The more the energy transition progresses, the more questions and challenges arise. What will it take to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050? Vast solar and wind power generation capacities must be integrated with an expanding electric mobility network, systems for the decarbonization of heavy industries and the heating and cooling sector. It implies many technological solutions that are yet to become competitive in the market, on top of huge investments in grids and storage.
Reindustrialization efforts are underway to prop up the European Union’s competitiveness with top-of-the-line zero or low carbon tech, but what about the Western Balkans, which lack access to its dedicated funds?
According to our readers, photovoltaics and the prospects of a nuclear energy renaissance were the most important topics in 2023 in the realm of sustainable development and environmental protection. Looking at Southeastern Europe, there is great interest in renewable energy auctions and plans for offshore wind farms. As for the narrower Western Balkans region, it is the EU’s CBAM carbon border tax, alongside the tensions regarding the supply of strategic raw materials, of which one is particularly in focus.
The risks and price hikes from the energy crisis that started in 2021 have subsided in Europe. Sometimes it even seems the trend has reversed, given the rising frequency of the episodes of prices going negative at power exchanges. Consumers can largely thank the meteoric rate of the installation of photovoltaics, making 2023 the second year of the solar age.
For most consumers the phenomenon enables some relief. Nevertheless, the entire electricity system and chiefly grids must adapt to avoid leaving renewable electricity plants idle.
With all-out electrification underway including transportation, heating and cooling, unprecedented investments and integration efforts will be necessary to carry the energy transition through.
The solar age has continued for another year with no indication that the expansion of photovoltaics would meaningfully weaken yet
This year the readers of Balkan Green Energy News, judging by their clicks, recognized the importance of energy storage, flexibility, decarbonization solutions and the adaptation of the energy market to future needs. The most read stories this year included auctions, plans for the first offshore wind farms in Southeastern Europe and funding through the European Union’s programs.
The nuclear energy industry may be on the brink of a revival, helped by the cancelation of coal power projects in Europe. Small modular reactors and other alleged improvements in nuclear power technology could step in. For instance, such solutions have potential for the production of hydrogen, which is in turn currently seen as a replacement for fossil gas in the long run.
Of course, a just transition for coal industry workers and the affected regions still dependent on it is an essential element and, perhaps, an opportunity to make such areas the hubs for the next phase of economic development.
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 scroll through the most popular articles of 2023 in the Serbian language section.
1. Balkans catching up with global solar power boom
The world is crazy about solar power! China is headlining the surge by adding at least as much capacity as the rest of the world combined. It is no less significant that the country manufactures 80% of all photovoltaic modules.
The European Union is shattering previous records in capacity expansion. With the exception of Turkey and Greece, Southeastern Europe was lagging behind until recently. However, more than 1 GW was installed this year both in Bulgaria and Romania, while the rest of the region is picking up pace as well.
Albania hosts the biggest PV facility in the Western Balkans, and North Macedonia is making headlines with the decarbonization of its electric power industry
Karavasta, the largest photovoltaic plant in the Western Balkans at 140 MW in peak terms, began to generate electricity earlier this month. The site is in western Albania, which is becoming increasingly attractive for investors.
Voltalia’s facility took over the title from Novaci in neighboring North Macedonia. The country is the frontrunner in the decarbonization of the electric power industry in the same region. Earlier, Bosnia and Herzegovina got its first utility-scale solar power unit.
2. Lithium mining projects in Serbia aren’t going away any time soon
Attempts by the Government of Serbia and foreign investors, primarily Rio Tinto, to facilitate and begin lithium mining were among the hottest topics for the fourth year in a row for our readers. The European Union and the authorities in Belgrade reportedly signed letters of intent in September, preparing the ground for a strategic partnership in the critical raw materials sector in line with upcoming legislation. The European Parliament then adopted it in December.
Environmentalist groups and the local population that would be affected by such projects accused the government and the companies of collusion. In addition, a Rio Tinto–backed firm based in Slovakia chose the town of Ćuprija for its second project of a gigafactory of lithium ion batteries.
3. Rising role of strategic partnerships with foreign renewable energy developers
The idea of strategic partnerships for the energy transition seems to be gaining ground among governments in the Western Balkans. After North Macedonia set the stage for giant wind and solar power projects with wpd, Akuo Energy and other foreign investors, Serbia put an even bigger photovoltaics endeavor in motion.
The government has selected the consortium established by Hyundai Engineering, Hyundai ENG America and UGT Renewables as the best bidder in its public call. Following negotiations, the partners are supposed to be tasked with installing and commissioning solar power plants with 1.2 GW in total peak capacity, combined with battery storage. At the same time, Serbia is preparing to kickstart a similar procedure for wind power plants of an overall 1 GW.
Furthermore, the new Government of Montenegro recently affirmed its support to the partnership between state-owned power utility Elektroprivreda Crne Gore (EPCG) and UGT Renewables. The United States–based company is in turn expanding its activity in Europe and Central Asia in partnership with South Korean Hyundai Engineering.
In September, North Macedonia selected the Greek consortium of Public Power Corp. (PPC) and Archirodon Group for a public-private partnership for the Čebren pumped storage hydropower project. Negotiations are still ongoing.
4. Nuclear energy comeback
France is leading the way in the preparation of a new wave of investment in nuclear power. The energy crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the electrification trend increased concerns over energy security, prompting the European Union to endorse the technology. Optimism about the development of the technology for small modular reactors (SMRs) contributed to the shift, even though they aren’t yet commercially available.
On the other hand, Germany, which shut down its remaining nuclear power plants this year, is slowing down the initiative for the nuclear energy comeback with another group of countries. Furthermore, droughts may continue to hamper the operation of such systems as water is necessary for cooling the reactors. Spain just made its nuclear power phaseout official.
Twenty five countries, the majority of them European, have signed the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy by 2050, issued earlier this month in Dubai at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28. Immediately, 120 companies from the sector expressed support for achieving the goal.
Countries with nuclear power plants in Southeastern Europe are working on projects for more conventional facilities as well as SMRs, while Turkey is set to put its first reactor in operation next year.
5. CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz outlining energy project development rules in region for investors
Our partners from international law firm CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz are providing insight for developers of energy projects into the legal framework in Southeastern Europe. The answers to queries about North Macedonia, the first in the series, were among the most popular articles of the outgoing year.
6. Belgrade Energy Forum 2023
Belgrade Energy Forum is our new event format gathering the leaders of the energy transition in Southeastern Europe – and beyond. In May, we once again brought energy ministers, regulators, top executives, experts and representatives of industry associations to Serbia’s capital city.
The audience heard about the plans and solutions for upgrading infrastructure, especially electricity grids. They must accommodate hundreds of gigawatts on the electricity production side together with a range of different types of consumers from steel plants to electric scooters, with batteries and other storage facilities in between. The electric power system needs to become much more flexible to run smoothly.
The speakers discussed project financing and opportunities to trade at power exchanges.
BEF 2024 will be held on May 13 and 14 at Crowne Plaza Belgrade.
7. Renewable energy auctions completed in Serbia, Albania
Serbia has conducted its first auctions for both solar and wind power projects. Investors are scheduled to compete for market premiums for 100 MW and 300 MW, respectively, in the first quarter of 2024, followed by quotas of 150 MW for photovoltaic capacity and 300 MW in wind power in the third round, one year later.
Albania completed the first competitive bidding process for wind power in July, awarding contracts for difference (CfDs) for over two times more capacity than originally planned. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy plans three more PV auctions, of which it was supposed to issue the call for the first one by June.
Kosovo* launched the procedure in May for the selection of a company to build and operate a solar power plant of 90 MW to 105 MW in connection capacity. But the deadline was postponed several times: currently it’s January 31. The Energy Regulatory Office has just increased the maximum bidding price to EUR 75 per MWh from EUR 65 per MWh. A wind power auction call is scheduled for next year.
8. Investors participating in auctions need to offer part of capacity to guaranteed supplier
With the changes in the regulatory framework, upcoming strategic partnerships and auctions for market premiums, Serbia should get renewable electricity plants of 3 GW over the next several years, Minister of Mining and Energy Dubravka Đedović told us in a wide-ranging interview. She spoke of how much capacity the transmission system can handle as well as how the Government of Serbia would help companies prepare for the introduction of the European Union’s CO2 border tax – Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism or CBAM.
She pointed out that participants in future auctions would have to be prepared to offer a part of the capacity to the guaranteed supplier – state-owned power utility Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS).
9. What comes to mind when we mention Greece
Greece is a synonym for history, culture, cuisine, seaside and much more. Let’s not forget renewables and decarbonization! At the same time, the country is setting the standards for the just transition of coal industry workers and regions that are dependent on such activities.
The government is reforming the legal framework and using EU funds to transform the energy sector and the entire economy for competitiveness and security. It already earned the country top positions in European and global charts. Greece is making impressive strides in the energy transition from making islands energy independent to hydrogen projects and investments in carbon capture and storage.
This year a pioneering auction for battery energy storage systems was held, while investors are preparing to compete for offshore wind power zones. Furthermore, flagship power companies are pursuing expansion in the surrounding region and beyond.
10. Three female leaders in sustainable energy
The Female Leader in Sustainable Energy awards were handed out for the first time at the conference Women of Serbia in Sustainable Energy – Leadership for the Energy Transition, organized by women’s network WISE Serbia. The awards were established by civil society organization Center for the Promotion of Sustainable Development and Germany’s international cooperation agency GIZ.
Serbia’s Minister of Mining and Energy Dubravka Đedović Handanović, Executive Vice President of CWP Europe Maja Turković and Cofounder of the Elektropionir energy cooperative Ana Džokić were this year’s laureates.
WISE Serbia is one of the first networks of female professionals in sustainable energy, climate action and environmental protection not just in Europe but also on a global level.
Here are more news and analysis that captured a lot of attention of our readers since the beginning of 2023: