April 28 (SeeNews) - ICGB, the operator of the Greece-Bulgaria natural gas interconnector (IGB), is planning to launch market tests in the second half of 2023 to gauge potential demand ahead of a planned capacity expansion, executive officer Teodora Georgieva told SeeNews.
ICGB has begun assessing the pipeline's infrastructure readiness to carry hydrogen as well, Georgieva told SeeNews in an interview earlier this month at the Budapest LNG Summit.
In case of sufficient market demand, the expansion of the IGB's capacity to 5 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year from the current 3 bcm/year will also help ensure the flow of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from terminals in Greece - the operational facility at Revithoussa and planned terminals like the one in Alexandroupolis. ICGB is already working on this opportunity with Greek transmission system operator DESFA, according to the official. Building a new compressor station on the Greek side is one of the projects that will advance capacity expansion.
ICGB's next priorities focus on maintaining the safe operation of the pipeline and looking into opportunities for improvement, with the company having already exceeded its targets for the first six months of operation, Georgieva added.
The pipeline, which entered operation at the start of October, transited 3.08 million MWh of gas in total in the first two months of this year, with 15 gas traders as registered users. The 182-kilometre gas pipeline, which connects Bulgaria to the Southern Gas corridor via a direct link with the Trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP), has carried 7.9 million MWh since its commissioning. It is in the process of procuring insurance services under a public tender worth an estimated 2.7 million euro ($2.96 million).
"Some of the tasks before the company as a transmission system operator now include managing procurements, negotiating contract terms, recruiting highly skilled and experienced professionals with international expertise to enhance our team, investing in equipment and technology for the safe and efficient operation of the infrastructure, and navigating the complex landscape of strategic partnerships to ensure maximum booked capacity of the pipeline," Georgieva explained.
STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE FOR THE SEE REGION AND BEYOND
"The launch of IGB has proven to be a game-changer for the gas market in Europe in terms of security, reliability, affordability and sustainability," Georgieva noted. In December, with over 90% of its capacity booked, the pipeline carried gas to Moldova, helping the country deal with a natural gas supply crisis during the winter months. "The capacity reserved for Moldova was used to secure the necessary quantities for the country’s domestic consumption during the winter period."
IGB also saw its capacity booked at over 90% in February, the most recent month for which data is publicly available.
The pipeline has had a crucial role in securing more than a third of Bulgaria's gas consumption needs since the start of operations, both carrying pipeline gas from Azerbaijan and regasified LNG delivered to Revithoussa. Bulgaria expects to take delivery of ten tankers of LNG per year once the Alexandroupolis floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) import terminal in the Aegean Sea offshore Greece goes live in 2024, Bulgaria's caretaker energy minister Rossen Hristov said last month.
In addition, IGB is set to play a major role in the Vertical Gas Corridor project that includes Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, boosting the delivery of additional Azeri gas to Central Europe via the direct link to TAP, Georgieva noted.
Earlier this week, the national gas grid operators of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia signed a memorandum of understanding with Azerbaijan's state-owned energy company SOCAR, through which their networks will guarantee the supply of further volumes of Capsian gas to Europe, under an EU agreement to double those shipments by 2027.
($ = 0.9104 euro)