With Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February, the energy crisis escalated to unseen proportions and took over from the coronavirus pandemic as topic number one this year. It grabbed everyone’s attention, from the main international fora to households and companies in Europe and beyond. The readers of Balkan Green Energy News were mostly interested in energy security and prices as well as the temporary return to fossil fuels, which is what officials from the European Union and member states now call it.
The effects of the severe energy crisis and the related economic slowdown in 2022 also worsened the climate crisis. In addition, they highlighted the unsustainable rate of resource use throughout the planet and the pollution and destruction that comes with it.
The dilemma is getting more complex. Can we obtain the vast amount of commodities necessary for the green transition without pushing nature and the environment irreversibly into an abyss, which we were trying to prevent with climate action in the first place?
As for the interest in topics specific to Southeastern Europe, the focus was on energy legislation and new political appointments, the debate on the pros and cons of nuclear energy and, particularly in Serbia, the controversies over mining projects – particularly the search for lithium. In 2021 it was the hottest issue.
Don’t forget to check out the most popular articles of 2022 on our Serbian language page!
1. Coal is making a comeback amid the energy crisis
A wind farm in Germany is being dismantled to expand the Garzweiler lignite mine. Nevertheless, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia said it would phase out coal by 2030, as did RWE, the company that owns the facility. Several EU member states are bringing retired coal power plants back to life and extending the deadlines for closing others.
In the United Kingdom, authorities gave the all clear for the first underground coal mining project in more than three decades.
2. A banking expert will oversee the reforms in Serbia’s government-controlled energy companies
Serbia’s new Minister of Mining and Energy Dubravka Đedović was the head of the Regional Office of the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the Western Balkans from 2016 to 2021. She promised this week that auctions for the installation of renewable power plants of 1,400 MW in total would be held in the next three years. The government vowed to introduce professional management in state-owned energy companies to isolate them from political influence.
3. Robert Golob’s new movement won Slovenian elections with its green program
Robert Golob’s Freedom Movement achieved historic success at the general election in Slovenia only three months after it was founded, which cleared the way for him to become prime minister. The government immediately launched a massive solar power deployment initiative. Golob means pigeon or dove in Slovenia, but the new leader is a hawk when it comes to decarbonization and energy security.
The list’s economic program also leans on digitalization while renewables and nuclear power are seen as energy pillars.
It is evident that environmental protection and the energy transition are becoming more important for voters in Southeastern Europe, so even traditional parties are beginning to focus on them.
4. Power and gas prices soared to all-time highs
Market prices of electricity and gas in Europe climbed to dizzying heights even before the start of the war in Ukraine in February, after which they went parabolic, until they peaked in August. Companies have been shutting down manufacturing facilities as they couldn’t afford the energy bills.
Together with energy saving measures, it contributed to the drop in demand, but high temperatures in October, November and December eased most of the burden. Gas prices are now at levels from before Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
5. Greece started the construction of the LNG terminal in Alexandroupolis
Works on the construction of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Alexandroupolis in Greece were launched in May. The facility, expected to become operational in December 2023, will also be used for exports to other Balkan countries.
6. China is setting the standards in energy transition
The government in Beijing is committed to setting global standards for renewable energy and batteries and other storage solutions as it is working on a strategy to cut the use of coal and achieve net zero emissions by 2060. A year ago the State Grid Corp. of China (SGCC) launched the first two out of 12 units in its Fengning pumped storage hydropower plant, which is set to become the biggest on Earth. By the end of 2022, seven units came online in total.
The world’s largest vanadium flow battery system was recently put into operation in the most populous nation. The city of Chaozhou in Guangdong has revealed a plan for an offshore wind power plant of 43.3 GW in the Taiwan Strait.
Jast month, the world’s first commercial floating solar power plant on the sea was commissioned offshore Haiyang in eastern China. It is integrated with an offshore wind turbine, which means it is also the first hybrid power plant of the kind.
One of the biggest achievements of the year was announced just last week: Baihetan, the world’s second-largest hydroelectric station and power plant in general, is now operating at full capacity.
7. EU’s mining mania is jeopardizing the Balkans
The European Commission wants reliable supply chains for the materials that the EU needs to accelerate the switch to renewable energy sources and a green economy. The extraction of lithium, copper and other necessary commodities, on the other hand, is devastating nature and jeopardizing local communities. The Western Balkans are among the regions that are facing the toughest burden.
As of August, there were 20 lithium projects in Europe, of which eight are in Serbia! The most controversial and advanced one was launched by Rio Tinto and, even though the government formally halted it, the company remains active. Germany is reportedly lobbying within the European Union to support the search for lithium.
Numerous mining projects are being expanded in the country and dozens of exploration permits have recently been issued.
8. North Macedonia’s ESM built the first photovoltaic plant on a former coal mine in the Western Balkans
Power utilities across the Western Balkans are faced with a string of major challenges. The energy transition requires phasing out coal and moving towards cleaner energy. Some of them are struggling with outdated thermal power plants and coal shortages.
North Macedonia’s Elektrani na Severna Makedonija (ESM) stands out with its strategic transformation. It is the first power utility in the region that built a solar power plant on a former coal mine and more such projects are underway. The article is part of our series called Energy Transition Champions in the Western Balkans.
9. The window for the introduction of a carbon pricing mechanism is getting tighter
According to a deal between the European Council and the European Parliament, the EU’s free carbon allowances for the industry will be phased out by the end of 2033. The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism or CBAM, a carbon border tax for importers, will be gradually rolled out in parallel, to avoid protectionism.
The EU decided to extend the planned period of phasing in the new levy, which is a relief for exporters in the Western Balkans. However, the governments in the region need to introduce carbon pricing mechanisms as soon as possible to avoid paying the carbon tax and keep the proceeds, which must be invested in decarbonization.
10. Here’s what companies need to know about solar power plants for self-consumption
How companies can secure a stable and inexpensive electricity supply and decarbonize their activities was the key topic discussed at the third panel at the conference Serbian Companies on the Changing Power Market, organized by Balkan Green Energy News. The participants spoke about the options for businesses to become commercial prosumers and produce their own electricity, models for investing in renewable energy, as well as billing schemes and grid connection procedures.
Here are some of the news and analysis that also captured a lot of attention of our readers in 2020: