The energy transition isn’t possible without lithium and there is no choice but to mine the strategic commodity for optimal battery supply. Or is it just a mantra for investors and politicians trying to make a quick buck and risking the destruction of arable land and nature and polluting rivers? According to our readers, the most important topics in 2021 in sustainable development and environmental protection were lithium, the coal phaseout and the expected wave of investment in renewable energy in Serbia.
Resistance against lithium mining is strengthening throughout the world. At the same time, scientists are working on solutions to obtain the lightest metal in a way less harmful for the environment, complement it with other materials, or even kick it out of the energy storage equation altogether. These stories were the most popular in 2021 among the readers of Balkan Green Energy News.
We have been reporting extensively on lithium projects in Serbia, the related protests, and new technologies. Compared to our most read articles in 2020, green hydrogen, the European Union’s upcoming carbon border tax and the energy transition in the Western Balkans also gained substantially in importance.
Balkan Green Energy News welcomed hundreds of thousands of new readers this year from all corners of the planet. We will make sure you keep getting first-hand information, with added value, on sustainable energy, the environment, and green technologies. In the meantime, you can take a look at the most popular articles of 2021 in the Serbian language section.
1. Rio Tinto, lithium exploration firms run into roadblocks in Serbia
Tens of thousands of people blocked roads in more than 60 locations on December 4 in probably the largest coordinated protest in Serbia in the past two decades. They let the authorities know that Rio Tinto’s lithium mining and processing project Jadar isn’t welcome and that villagers aren’t going to allow the firms that obtained lithium exploration licenses in several places in the country to continue with their activities.
It was the culmination of a string of this year’s demonstrations against the pollution of soil, air and water. The government gave in and urgently changed two controversial laws, but the issue is still open.
In September, then-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel said her country is interested in lithium from Serbia. A company called ElevenEs recently said it would build a lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery plant in Subotica.
The European Parliament condemned in a resolution the “increasing violence by extremist and hooligan groups against peaceful environmental demonstrations” as well as the use of excessive force by the police. Citizens and activists are determined to continue protesting until Serbia officially ends lithium projects on its territory. It is the only country in Europe aside from Portugal with advanced lithium mining projects, and locals there are putting up fierce resistance against them.
In the meantime, the scarcity of the alkali metal is prompting scientists and governments to find alternatives for supply. Extraction from geothermal waters has lately become the most popular solution, though there are still technical and feasibility hurdles for the application of the technology.
On the other hand, Chinese company CATL said it would launch the first generation of sodium ion batteries in 2023, saying they may become more competitive than lithium.
2. Legislative reform sets path for massive investment in renewables
This year Serbia adopted a set of laws that opened the way for major investment in renewable energy with market premiums that would be awarded via auctions, due to begin early next year, and strategic partnerships. The legislation package also focuses on energy efficiency measures for households and the systemic definition of the status of prosumers, primarily through the installation of rooftop photovoltaics.
Citizens and the corporate sector are both expected to benefit from the reform. Lawyers from CMS broke down the long-awaited Law on Use of Renewable Energy Sources for them.
Awarding two-way contracts for difference is now the preferred way of incentivizing investment in green energy. On the other hand, there are companies counting on profitability on market terms alone. We are wrapping up the year right after wpd and energy trader Danske Commodities signed the first fixed-price commercial power purchase agreement in the region.
3. First Big Conference on Solar Energy in Serbia
Balkan Green Energy News organized the First Big Conference on Solar Energy in Serbia in April. Investors, government officials, and representatives of international organizations revealed at the event held in Belgrade that there is huge interest in building renewable energy plants in the country, leaning on the then-upcoming Law on Renewable Energy Sources.
4. Green hydrogen has increasing role in energy planning
The production of hydrogen from renewable sources is one of the ways to store excess energy from wind and solar power plants, as their output depends on the weather and is much less predictable than with conventional sources. Green hydrogen can also become a major factor in the decarbonization of industry and transportation.
Energy heavyweights in Europe and the world are aware of the opportunity and are betting big on the technology. Numerous projects for green hydrogen have been springing up in Southeastern Europe as well, and they captured the attention of our readers.
The sector has a long way to go before it can compete with so-called blue hydrogen – produced from fossil gas, and become viable in the market, Secretary of the Group of Experts on Gas in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Branko Milićević said in an interview with Balkan Green Energy News. He added the European Union is determined to support the development of technologies for hydrogen production, storage, transport as well as its conversion back to electricity in fuel cells.
5. Western Balkans can either introduce carbon pricing or pay tax at EU border for exports
The EU is preparing to roll out the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, a system of levies for imports that would be determined according to the carbon dioxide emitted in the production of goods. The Western Balkans and Turkey have a way out: they can start taxing CO2 themselves and keep the funds in their budget for incentives for greening their economies, particularly the energy sector.
The Energy Community has pledged to assist the governments in the region to adapt to the changes. Prices of carbon certificates within the EU Emissions Trading System have touched EUR 90 per ton of CO2 equivalent this month. They first surpassed EUR 31 per ton one year ago.
6. Southeastern European countries weighing coal phaseout dates
Portugal has just shut down its last coal-fired power plant, nine years ahead of schedule, while Germany’s new ruling coalition vowed to phase out the solid fossil fuel by 2030. Most Southeastern European countries with coal plants have set plans to close them by the end of the decade or a few years later, though they still have to produce relevant documents to make the deadlines official.
Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Serbia and Bulgaria haven’t yet engaged in serious discussions about phasing out coal and there are even plans for new facilities. They should step up their game as international finance is drying up for such projects.
Greece was the first in the Balkans to commit to a coal phaseout and it is getting ready to include it in national law.
7. Withstand energy cost surge by spring (at least)
Imbalances in the global economy that followed the easing of the pandemic restrictions, alongside the effects of geopolitical turmoil and generous financial assistance from governments and central banks, resulted in a horrifying gas shortage. The sensitive energy system was hit and the impact spread to other fuels, particularly in Europe. Gas and electricity prices surged up to ten times, threatening to financially sink entire countries.
The lack of investment in renewables and infrastructure, delays in maintenance, the race to shut down coal power plants, the lack of wind… all contributed to the volatility in the markets. The EU has so far only called on member states to apply the measures from the existing joint toolbox in efforts to ease the energy crisis. In the meantime, governments came up with different responses.
Energy costs aren’t likely to return to affordable levels before spring. Moreover, a range of risks threaten new shocks by that time.
8. Investors standing in line to submit plans for renewable energy plants in Serbia
The fast changes in Serbian law in the energy sector prompted companies to speed up project development and catch the investment wave. For instance, WV International Emergy intends to build an 80 MW solar power plant in northern Serbia and the story was among the most read in 2021.
The government is in talks with UGT Renewables from the United States to install solar power plants of 1 GW in total.
Renewable energy company CWP Global said it would start works on a 50 MW solar power plant in Sjenica in the country’s southwest at the beginning of 2023.
There is a wind power project in Subotica that would be the largest in Europe if it was built now. Fintel Energia from Italy, which is responsible for the Maestrale Ring endeavor, has the ambition to install the largest solar power plant in the continent with its partner, MK Group. and combine it with agricultural production.
9. EU earmarks funds for Western Balkans green agenda
The EU said at its summit with the leaders of Western Balkan countries that it prepared EUR 9 billion in grants and EUR 20 billion in investments. An agreement was reached on the Green Agenda Action Plan for climate action reforms, pollution control, nature and biodiversity protection and regional integration, including 2024 as the first indicative timeframe for the harmonization with the EU Emissions Trading System.
10. No potential mayor in Balkan capitals can afford not to campaign for green transition
Tomislav Tomašević, a veteran environmentalist, became the mayor of Zagreb by entirely changing the political narrative, and his platform won the city elections. The We Can! group focused on sustainable development, which is becoming a crucial topic for voters everywhere in the region.
Përparim Rama managed to win the mayoral election in Prishtina by leaning on environmental issues and a people-centered makeover.
Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj and the city administration are working on a number of green projects including sustainable mobility. Mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Janković, who came to power in 2012, leans on sustainable development, which made it the 2016 European Green Capital.
Ways to tackle deadly air pollution and traffic congestion were actually the central factors in the campaign for the local election in Skopje in October. Opposition candidate Danela Arsovska managed to defeat incumbent Mayor Petre Shilegov.
Here are some of the news and analysis that also captured a lot of attention of our readers in 2021: