Renewable energy in Slovakia: problems and prospects
Lenka Dojčanová* Русский/Russian
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - 1 October, 2012 - Membership in the European Union has meant that Slovakia and other Central European states must align their national energy policies with EU directives and regulations. Many of these are captured by the Europe 2020 programme, according to which the EU is to increase the share of renewables in final energy consumption to 20 percent by 2020.
To reach this goal, Slovakia’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan calls for 14 percent of the country’s final energy consumption to come from alternative energy sources by 2020 (up from 8 percent in 2008).
Increasing national energy security is an additional goal, particularly since 90 percent of Slovakia’s primary energy sources come from imports, following the 2008 closure of the V1 nuclear power plant in Jaslovské Bohunice as one of the EU conditions.
The electricity production from nuclear energy will account for up to 50 percent after 2013 with Mochovce unit 3 and 4 startup in 2012 and 2013. The government commitment to use of nuclear energy is on increase.
However, nuclear energy can not fully supply country’s electricity consumption, therefore, there is a need, expressed in National Renewable Energy Action Plan, to search for renewables.
Despite low carbon footprint, Slovakia does not consider nuclear energy as a renewable energy source also due to controversial nuclear safety issues. Austria’s criticism of Slovak nuclear situation often leads to complains also in front of the European Union.
In the aftermath of the Fukushima accident, EU-ordered nuclear stress tests proved nuclear safety of Slovak power plants. To conclude, controversy and safety concerns of nuclear energy are highly discussed topics in Europe. These factors have increasingly directed both official and public attention toward renewable energy, as well as to the policies needed to promote its use.
Framework legislation passed in 2009 promotes energy efficiency, cogeneration, and renewable energy technologies in Slovakia, via feed-in electricity tariffs that are fixed for 15 years. Other legal and regulatory obstacles slowing the expansion of renewables are now being addressed.
This paper briefly examines the current situation and outlook for renewables in Slovakia, with a particular focus on hydro, geothermal, biomass, and solar power.
Small hydro—growing importance
In comparison to solar and wind energy, Slovakia’s climatic and hydrological conditions are compatible with expanded reliance on hydro power. Hydro at present accounts for 98 percent of Slovakia’s renewable electricity balance; this is mainly due to large hydro power plants located on the Danube and other Danube basin rivers.
The largest hydro power plant, which is located in Gabčíkovo, has an installed capacity of 720 MW and generates about half of Slovakia’s renewable electricity.
Slovakia’s hydro power stations, which date back to the 19th century, also provide flood control services, as well as water for irrigated agriculture and industry; they also promote water transit by regulating stream flow.
However, construction of additional large hydro power stations now seems unlikely, due both to environmental concerns and to the high costs of providing under-served rural and mountainous communities with additional electricity supplies via the construction of large dams.
In these circumstances, the construction of additional small hydro stations could be a more cost effect and less environmentally intrusive solution.
More than 200 small hydro plants are currently in operation in Slovakia; their growing commercial viability in recent years has made possible reductions in feed-in tariff rates. The construction of additional small hydro plants by Slovakia’s electricity generation company (and owner of large hydro power stations, Slovak Power Stations), is therefore anticipated—particularly in the Váh river basin.
Geothermal—where’s the problem?
Slovakia’s interest in renewable energy has yet to extend to geothermal power. Research indicates that 27 percent of Slovakia’s territory has natural conditions that are suitable for the utilization of geothermal energy, with the highest potential in the Košice basin.
If Slovakia’s entire geothermal potential was to be exploited, its share in total heat production could rise to 45 percent. At present, however, only 36 areas in Slovakia exploit geothermal energy, mainly for heating in buildings, in agriculture, and for recreational purposes.
Geothermal projects face three sorts of obstacles. The first is the depths (more than three kilometers) at which most of Slovakia’s geothermal resources are located, although enhanced recovery systems may be able to resolve this issue.
The second is red tape: a planning permission on average takes three years. This includes obtaining permission from the Ministry of environment, a testing drill, a geological report and a building permission.
Some of the small-scale projects have been successfully launched, but large projects face considerable obstacles such as Svinica-Ďurkov in the Košice basin; despite the first geothermal drills were executed in 1998 and 1999, the project overcame financial and red tape problems and the launch is expected this year.
The third issue is funding, which is only partially recoverable via EU structural funds. Potential projects need to involve various investors, in part because the government contribution is limited to the subsidies implied in feed-in tariffs.
The only tool for attracting investors that is currently employed for geothermal projects in Slovakia is consumption tax exemption. In geothermal, therefore, government involvement is needed to improve the funding and regulatory environments.
Biofuels—a possible solution
While Slovakia’s biomass potential has been estimated at 29,449 GWh, exploitation remains far below potential. On the one hand, the European Commission finds that Slovakia’s biofuel sector to be the third largest of the countries that joined the EU in 2004.
Favourable legislation, including attempts to mandate a minimum amount of biofuel consumption on the domestic market, and an advantageous excise tax regime (in compliance with EC directive 2003/96/ES), are also in place.
Slovakia’s 2007 Renewable Energy Strategy calls share of biogas in transport fuels to rise to 10 percent in 2020, up from 5.75 percent in 2007 (according to the National Action Plan for Biomass Utilization).
On the other hand, whereas biofuel production in 2009 in Germany was 2,859 Ml/yr (million litres per year), in Slovakia it was only 114 Ml/yr. Much of the problem is linked to finance: current legislation only supports additional financing for biomass when it comes to high efficiency cogeneration (i.e., the production of electricity as a by-product of heat generation).
Slovakia also lags behind in exploiting harvested wood and wood waste streams.
Fortunately, the situation has recently improved with the passage of legislation to subsidize household installation of biomass boilers (and solar panels). While a government decision of April 2009 set aside €8 million to finance these subsidies, due to bureaucratic complications some €2.7 million of these funds had gone unclaimed as of October 2011.
The ostensibly favourable policy environment has not yet been sufficient to evoke large increases in biofuels use in Slovakia.
The solar debate
Perhaps the largest controversies regarding renewables in Slovakia have concerned solar energy. Legislation in force until July 2011 allowed building owners who brought on line solar panels with installed capacity up to one megawatt to benefit from state subsidies under Act. No. 181/2011 Coll.
These subsidies generated an unanticipated “solar boom”: by early 2011 installed solar capacity in Slovakia had reached 480 megawatts, well above the 300 megawatts that had been expected (in subsequent years). Issues of transparency and accountability were also raised. As a result, the size of the solar installations eligible for these subsidies has been scaled back to 100 kilowatts of installed capacity.
Likewise, the feed-in tariffs for electricity generated from solar panels with installed capacity of up to 100 kilowatts were nearly cut in half compared to 2009 levels. These changes, and the regulatory instability they may imply, could discourage possible future investments in solar power.
Undiscovered wind power
Wind energy in Slovakia is insignificant; at present, Slovakia accounts for about 0.5 percent of the EU’s 56,535 megawatts of installed capacity. While modest state subsidies have limited the development of wind power, funding has at times been obtained via EU structural funds (as with Slovakia’s first wind park in Cerová, which has been operating since 2003).
Slovakia with her 5 windmills significantly lags behind her neighbors such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland or even Ukraine with 89 megawatts of installed capacity. According to the EU and Slovak Association for Wind Energy, Slovakia can reach 600 megawatts of wind installed capacity in the future, equal to 3 percent of country’s electricity consumption.
This number is insignificant in comparison to a potential of other renewable energy sources mentioned above.
The availability of wind energy production varies throughout the year from 80 percent of available capacity in autumn and winter time to 20 percent in summer time because of unstable meteorological conditions for wind power. The Slovak government currently focuses on other renewable energy resources than wind power.
Thanks in part to EU membership, Slovakia has implemented some reforms supporting renewable energy, and the potential of biomass should be developed in particular. The utilization of geothermal energy is promising, especially in the Košice basin. However, this energy source faces insufficient governmental subsidies.
This is not the case of large hydro projects, which have been successfully launched. The stagnating trend of hydro energy for the future can be changed via small hydro projects. Wind and solar opportunities are considerably low, even when employing governmental tax based initiatives.
However, these should also be developed considering country’s dependency on imports of primary energy sources. Despite the country’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan, various strategies for this sector have been issued by different ministries without full coordination, causing confusion among investors. Slovakia may be on the right track when it comes to renewables, but it still has a long way to go.
*Lenka Dojčanová is a student of Politics and International Relations at Uppsala University in Sweden.
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