Don’t let the missing (*at first sight) solar panels, so visible everywhere around the Mediterranean, fool you. Bulgaria, a latecomer to the renewable energy game, is doing fine. In fact, the Balkan country is just above the EU average when it comes to the share of renewable energy in its gross final energy consumption – 23.3% vs. the EU average of 22.1%.
The 2020 data by Eurostat also reveals that Malta, with an average of 3,000 hours of sunlight a year – one of the highest in Europe, is also overachieving its renewable energy target. However, unlike Bulgaria, the country still receives only 10.7% of its energy from renewable sources, among Europe’s lowest indicators. Obviously, a lot needs to be done if the EU is to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
Sunny skies brimming with solar energy in Bulgaria
How does Bulgaria, a sunny country that until 2008 had a 0% share of solar energy, fit into the bigger picture? Between 2007 and 2017, there has been a significant change in the structure of energy derived from renewable electricity generation, data from Bulgaria’s National Statistical Institute reveals. The fastest growth rates were recorded between 2009 and 2013 – an average annual rate of 1.7 times for wind and 5.3 times for solar photovoltaic (PV) technology.
From the beginning of 2019 to the end of 2020, ES-3, a Bulgarian solar PV systems producer, delivered systems with a total capacity of over 1000 kWp, of which 450 kWp are rooftop systems for self-consumption. In Varna, Bulgaria’s Black Sea capital, the NENCOM solar energy company works with both individual and corporate clients. Despite the high costs – a five kWp system, the equivalent of 20-40 sqm of roof space, will set you back some EUR 7,500 – the company has noted sustained interest in solar supply over the last five years.
Putting the power into the people’s hands
With energy prices soaring, will more Bulgarians take the issue into their own hands – or rather roofs? Stanislav Todorov, chairman of the Bulgarian Water and Energy Regulatory Commission, is not optimistic about the potential installation of solar panels on the roofs of residential buildings, such as the numerous concrete blocks of flats dotting every Bulgarian city.
How does Bulgaria, a sunny country that until 2008 had a 0% share of solar energy, fit into the bigger picture? Between 2007 and 2017, there has been a significant change in the structure of energy derived from renewable electricity generation
In line with current regulations, households willing to install solar panels must secure a long list of permits. And even once this is done, further patience is still required; per regulations, installation still has hurdles after all the paperwork has been filed. With bureaucracy standing in the way of the broader transition to renewable energy, a new European directive is expected to come out that will require every country to remove barriers to people generating their own electricity.
Across Europe and in countries with a natural solar advantage, such as Bulgaria, there’s room for growth. Solar power is the fastest-growing renewable energy source in the EU: in 2008, it accounted for 1 %, while in 2020, its share stood at 14%, according to Eurostat.
A lot of red tape to clear
But issues surrounding the high solar panel installation costs in private households in the EU’s poorest country remain. The Bulgarian Water and Energy Regulatory Commission is in talks with both the Ministries of Finance and Energy regarding a program to support households willing to install solar generators at home. The EU Recovery Plan provides robust funding for the installation of solar panels. Under the scheme, each household must pay for installation but then receives 70% back from the EU.
In June, a new program aimed at the green makeover of public hospitals was announced. The pilot construction of electrical systems through renewable energy sources will help hospitals curb their dependency on electricity, natural gas, or diesel for heating. This EUR 15 mln initiative will exclusively target old buildings plagued by energy inefficiency and skyrocketing energy costs.
While waiting for all the kinks to be sorted out for a broader transition to green energy, municipalities are looking into starting the change at home. In the latest example, the municipal council in Shumen, in northeastern Bulgaria, will launch a study into the possibilities of installing photovoltaic panels on the roofs of municipal buildings.
It’s not a lot, but it’s something.