The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), in close consultation with the Serbian Government and civil society partners, have recently launched the new Swiss Cooperation Strategy for Serbia for the period 2018-2021. In the energy sector, a shift towards stronger engagement with municipalities continues. In an interview for Balkan Green Energy News, Sybille Haegler, Program Manager at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, discussed the main pillars of the strategy, the main drivers regarding sustainable energy and resilient cities, and projects in focus.
The new Swiss Cooperation Strategy for the period 2018-2021 will focus on three fields, including governance, economic development and employment, as well as on sustainable energy and resilient cities. Why did you select these sectors?
It is a continuation of our activities in the country so far. The Swiss Cooperation Office has been present in Serbia since 1991. In the energy field, we have been working for more than 20 years. We have decided to continue to work in the sector. It is in line with the Serbian priorities, and we believe that Switzerland has an added value in this sector. After building a network and expertise for so many years, we want to build on our achievements and stay a constant partner in the energy sector.
What is new in the strategy 2018-2021?
With the new strategy, we have further emphasized the local level activities. 15 years ago, we have supported the rehabilitation and modernization of the National Control Center, which is in charge of electricity distribution in Serbia. This project was focused on the national level; it helped Serbia to get included in the European energy market system. Similarly, 10 years ago we have supported the rehabilitation of the control center within the Nikola Tesla B thermal power plant.
We started the implementation of two new large programmes at the local level – the Municipal Energy Efficiency and Management Programme (MEEMP) and the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Project (MDRRP)
In the past years, we have increasingly shifted the focus towards the local level. The domain title takes this in consideration; we emphasize not only sustainable energy, but also resilient cities. Thus, the municipalities should be strengthened in their tasks – this includes dealing with the impact of climate change, but also other aspects like management of natural resources. Recently we started the implementation of two new large programmes at the local level – the Municipal Energy Efficiency and Management Programme (MEEMP) and the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Project (MDRRP).
The idea is to create an integrated approach that will make municipalities not only look at lowering the energy consumption of one building but to monitor the energy consumption of the whole municipality, including by looking at e.g. street lighting or public transport.
What will be the main drivers regarding sustainable energy and resilient cities? Which projects do you expect?
Climate change is a reality the world has to face. Also, the Government of Serbia aims at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10% until 2030. In order to reach this goal, Switzerland, supports Serbia’s efforts to reduce the energy consumption and to increase use of renewable energy sources. We have three target areas in this domain. One is improved energy efficiency, where we will implement targeted measures. For example, we are now working on the rehabilitation of public buildings such as schools and hospitals, to substantially lower the greenhouse gas emissions and boost energy efficiency.
The second one is the increased use of renewable energy sources. At the moment we are working together with KfW to increase the use of biomass in district heating systems. The goal is to substitute the use of fossil fuel with biomass. SECO is implementing this project with other donors who already looked at the availability of biomass. In one municipality, in Bečej, the plan is to use geothermal energy for district heating. This is a pilot project showcasing a new technology in Serbia. Regarding this our aim is to show the implementation of new technologies. Potentially, other renewable energy sources including solar energy could be used in Serbia.
The idea is to look into municipalities’ energy planning, to make their management better
The third target area is aiming to increase the resilience of cities. In other words, cities need to adapt to natural disaster such as floods. Moreover, they have to take actions to lower their emissions. Switzerland is at the forefront when it comes to the promotion of innovative policies and technologies for the implementation of the global climate agenda.
In Serbia, our focus is on an integrated approach to help municipalities improve their planning and management, and at the same time have targeted infrastructure measures, which are connected with the other two areas -those of energy efficiency and renewable energy. The idea is to look into municipalities’ energy planning, to make their management better.
This work will be connected with energy managers in municipalities?
Yes. We are closely working with energy managers, but we are also trying to use and link them with other experts in the municipalities. There are other aspects, which are also relevant for energy, for example, urban mobility, which is usually somebody else’s responsibility in larger municipalities. Therefore, we are trying to make sure that energy managers are well established in their municipalities and have good connections with everybody and access to all the information they need.
To achieve a synergy of activities, which Serbia is missing in general?
Yes. When working at local level, we are also coordinating our activities with other donors active in this field, for example, UNDP or the German cooperation. We are not doing something totally new, but are building on what other donors are doing. It is important that donors and international development banks coordinate and cooperate in Serbia because there are many of them active in the energy sector. For example, many donors are involved in the energy efficiency of public buildings, especially schools, and it is important that there is a coordination.
It is important not to work only on the technological side, but also to improve the capacities of municipalities and public utilities, where necessary
The Swiss Cooperation Office in Serbia is an active participant in the project to convert 30 district heating plants from fossil fuels to biomass. Can you provide an update on this project?
It is at the beginning, we are closely working with KfW. SECO is participating with a grant contribution while KfW is providing loans. In other countries in the region, we are also cooperating with KfW, it is a common way to join activities and we have good synergies together. At the moment, the selection and contracting process for the implementation consultancy is ongoing. The launch of the project with activities in the municipalities should start soon, but I cannot give a specific date.
How many municipalities could be involved?
At the start, when we approved the project, it was 5 selected municipalities: Mali Zvornik, Nova Varoš, Novi Pazar and Prijepolje and Bečej – but others will be added to the program, this is a matter of an ongoing discussion. We are currently hiring a consultancy team of international and local experts who will work with municipalities to set up this project technologically, but also to help municipalities with strengthening their capacities to handle biomass. It is important not to work only on the technological side, but also to improve the capacities of municipalities and public utilities, where necessary.
Could you tell us more about the integrated approach on the local level – which is one of the main targets regarding sustainable energy and resilient cities?
The Municipal Energy Efficiency and Management Programme will be launched in June. In this Programme, we are working with 4 municipalities: Užice, Vrbas, Kruševac, and Paraćin. Consultancy team for project has been hired.
The goal is for the cities to be able to report on their energy consumption, possibly reduce the consumption with energy efficiency measures and at the same time increase the use of renewable energy sources
The project has three components: the first is the introduction of the European Energy Award. The label “Energy City” was established in Switzerland in 1988 and is now used under the name European Energy Award across many countries. The label has already been established in the Ukraine and Romania, and this is a pilot project in Serbia.In Serbia, the approach is very much in line with the implementation of the Serbian Law on Efficient Use of Energy. For instance, the law requires that local government units with more than 200,000 inhabitants have to report their energy consumption for every building. The approach will moreover support the municipalities in the implementation of the obligations related to energy management, which are defined at national level.
The goal is for the cities to be able to report on their energy consumption, possibly reduce the consumption with energy efficiency measures and at the same time increase the use of renewable energy sources. When the municipalities are successful, they will be certified as European Energy Award cities. This tool also supports municipalities to implement the obligations related to energy management which are coming from the national level. We are working closely with the Ministry of Mining and Energy, which is coordinating the activities in the four cities. This is the first component of the project.
The second component is energy efficiency investments where we are going to rehabilitate schools in all four municipalities to illustrate what energy efficiency is aimed at and what can be achieved.
And thirdly, we conduct capacity development measures. In this area, we are planning trainings, for example, to raise awareness of school janitors, energy managers, teachers, so they can teach children more about energy efficiency. The process of identifying municipalities’ needs is underway. We are cooperating with the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities, which will share the knowledge of these four municipalities with other municipalities.
By establishing the WISE network, Serbian women have been provided with a platform to have access to various information and to build a strong network
The Center for the Promotion of Sustainable Development (CPOR) has successfully implemented the first phase of the WISE SEE (Women in Sustainable Energy South-East Europe) project in partnership with the Swiss Cooperation Office. What are your impressions about this project in general and about the results we have achieved so far?
Switzerland is committed to support the role of women in sustainable energy, climate change, and environmental protection. It is for that reason that we decided to cooperate with the CPOR.
It is very encouraging to see that many women in Serbia are already well informed about sustainable energy topics. Moreover, they are not just informed, they are also ready to be active participants in the transition process to green energy solutions and a healthier environment. By establishing the WISE network, Serbian women have been provided with a platform to have access to various information and to build a strong network.
Thanks to the research, decision-makers and development organizations will have valuable inputs when proposing measures to improve positions of women in companies, organizations, and managing boards.