The energy transition can be successful and less painful only if all actors in society are involved, but primarily citizens and businesses, as they will bear the brunt of the reforms. And if the change is initiated by the state power utility, as is the case with Montenegro’s Elektroprivreda Crne Gore (EPCG), then everyone truly wins.
The Solari program for installing solar panels on the roofs of households and businesses, designed by EPCG, goes a step further than just launching the energy transition in a country and by one state energy company – it marks the beginning of a sustainable energy transition, by including citizens and businesses in order to help everyone through the changes.
Given the importance of sustainability in European countries, and especially in less developed economies of this region, the Solari program rightfully deserves to be part of the series Energy transition champions in the Western Balkans.
EPCG’s model is based on enabling citizens and businesses to produce green energy for self-consumption and become prosumers. In that way, they can see decarbonization at work, but also how energy production can be demonopolized and democratized, reducing their reliance on large energy companies and making them players in the energy market.
Citizens and businesses can see the energy transition at work, while EPCG increases the output of the most sought-after commodity amid the energy crisis
On the other hand, the program allows EPCG to learn how to develop renewable energy projects, while it also helps provide additional amounts of electricity, the most sought-after commodity amid the energy crisis. That additional output will enable the power utility to reduce imports and increase exports, which will translate into savings and revenues measured in tens of millions of euros.
In this way, Montenegro is not only initiating changes that are inevitable, partly due to the obligation under the Sofia Declaration to become climate neutral by 2050, but will also partially make up for the time it has already lost.
The energy crisis, which has pushed power prices through the roof, and potential difficulties in regular electricity supply, have only added to the significance of the Solari program, by boosting the motivation of citizens and businesses. Many of the changes required by the energy transition, particularly the painful ones, are easier to implement if there is an incentive, especially in financial terms.
EPCG, households and businesses have recognized the opportunity
Montenegro has natural advantages for the use of green energy. The country’s solar potential is one of the largest in Southeast Europe. The capital Podgorica, for example, has more than 2,000 hours of sunshine per year, while the number for Montenegro as a whole ranges from 1,300 to 2,000 a year. Germany has between 1,000 and 1,200 of sunny hours per year, and it has already built 50 GW of solar power plants.
Given all this, EPCG has decided to offer households and businesses the installation of rooftop solar power plants, and to do all the work – take out a loan of about EUR 30 million for program, procure equipment, and install turnkey solar systems.
Households and businesses can get a rooftop solar power plant and pay it off in installments smaller than their monthly electricity bill
After the installation, citizens will pay off the investment in monthly installments over a period of five to ten years, and the installment will not be higher than their monthly electricity bill. Once the investment is repaid, electricity becomes almost free for the consumer, according to EPCG.
The launch of EPCG’s Solari program was a jackpot: in the first public call, announced in November 2021, more than 14,000 applications were received for the Solari 3,000+ project for households (up to 10 kW) and Solari 500+ for businesses (up to 30 kW). It was a logical response by citizens of a country with such an abundance of sunshine to the offer to get solar panels and ensure steady and affordable electricity supply.
It was also the right move for a company that intended to incentivize citizens to participate in the energy transition. It should be kept in mind that installing solar panels requires both money and time. An average rooftop solar power plant, of 6 kW, costs about EUR 6,000, but it also requires project development and installation.
Pavle Nikolić, a Nikšić resident, had solar panels installed on the roof of his house two months ago, and is already enjoying the benefits of the investment. He says his monthly electricity bill, which used to be EUR 65, has dropped to just four euros. An app on his phone allows him to monitor his power plant’s output, as well as his own consumption, at all times.
“I believe that this is the future, and that everyone should have one of these,” Nikolić has told TV Nikšić, adding that residents of the Montenegrin city should take advantage of its good location with plenty of sunshine.
Montenegro has also enabled citizens to earn some extra money by selling their electricity surpluses to EPCG. That, for example, is not possible in Serbia. Also, an additional benefit is a 20% subsidy on the total amount that is repaid in installments.
Naturally, EPCG will gain from this project as well. Calculations show that the installation of solar panels on 3,500 roofs will enable EPCG to sell electricity abroad, at prices much higher than those in the country, which is expected to bring in more than EUR 18 million a year.
Đukanović: We are obliged to leave the environment to our posterity in better shape than we found it
Milutin Đukanović, chairman of the EPCG board of directors, who initiated the Solari project, says the real winners are Montenegrin citizens, but that EPCG and the entire Montenegrin economy are also winners. He notes that there is a strong campaign for environmental protection around the world, and especially in Europe.
“We, as a generation, are obliged to leave to our posterity a better environment than we found. This energy transition has provided an opportunity for Montenegro to make a significant step forward in preserving the environment and growing the economy, and for citizens to cut their electricity costs,” says Đukanović.
At EPCG, they believe the Solari program has a historic significance for the entire energy sector in Montenegro because it has shown citizens the real opportunities for energy and financial savings, and demonstrated how joining forces can help reduce carbon emissions.
Rovčanin: We have extended a hand to citizens
Nikola Rovčanin, CEO of EPCG, says it is a great achievement to enable citizens to produce their own electricity. However, he says, the program is also a success in environmental, social, and economic terms.
“We’ve extended a hand to citizens. They are not burdened by interest, they have a long repayment term and a 20% subsidy, and they can produce their own energy and protect the environment by installing solar power plants,” says Rovčanin.
Workforce for the future and care for those who have less
Two more elements, according to EPCG, support the conclusion that the Solari program is an idea which makes a difference and which softens the blow of the energy transition. Those two elements are the reskilling of the workforce for jobs during and after the energy transition and the care for those who cannot or will not be able to pay their electricity bills.
EPCG has set up a subsidiary called EPCG Solar Gradnja, which deals with the installation of rooftop solar power plants. In this way, says Đukanović, EPCG created the conditions for the quality installation of photovoltaic systems, but also developed skilled workforce and became a school that trains hundreds of solar panel installers. So far, more than 220 installers and 40 electricians have been trained.
EPCG recently invited applications for the Solari 5,000+ project for new rooftop solar systems for households, legal entities and residential buildings
The issue of jobs has become an argument of both opponents and proponents of the energy transition. The former claim the transition will bring about job losses, especially in the coal sector – mines and thermal power plants – while the latter insist that decarbonization and renewables will create new jobs.
Both sides are right, and that’s why reskilling for new jobs, such as solar panel installers, are the right solution for those who are going to lose their job, as well as those looking for one.
The energy transition must be managed in such a way to take into account everyone, especially vulnerable energy customers. That’s why it was the right move on the part of EPCG to prioritize lower-income consumers when selecting candidates for the installation of solar power plants.
In a visionary move, EPCG added the “plus” to the name of the Solari projects – 3,000+ and 500+ – suggesting it was just the beginning. And this is being confirmed by recent developments. A few days ago, the power utility issued a public call for Solari 5,000+, offering to install a further 5,000 rooftop solar power plants for households, legal entities, and residential buildings. In 2023, another installment will follow – Solari 10,000+.