Renewables

Projects worth EUR 5.6 billion underway in Bulgaria to replace coal

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Published

January 22, 2024

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Published:

January 22, 2024

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Coal power plants in Bulgaria may close much faster than planned for not being competitive. Their operators and other companies are rushing to obtain EU funds to deploy cleaner technologies in the affected areas and maintain employment. There are projects underway for solar power plants, floating photovoltaics, green hydrogen, carbon capture, energy storage, desulfurization, incineration of waste and biomass, and manufacturing facilities for PV modules and batteries.

After years of delays and controversies, the coal phaseout process in Bulgaria has finally shifted gears, but it also means higher risks for jobs in the industry and entire areas hosting mines and thermal power plants. Operators of such facilities, even the ones that are not that old, polluting and inefficient, are facing the open market with little chance of survival even in the short term.

Bulgaria’s coal phaseout deadline is 2038.

AES Corp. said it plans to decommission most of the capacity of its Galabovo plant – AES Maritsa iztok 1 or AES Maritsa East 1 – by 2025 and end the use of coal by 2027. The two-unit system of 670 MW in the Stara Zagora province was put into operation in 2011.

The company, based in the United States, also owns Saint Nikola, Bulgaria’s largest wind farm. AES said it is considering a switch to biomass, natural gas and waste (solid recovered fuel). Another possible innovation is to use molten salt technology for energy storage.

Monbat developing battery factory project

Help is on the way. The Ministry of Energy received more than 70 proposals from 32 companies in the public call for EUR 1.2 billion from the European Union’s Just Transition Fund, Capital.bg reported. It is in the phase of evaluating expressions of interest. The projects are worth EUR 5.6 billion in total, but additional support will be sought from the EU’s cohesion funds, the article adds.

The potential investments, of which many also have a long way until final decisions, envisage the creation of more than 10,000 jobs on top of 11,000 existing ones. In comparison, just the state-owned Maritsa East Mines (Mini Maritsa iztok) and Maritsa iztok 2 employ a combined 9,100 workers.

AES’s energy storage unit, using molten salt, would have 345 MW in operating power

The two projects in the making for Galabovo are valued at EUR 511 million in total. AES said the energy storage unit would have 345 MW in operating power.

Bulgarian battery producer Monbat submitted two concepts and valued them at more than EUR 560 million altogether. They are envisaged for implementation in Galabovo as well. One is for an industrial cooperation and innovation hub, and the other for manufacturing battery cells and packs for energy storage, industrial applications and electromobility.

The factory could be completed by 2029, the firm said. But it warned that there would be “no way” to obtain financing without government support.

Brickel may turn to hydrogen-fired turbines

ContourGlobal Maritsa East 3 is preparing investments worth more than EUR 700 million. They include training personnel to switch to solar power and energy storage. The remaining four projects are for energy recovery from waste, carbon capture, solar power combined with batteries, and an electricity storage facility lasting over 10 hours.

NEK is planning two floating solar power plants with storage

Maritsa East Mines, thermal power plant Maritsa iztok 2 and National Electricity Co. (NEK) are mostly oriented toward renewables and green hydrogen. In addition, NEK revealed plans to install two floating solar power systems with storage on the reservoirs of Rozov kladenets and Ovcharitsa. Floating PV technology is also popularly known as floatovoltaics.

Brickel, the oldest coal plant in Bulgaria, has five projects worth EUR 511 million. The idea is to build three hydrogen and three steam turbines of 120 MW in total.

Another potential investment would be in the solar power sphere including energy storage and the production of green hydrogen. The company is planning gas pipelines, reconstruction and expansion of the heating network and a plant for the treatment of gypsum left over after desulfurization.

Energy storage is essential for large-scale renewables integration

Elhim iskra filed a proposition for a lead-acid battery factory, but also for a unit for “a new type of solar batteries” for households and industrial users. Industrial equipment producer Metalik earmarked EUR 46 million for green hydrogen.

Smart Energy Group wants to build a solar panel cell factory for EUR 123 million.

Battery systems, together with manufacturing facilities for the equipment, are set to help investors and grid operators integrate wind and solar power plants amid a surge in connection requests.

Last year, 2,047 applications were filed for a total of 7.2 GW in renewables until December 15. There were 91 for the transmission network, with a combined planned capacity of 4.9 GW, and the rest was for the power distribution system.

In comparison, 813 preliminary and final contracts have been signed for the connection of new green capacities, of a combined 6.6 GW. Bulgaria has 13 GW in total electricity capacity online.

Of note, in neighboring Romania, bids from eight companies and consortiums are under consideration for solar power projects to replace coal plants. Total capacity is 455 MW. The land belongs to state-owned coal miner and thermal power plant operator Complexul Energetic Oltenia. It joined forces with OMV Petrom in the endeavor.

The European Union’s Modernisation Fund is covering 70% of the costs. The participants in the tender include Girişim Elektrik, Shanghai Electric, AE Solar, LONGi and Ameresco Sunel.

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