantageous position as neighboring countries are rich in natural gas.

When it comes to solar energy, people are aware that Turkey is a very sunny country. I think they say, “The sun is there, it heats Turkey, so why don’t we use it more?” But I don’t think they know about the technology and how much it costs. They think there is plenty of sun and wind, so it should cost less.

One of the most important findings in this section was about the public’s view on the cost of energy. On electricity prices, 50 percent said they were very high, while 35 percent said they found it high. In the case of natural gas, 32 percent found it high, while 33 percent said it was very high. 

What are the other findings in the second part?

We asked what type of power plant they would prefer to have in their city. The top two are solar and wind. The least preferred is nuclear and coal plants.

Can we assume that the Turkish consumer is environmentally conscious?

I think they have confused views. Natural gas is their most preferred energy resource. When we asked about the world’s future energy source, 40 percent say solar energy and 22 percent say natural gas. But when we ask if they cost the same and were easily accessible, they said they would prefer natural gas to solar energy.

I think starting with the President Turgut Özal, who was the first to sign natural gas agreements in 1986, successive governments have pursued successful natural gas policies. They invested in pipelines, and natural gas became available in big cities and later in rural areas, too. Turkey is covered by a natural gas system. When it comes to solar and wind energy, it is popular in their ideal world because they must think it is relatively cheap, which is not actually the case. 

The public seems to be wary of nuclear plants as well.

Yes, but that approach changes when it is presented as a government policy.

The poll shows that the majority believe nuclear power plants involve environmental and health risks. And they wouldn’t choose to have a nuclear power plant in their city. But their view on nuclear energy differs according to their party affiliation as well. Some 42 percent say they trust the government rhetoric on the safety of nuclear power plants. More than 50 percent of AKP [Justice and Development Party] supporters say they trust the government’s rhetoric on the safety of nuclear energy. The highest objection to nuclear energy comes from the Peoples’ Democratic Party [HDP], followed by the Republican People’s Party [CHP].

So the public’s views on energy policies are politicized.

Exactly. Everybody supports the energy position of their own party. The public finds energy prices to be high. But when we ask about what they think about the government policy, they say they support it. So that’s the third part of the poll. Some 58 percent who said they voted for the AKP said they supported the government’s energy policies. The political line you see on other issues is similar on energy issues as well. On one end, we have the ruling AKP with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) closer to it and on the other end, we have the HDP with the CHP.

Another interesting finding in that section regards support for different energy policies. The oil and natural gas pipelines policy tops the list with 38 percent finding it successful; this is followed by the purchase of natural gas.

The least successful one is energy prices.

But then we asked their views on the Turkish Stream [a new pipeline project that will carry Russian gas to Europe via Turkey], they have no idea what Turkish Stream is. Some 86 percent said, “I have no information about it.” 

On the one hand, the government’s policy on oil and gas pipeline policy is described as successful, yet the most recent instrument in that policy, Turkish Stream, is unknown to the public.

So they support energy policies but they don’t know exactly what they support.

In a way. Since the 1990s, there has been a lot of talk about Turkey being a transit country for pipelines. And since they use natural gas in their daily lives, they probably support pipeline policies. But there has been so much talk about Turkish Stream; it is an issue that is frequently covered in the media. However, they are not informed about it.

In the meantime, the poll has shown that they do not take into consideration energy policies when they vote. In fact, energy issues rank eighth on the list of Turkey’s most important problems. The first three are education, domestic security and economy.

What does this tell us?

It is normal. Energy prices are seen as a problem but they probably see it under the headline of the economy. When they ranked energy as eighth as the most important problem, I think they look at it as energy supply security. “Will I have access to gas or not?” “Will it be cut or not?” “Will I freeze in the middle of winter or not?”

Otherwise, when it comes to the question of what is the most important problem for Turkey’s energy system, dependence on imported energy and energy prices emerge as the most important problems.

We asked the same question two different ways and the result were the same. The fact that the consumer sees high prices as a problem is normal. When it comes to dependence abroad, I find that interesting because they probably don’t look at it from a strategic but rather a pragmatic point of view. I relate it to the problems we had we Russia, when relations deteriorated with our most important supplier. There have been debates in the past, too, about whether there would be cuts in natural gas. They are concerned whether they will remain in the cold. Also, another factor could be the government’s tendency to hold the outside world responsible for everything negative. So they might fear that foreign suppliers might cut the gas or that they are responsible for these high prices.

Who is Volkan Ediger?


High prices, overseas dependence affect energy, say Turks

Professor Volkan Ediger is currently the head of the Energy Systems Engineering Department and the director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Energy at Kadir Has University.

After graduating from the Geological Engineering Department of Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in 1976, he received an MS degree from the same university before going on to earn a PhD from Pennsylvania State University. 

He started his career at the Research Center of the Turkish Petroleum Corporation.

Between 1998 and 2010, he served as the energy adviser to three of Turkey’s presidents.

Ediger is the founder and president of the Energy and Climate Change Foundation and the founding executive committee of the Sustainable Production and Consumption Association. He recently served as the general chair of ICE 2014, which was staged by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) in September 2014 in Istanbul.