In November 2021, Turkey became a party to the Paris Agreement and announced its 2053 carbon neutrality target, which marked a turning point for Turkey in the energy sector, particularly in the integration of renewable energy. By 2053, achieving carbon-neutrality across the planet is the most crucial goal of the Paris Agreement. According to Europe Beyond Coal Campaigner Duygu Kutluay, the most effective step for Turkey to reach the 2053 net zero target would be to phase out coal, which is responsible for 72 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. The fact is that carbon emissions could be reduced by 82.8 percent in 2035 by abandoning coal and doubling the share of renewable sources in energy generation. Therefore, it will be inevitable for Turkey to turn to renewable energy sources or increase their use to ensure energy transformation. Renewable energy generation in Turkey in terawatt hours increased from 23.8 in 2016 to 62.7 in 2021. In short, Turkey is taking firm steps toward achieving its goals.
While the share of renewables in Turkey's final energy consumption was 13.2 percent in 2016, when the Paris Agreement entered into force, this figure has now reached 15 percent. Even if Turkey has increased the use of renewable energy, this figure is insufficient for the decarbonization target. Recently, to realize the decarbonization targets under the Paris Agreement, there has been a shift towards solar, wind, hydroelectric energy, and other alternative sources. At this point, "hydrogen energy" offers essential opportunities for decarbonization. Hydrogen energy can be defined as the energy source obtained by converting hydrogen, which is found as compounds in nature. In other words, hydrogen energy is generated by the separation of hydrogen atoms from oxygen atoms.
It is possible to produce hydrogen energy with different energy sources. For example, hydrogen energy produced with fossil fuels is gray hydrogen, and hydrogen energy produced with natural gas is blue hydrogen. Hydrogen energy from renewable energy can be called green hydrogen, and green hydrogen is an opportunity to implement the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement and solve the global energy crisis.
It is undeniable to ensure energy transformation and substitute alternative sources on the path to decarbonization. If Turkey's goal of giving up coal due to the Paris Climate Agreement is considered, the amount of coal consumed in Turkey is relatively high. According to a report published by the Chamber of Mechanical Engineers of Turkey, coal consumed in Turkey in 2018 amounted to 122 million tons, of which 39.5 million tons were hard coal, and 82.5 million tons were lignite and asphaltite. In addition, Turkey's coal-fired electricity generation has increased by 39 percent in the last five years, making Turkey one of the three countries with the highest increase in coal-fired electricity generation, along with Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
According to Kutluay, the price increases in coal and natural gas due to the current commodity crisis and the increasing costs of coal power plant operations make the transition to renewable energy mandatory. According to the report "Priority Areas for Turkey's National Hydrogen Strategy," published by SHURA Energy Transformation Center, Turkey can overcome the high cost of coal and natural gas with its hydrogen potential. Turkey's 1.6 million tons of green hydrogen potential, which offers a $45 billion investment opportunity, could accelerate the energy transition. At this point, Turkey's first strategy for hydrogen energy, according to Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez, is to mix hydrogen into the existing natural gas network and use it to reduce the cost of natural gas imports. In short, hydrogen will reduce the exorbitant costs of natural gas and coal and replace them with cheaper energy.
On the other hand, Turkey's green hydrogen potential of 1.6 million tons could create a new export opportunity for Turkey; Turkey could sell its green hydrogen produced from renewable sources to Europe and generate a source of income for the national economy. For example, China has approved a major green hydrogen project that will replace 180 million gallons of gasoline per year and aims to meet 10 percent of its electricity production from hydrogen energy. Moreover, the US plans to build a plant in New York that will produce 500 tons of green hydrogen per day by 2025, targeting high export revenues.
In sum, the exceptionally high levels of coal use in Turkey in sectors such as industry, transportation, and construction have caused both energy prices and sectoral costs to rise. However, Turkey's potential to produce 3.4 million tons of green hydrogen annually would be highly beneficial in terms of minimizing the import costs spent on natural gas, opening a revenue gate for the country in exports, and fulfilling the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement. Moreover, by taking an essential step in green hydrogen energy diversification, Turkey will become a new power supporting its position in the energy geopolitics in the region thanks to its export opportunities. For example, the transportation of hydrogen to Europe through the Southern Gas Corridor, which transports Azerbaijani gas through Turkey, can play an essential role in strengthening Turkey's role in European energy supply security and increasing Turkey's geopolitical importance.