Since the turn of the millennium, Turkey has had a rapidly developing economy, correlating with an impressive boost in the standard of living for much of the population. This economic and demographic growth has resulted in a huge increase in demand for energy, upon which Turkey relies on imports for over 75% of its total supply. These imports come in the form of fossil fuels (mostly oil, natural gas, and sometimes coal) which comprise roughly 80% of Turkey’s total energy supply. This heavy dependency on imports compromises Turkey’s energy security at a time when a growing proportion of its population expects reliable and affordable energy access. Turkey’s sources of oil and gas are primarily obtained from its regional neighbors and competitors including Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

In Turkey’s electricity sector, a less compromised picture is painted, with domestic renewables currently accounting for 44% of generation in 2019. This is an impressive number that can be accredited to a deliberate push by the Turkish government to increase hydro, solar, and wind power to boost economic development and better ensure energy security. Still, 56% of electricity is generated from fossil fuels, with 20% from mostly imported natural gas.

These high figures and the strong dependency on energy imports leave Turkey at risk should a strain in the supply chain emerge. Such strains could result from a declining relationship with one of Turkey’s key suppliers of oil and gas, or if a regional conflict were to erupt. To avoid the consequences of energy insecurity from one of these scenarios, Turkey should continue its renewables project unabated. Not only would it help ensure security of supply, but it would also have obvious benefits for the climate, the economy, and the Turkish population by setting the country on its way towards the energy transition.

Energy Security Risks

Energy security as a concept first entered the public sphere following the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, when the respective shocks of the OPEC oil embargo and the Iranian revolution caused massive shortages of oil on the world market. Since these shocks, governments worldwide have prioritized the supply of energy for their citizens and economies. Turkey is no different in preoccupying itself over the security of supply, especially considering the complicated regional dynamics at play. Turkey is one of the few countries in the Middle East that is not endowed with plentiful fossil fuel resources, creating a large economic imbalance between itself and its suppliers.

Turkey is heavily dependent on Russia for natural gas, a country with which it has many disagreements.  Source: EIA

Notably, Turkey receives 56% of its natural gas from Russia and 16% from Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran supply 9% and 20% of crude oil, respectively. Tensions with all three states have flared to varying degrees in recent years. In 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet operating in Syria after it entered Turkish airspace. The relationship between the two has been strained ever since over disagreements regarding the protracted Syrian conflict. Relations with Iran are not much better, and although there is some regional cooperation on energy and politics, there is also a tense struggle for influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Concerning Saudi Arabia, flashpoints include the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Turkish soil, and Turkey’s allyship with Qatar, a fierce rival of Saudi Arabia.

Ties with these three countries are just examples of several political and strategic relationships that Turkey must navigate with caution, given the leverage they hold over its energy supply. An energy crisis would immediately raise the fear and increase the likelihood of an oil embargo, which would cripple the Turkish economy. Unlike Turkey, its neighbors are net exporters of energy and have used this as an advantage many times by cutting or expanding the production of oil and gas. Under the right circumstances, it is not unimaginable that they could weaponize this advantage against Turkey by withholding supply. Amid this tense geopolitical climate, the Turkish government needs to secure its energy supply domestically, through the deployment of its renewable energy. 

The Push Towards Renewables

To decrease import dependency, the Turkish government has made a deliberate effort to boost domestic production and has achieved some success in doing so. A large portion of this increase is due to Turkey’s rich hydroelectric power supply. However, the majority of hydropower potential has already been filled through the construction of hydroelectric dams, and concerns have been raised over water scarcity for further development. This means that the renewables of wind, solar, and geothermal would need to account for enough energy production to lower import dependency. 

Renewable energy installation has been impressive in Turkey in recent years. Source: BP

The Turkish government set a goal to have 30% of its electricity generated by renewable energy (excluding hydro) by 2023. Currently, it stands at around 16% and would have to double in less than two years to follow through on such a promise. Already, the scale of deployment has been impressive, with solar power making the most progress in recent years. Climatically, Turkey is well suited for both wind and solar development, and rapidly diversifying to renewables could be feasible under the right economic conditions and with the appropriate government incentives.

Some barriers that could prevent a faster renewable rollout include high financing costs for renewable energy projects and lengthy application processes that can take years. Moreover, there is still a lack of capital investment by the government such that many individuals and businesses who would like to install rooftop solar cannot afford to do so. The current economic conditions in Turkey, with high inflation rates and low investor confidence, are likely to only exacerbate the situation. 

Alleviating these financial and bureaucratic barriers so industry and residents alike could switch to renewable sources of energy would ultimately help Turkey reach its stated goal. By doing so, it would be better equipped to take advantage of the huge drop in the global price of solar and wind energy seen in recent years. This in turn would boost the economy at a time when it is needed and help alleviate Turkish cities of pollution from coal and gas power plants, benefiting the general population. Ultimately, increasing production of renewables would grant the Turkish government security over its energy use, decreasing the leverage its competitors hold over it and providing a vital component for continued growth. 

Edited by Chelsea Bean and Tuti Sandra

Jack Leevers

Jack is from a small town on Vancouver Island, B.C. He graduated from Simon Fraser University with a B.A. in International Studies in 2019. Currently, his main interests lie in energy politics, environmental...