The latest electricity price hikes have shortened the payback period for solar panel installation from 13-14 years to 9-10 years, making it an even better investment. Currently, household prosumers can expect their electricity bills to go down by almost 50%, according to guests of the third episode of solar podcast ‘Everything you wanted to know about solar panels, but didn’t have anyone to ask’.
In addition to the new estimate of the payback period for solar panels, the third episode of solar podcast ‘Everything you wanted to know about solar panels, but didn’t have anyone to ask’ explains how the Solar Calculator works, how homeowner communities can become prosumers, and how to set up an energy cooperative, which allows those without enough space and money to use solar energy.
Speaking for the solar podcast were Milena Milosavljević, the creator of the Solar Calculator, Jelena R. Nikolić of the Elektropionir energy cooperative, and Boban Starinac of the Sustainable Energy Development Center (CORE). The podcast was hosted by Danko Kalkan, advisory services manager for ESG (environmental, social and governance) at consultancy Ernst & Young (EY).
The solar podcast, launched in early March, is produced by Balkan Green Energy News, with the support from the German cooperation project Promotion of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in Serbia, implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in partnership with the Ministry of Mining and Energy of the Republic of Serbia. The third episode is available on Facebook and YouTube.
Solar Calculator – an essential tool for all future prosumers
How did you decide to create the Solar Calculator?
After graduating from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Milena Milosavljević, as she says, decided to pursue a career in green energy. At that time, in 2012, Serbia passed its first renewable energy law, but a negligible 10 MW of power plants were built in the following ten years.
However, in 2022 a new law made it possible for citizens and businesses to become prosumers, prompting many of her acquaintances to inquire about solar panel installation: How many panels do I need for my house? How much does it cost? Is it even worth the investment? Can I get a permit? How can I finance it? Who performs the works?
As she was answering these questions, she realized that she could create a website providing all the answers in one place. At the same time, GIZ was searching for potential partners who could build exactly such a platform that would provide the public with some of the most critical information and answers to the question of how to become a prosumer. Soon after, GIZ contracted Milena to see the project through, and make this information freely available to all the citizens of Serbia.
What answers does the Solar Calculator provide?
It provides basic information on capacity needs and costs. Based on the size of the roof, consumption, and location, it calculates the required capacity, but also the possible capacity.
The greatest benefit of the website is that it calculates the required capacity, which, according to her, is the most profitable option. This prevents the most common mistake that prospective prosumers make – installing too much capacity.
It also provides information on electricity savings, profitability, grid connection, contractors, bank offers, and available grants.
How can banks or contractors apply to be listed on the website?
They need to fill out an application and answer some questions, and then their credibility is checked, Milosavljević says.
How can we use the information obtained from the calculator?
The calculator’s answers come in the form of a report that citizens can show to contractors in order to get an offer. Everything that contractors ask customers is contained in that report. This speeds up the process, but also allows potential prosumers to get multiple offers from contractors and compare them.
Breaking down the bill helps prosumers understand solar
The Solar Calculator recently introduced a breakdown of the prosumer electricity bill. Which items should citizens pay attention to?
When the first bills were issued, prosumers were surprised and disappointed because they were not as low as they had expected. Also, unlike ordinary consumers, the power utility does not offer prosumers a breakdown of their bills.
What should prosumers pay attention to?
Additional explanations are needed for three categories of electricity – the energy withdrawn (electricity taken from the grid by the prosumer), the energy delivered (electricity supplied to the grid by the prosumer), and the energy consumed (the difference between the energy withdrawn and the energy delivered) – as well as for the grid access fee, VAT, and excise tax.
The electricity consumed may be zero when a prosumer’s consumption is equal to production, but this does not mean that the bill will be zero, because there are items that consumers pay regardless of whether they have solar panels or not, such as the billing capacity, grid access, VAT, excise tax.
How much can prosumers expect to save on their electricity bills?
The only two items that can lower a prosumer’s bill are the energy consumed (the lower the amount, the lower the bill) and VAT (because from January 1, it is levied on the energy consumed, not the energy withdrawn). All other items are the same for both prosumers and regular consumers.
These two items combined make up 45% of the bill, which means that prosumers with zero energy consumed (i.e. who cover all consumption with energy produced by solar panels) with pay 55% of the amount they paid prior to the installation of solar panels, Milosavljević explained.
What is the current payback period?
When the Solar Calculator was launched, in October 2022, the investment for an apartment of 100 square meters and 6,000 kW of annual electricity consumption was projected to pay off in 13-14 years. The calculator is conservative and takes into account only the energy consumption item, not VAT.
After the May 1 electricity price hike, the payback period was reduced to 9-10 years, and this also applies to those who installed solar panels before the price increase, Milosavljević said.
The calculator also provides a list of steps that prosumers must go through until they are connected to the grid?
For now, it is available only for households. The list of steps for homeowner communities is in preparation, while the list for energy cooperatives is also planned.
The first real homeowner community to become a prosumer
How did the idea emerge for a project in Niš that involved solar panel installation for 400 residents in 134 apartments?
Boban Starinac of the Sustainable Energy Development Center (CORE) said that the announcement of the project drew strong interest from both the media and potential participants, who inquired about solar panels, but also energy efficiency measures. CORE, he recalled, was founded with the goal of improving energy efficiency and raising the awareness of its importance, as well as protecting the environment.
The idea was ready before August 2022, but the homeowner community was chosen much earlier because CORE already knew that it was capable of implementing some interesting projects. They had the will, interest and financial ability to invest in something that would pay off later. The solar power plant started operating in April.
What is the value of the project?
The project is worth a total of USD 94,000, of which USD 40,000 is a donation from the Government of Japan, implemented by the UNDP through its green energy for transition and decarbonization program in Serbia. The solar power plant has a capacity of 74.5 kW, and the project also includes three chargers with four charging points, each with a power of 22 kW, as well as the training of two workers for the maintenance of the power plant.
How much will it cost the tenants?
The tenants did not have to pay anything in advance, since part of the funding was a donation, while the equipment suppliers and contractors agreed to be paid in installments, says Starinac. The tenants will pay USD 17 a month per apartment over 24 months.
Are there any new homeowner communities interested in such projects?
Starinac praised Balkan Green Energy News for being the first to report on the project, after which CORE was contacted by a number of residential communities regarding the use of solar energy, as well as energy efficiency.
CORE is also a member of the Energy Communities Repository initiative, launched by the European Commission, whose aim is to assist energy cooperatives.
“Currently, we have four homeowner communities and one rural community, a hamlet in the vicinity of Vranje, wishing to set up an energy cooperative. We invite others to apply and undergo the training that we will organize,” said Starinac, noting that the project implemented by CORE is a turning point in the use of solar energy in Serbia.
Energy cooperatives – enabling even those who have no roof to use solar energy
How can energy cooperatives help citizens to use solar energy?
Jelena R. Nikolić, one of the 15 members of the Elektropionir energy cooperative, says there are people who do not have their own roof or land, but who want to use solar energy. That is where energy cooperatives come in, enabling people to establish “citizen power plants” through joint investment.
How can citizens set up an energy cooperative?
The most important thing is to have enthusiasm, everything else will come, says Nikolić. The energy cooperative is not recognized by law, so its operations are regulated by the law on cooperatives.
Setting up an energy community requires at least five members, natural persons. They can later be joined by new members, but since these cooperatives are democratic, both new and old members have the same rights and obligations,
Elektropionir focuses on solar energy, but an energy cooperative can also deal with district heating or energy efficiency.
The first kilowatt-hours of citizen energy in Serbia are expected by the end of the year
How is the Solarna Stara project coming along?
Elektropionir has decided to have the first two cooperative power plants in Serbia installed in two villages on Mt. Stara Planina, where residents were outraged by plans to build small hydropower plants, which created distrust towards renewable energy in general.
The idea was to show that there are forms of green energy that can serve the community.
The funds were raised through donations, within in a month, demonstrating the desire among citizens to do something great for the community. The income from the sale of electricity from the two solar power plants will go to the people in those villages.
The first kilowatt-hours of citizen energy in Serbia could be generated by the end of the year, says Nikolić.
Does Elektropionir plan on developing more cooperative power plants?
The cooperative intends to give citizens who want to use solar energy, but do not have enough money or space, the opportunity to invest in a cooperative power plant.
Elektropionir plans to install the first such power plant by the end of the year, in which only its members will invest, in order to work everything out in practice, and then offer it to all those interested.
People do not have to buy something that they can produce by themselves, and citizens can be equal participants in the energy market, according to Nikolić.
EU recognizes solar as the best renewable energy technology
What is the role of solar in energy democratization and decarbonization?
Solar power plants are the easiest to install, in terms of the space required, as well as the impact on people and the environment. In addition, their capacities can be easily increased or decreased – you can install one solar panel for charging phones, but also 100,000 to power larger consumers. They are also the easiest to operate, and they can be installed almost anywhere and quite quickly.
The EU has also recognized solar as a great potential, and a good part of the planned subsidies for achieving the goals of the European Green Deal has been reallocated towards solar energy. It is the same around the world, according to her.
One potential problem with solar is recycling?
The panel production itself is not the cleanest of processes, and is associated with obtaining key materials that are not harmless to the environment or human rights. Even so, in terms of total lifetime emissions, solar is the best technology.
Recycling is the best way to improve the sustainability of solar panels. Currently, there are no economically viable recycling technologies, but research is underway, and it goes hand-in-hand with battery recycling.
Elektropionir and CORE educate citizens on energy transition, solar panel installation, energy cooperatives
CORE offers educational courses to everyone, including residential communities and energy cooperatives. It will soon launch a course for elementary and high school teachers titled Borrowed Planet.
Education, according to Jelena Nikolić, is one of the cornerstones of cooperative energy, and that is why Elektropionir organizes a training course on solar technologies twice a year, updating the contents each time to take into account new information, ideas and experiences.
This year’s edition of the training course “Solartehnika narodu” is supported by the German Cooperation project “Promotion of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in Serbia” implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in partnership with the Ministry of Mining and Energy of the Republic of Serbia.
To apply, visit the websites of CORE and Elektropionir.