Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to be able to welcome you to Athens for this 22nd World LNG Forum. I would like to apologize for the weather. We’ve had a lovely month of November. But unfortunately winter seems to be upon us with of course consequences. But it also comes to our energy mix.
I took note of your introductory remarks and I was thinking that not many of you as experts in the industry would have predicted the momentous events that took place in 2022. So this is, I think, a good time to gather and I think it’s also a good time for you to gather in Greece as we have also, as you know, invested heavily in our gas and our LNG infrastructure over many years.
And at this very critical juncture for the industry, we’re very honored to be hosting you in Athens for the very first time. I am convinced that you will have productive discussions over the course of the next few days and hopefully you’ll be more accurate in your predictions about what will happen next year. Although I haven’t looked through the records of what exactly you discussed a year ago.
I also understand that you will be visiting – some of you at least will be visiting Revithoussa – on Friday. While the Revythousa facility as we know isn’t new, for over 20 years it has been an indispensable asset at the heart of our energy mix. And it would indeed be impossible to imagine Greece without access to LNG and the supporting infrastructure that makes its delivery possible.
And of course never has that been more important than in the wake of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. We are very well aware of how painful it is to be subject to Russia’s blatant attempt to weaponize gas to put pressure upon us to stop our support in Ukraine. We are fully committed as EU members to continue supporting Ukraine. The Russian blackmail will not succeed, nor will it break our resolve.
Such events, however, as the one we are all attending today demonstrate why as a prime minister I’m constantly thinking about the need for diversification and flexibility and asking what investments we can make in Greece to protect Europe’s energy security. Because this unprecedented crisis is, as you pointed out, undoubtedly redrawing the energy map of Europe. And I’m proud to say that Greece is actually at the forefront of that change. It’s an anchor in increasingly turbulent seas and it is as we speak -and aspires to do so even more in the future- an exporter of energy security to our neighbors.
Our geopolitical and geoeconomic reach has never been greater. And much of that, I believe, is due to our energy strategy and of course, our gas strategy in particular. It does also help that we’ve left the years of the crisis behind us and that our economy is growing at almost 6% this year. But we have made energy and our energy strategy a focal point of our national economic strategy going forward. If you look at LNG imports in Greece, they’ve increased by 50% this year.
And as you know, and as you will see, we’ve added a floating storage unit in Revithoussa to expand the facility’s storage capacity by around 65%. Our first new FSRU facility will operate in Alexandroupolis, end of 2023, beginning of 2024. And there are several other important terminals being considered that could be developed over the next years. I wouldn’t be surprised if you visit us in a few years, you may see two, three, maybe four new terminals beyond Revithoussa receiving cargoes.
Our pipeline infrastructure is also expanding. Two years ago, as I’m sure you’re aware, we launched the Trans Adriatic Pipeline connecting the Caspian Sea to Italy. TAP is already considering expansion of its operations to support what is a European target to import more gas from Azerbaijan. And on October 1st, we celebrated in Sofia the commercial operation of the IGB pipeline. This is our second pipeline link to Bulgaria, where our exports have tripled over the past year, and a market test for a new pipeline to North Macedonia has been successfully completed over the past months. And I believe that all these developments pave the way for a brighter future across the region.
I want to be very clear with you: We want to help our regional partners diversify very rapidly away from Russian gas and break the stranglehold that Russia had on our neighbors. We believe that in this way we’re significantly contributing to regional stability, which is very much tied to energy security. As a country, you’re aware that we have made a strategic bet on natural gas. Domestically, gas is one of the main reasons why our coal consumption has declined by almost 80% in a decade. And gas has been, will be, an integral part of our energy transition strategy.
We used to run a relatively simple grid, importing gas from three points, basically for local use, but soon we will carry additional gas from the Caspian and of course we will send more gas towards the north, but also towards Italy. I would go as far as arguing that to a certain extent Europe’s energy security will be going through Greece. And as the industry evolves, we will of course evolve with it with plans to carry biomethane and hydrogen in the years ahead. But as you pointed out in your introductory remarks, what the future requires is to currently manage the present.
The price of natural gas and electricity is way too high. The people of Europe are hurting. Our businesses are under considerable pressure. Our budgets are under considerable pressure. The only reason we can support businesses and households to the extent that we do is because we have been growing almost at 6%.
But we’re diverting significant resources to make sure we keep the price of energy affordable. Our energy intensive industries, not just in Greece, but in Europe, face an existential threat. And I’ve been making the case for quite some time that we cannot continue to operate as before. Since March, I’ve been advocating at the European level in favor of decisive action to essentially impose a degree of order on a market that is no longer functioning properly.
You mentioned the prices we had to deal with, the price of gas reaching $100 per million British Thermal Units in August. That’s equivalent to a barrel of oil costing $600. It’s not a normal price, and it’s clearly not sustainable. And we need to find a new equilibrium. And I firmly believe that Europe should invest more in its gas supply to help ease the current crunch.
We cannot eliminate Russian gas without making investments in new production. We managed to fill our storage this year, but we did it because we were still dependent on Russian gas. 2023 is going to be more difficult. It’s clear that we will need more LNG, but it’s clear that we also, at the European level, need to explore whether we can actually develop new hydrocarbon assets.
This is exactly what we are doing in Greece. We are accelerating our search for hydrocarbons, in particular south west of Crete and the Peloponnese in cooperation with ExxonΜobil. We need to be realistic that gas is going to be with us for a while, and we need to find a way to secure this supply for citizens at a reasonable cost.
This is clearly not at the expense of accelerating the developments of the renewables industry. In Greece, we have more than ten gigawatts of installed wind and solar power, and another two and a half gigawatts of hydro. And actually, on a beautiful, sunny and windy day in October, when our electricity demands are not so significant because we don’t use air conditioning, we did manage to power the entire country for 6 hours, simply using renewable energy.
It was an important milestone for us. But this, of course, does not mean that we should not plan for the interim. And the interim period will require gas, and it will also require you, the industry, as partners in our efforts. I think we’ve seen tremendous innovations in the LNG business over the past two decades, both technical as well as commercial. But there’s one thing we yet have not solved: how to continue to invest in gas supply in alignment with the absolute imperatives of a net zero world.
And, of course, we know some of the ingredients of success: carbon capture and storage hydrogen, other imaginative ways to repurpose assets in the medium and the long term. What I think we’re still missing is a commercial model that brings all of these elements together.
Which is why, even though the product that you manage and the industry you have created has made a tremendous positive impact on our energy security, I would challenge you to use this opportunity to think about these innovative solutions that we need that can deliver energy security now, without undermining the process of long term decarbonization. After all, Greece is, as I told you, at the forefront of the green energy revolution in recent years. We’re also at the forefront, unfortunately, of a climate crisis.
And that’s why we need to find those solutions together. And if we do not, all the work that we do today will be meaningless in the face of environmental and supply challenges of tomorrow. Once again, let me welcome you to Athens. I hope that you come back at some point for business or for pleasure, and my best wishes for a successful and solution-driven gathering. And let me hope that 2023 is not going to be as unpredictable as 2022 and that we as leaders will not spend so much time trying to become not experts, but at least vaguely knowledgeable about your complicated industry.
Thank you very much.