Q&A with the experts: Prof Miroslav Kopečni (Serbia)

Jul 30, 2021

We are closing with interviews from Serbia with a talk about the state of energy in Serbia with prof Miroslav Kopecni. Prof Miroslav Kopečni (Ph.D. in physical chemistry), spent his working life in science, engaged in various managerial positions and in the positions of projects leader. He has published a large number of scientific papers, and is a member of reputable domestic and foreign scientific societies, including Association for sustainable development – ASOR.

1. The topic of decarbonisation and shutdown of coal power plants is very common in the EU and the countries of the region. Is there a discussion in Serbia about the date of decarbonisation of the economy and how Serbia plan the energy transition? (low carbon development strategy, coal phase out, and other acts).

Although until recently it seemed that Serbia would go to the construction of new coal-fired power plants, on which contracts were signed, contractors selected and credit lines secured, the latest decisions (May 2021) of the Government show that the construction of Chinese manufactured thermal power plants will be abandoned. The main reason for giving up the use of coal is the ever-growing price of CO2 taxes, officials said. Giving up the construction of new thermal power plants is a good step towards decarbonisation. Yet, it is not entirely clear how ever missing electric power capacities in the years ahead will be compensated. It is quite evident that a significant share of renewable energy sources is foreseen as an option. According to the statements of the officials, the government has made a program of shutting down all active coal-fired power plants by 2050. Until then, the existing coal-fired power plants will not be closed, but rather modernized to meet ecological standards.

2. In the year behind us (2020), the world record was set with 260 GW of RES installed. What is the total share of RES in Serbia and what are the projections for 2030? What is the most dominant source of RES used in Serbia and where do you see the greatest potential for further development?

The utmost share in RES in Serbia is made up of hydro and biomass, in the last few years wind, biomass and solar just begun to play a more significant role, while other types of RES are practically at zero.
In the field of RES, Serbia has not reached the level envisaged by its action plan until 2020. In the previous 10 years the share of RES in the production and final energy consumption in Serbia has not changed significantly, although the goal set by the strategic documents was to reach RES share of 27% in final energy consumption by 2020. According to estimates for country energy balance for 2020 official reported, Serbia RES input is around about 20% of energy, out of which energy produced from hydro is dominant. The situation is similar in terms of consumption, where RES and electricity produced from hydro power participate with about 21% in final energy consumption. At first glance and according to these indicators, Serbia does not lag behind the EU average.

Serbia often emphasizes its, rather high, participation in RES in overall country bilance. High RES percentage are mostly result of hydroelectric power plants operation, all of them have existed for decades, even since the socialist era. The total installed capacity of 16 country hydropower plants with 51 hydropower units produces roughly 3,000 MW/y, which is almost 38.4% of the total electricity potential of EPS, state owned energy company. The capacity of small hydropower plants, constructed within past several years, is just 21 MW. The average annual production of small hydro power plants of EPS is 35 GWh, contributing so to about 0.1% of the total electricity production of HPP within state owned EPS. This fact speaks for itself. Recent public resistance to the construction of small hydropower plants does not give hope that mini-hydro power plants will have a future in Serbia. With respect to the large hydro capacities, it should be noted that the construction of HPP “Buk Bijela” on the Drina has recently begun. “Buk Bijela” capacity will span between 93.5 MW and 114.5 MW, with a projected annual production of up to 355 million kilowatt-hours. Also there are plans for the construction of more HPPs on the rivers Morava, Drina, Ibar, mostly smaller capacities Yet, their commissioning should be expected in the next decade or even later.
When it comes to the biomass, official data state that Serbia was rich in bio mass resources, and that biomass occupies a significant part in the country energy bilance. This statement is only partially true, because we are talking primarily on the consumption of firewood in rural households where this type of heating still dominates. Deeper analyses of bio mass energy contribution in whole RES consumption by sectors, there is a large lag. Energy coming from biomass in other sectors such as transport and industry are relatively modest, down to negligible.
According to available statistical data, total of 8054 MW were produced in Serbia in 2020, and they include: – TEP and 4300 MW; HPP, 2969 MW, mini HPP 114.30 MW. Solar energy produced 14 GWh, wind energy in 2020 provided 1,079 GWh while biogas energy production was at the level of 1063 TJ. In 2021, the construction of significant capacities in wind, as well as in solar, was announced, but it is difficult to predict how much it will contribute to the overall national energy scheme.
It is also difficult to predict the role of RES in 2030 in Serbia. Hydro capacities are limited even under the condition that all capacities that EPS plan to erect and within the planned deadline. Wind energy will reach its maximum very soon, considering the quality and characteristics of wind in Serbia. A higher share of solar energy can be expected, taking into account the decline in technology prices. Mini hydro power plants will be of minor importance and will maintain current level, given the public opposition and the activities of environmentalist. With all this in mind, it is not realistic to expect a higher share of RES in the national energy balance greater than 35% by 2030.

3. Based on information provided by the IEA (International Energy Agency), solar energy is currently the cheapest source of energy in history. What is the situation with the use of solar in Serbia with special reference to the solar rooftop.
So far, the role of roof top solar panels has been negligible and reduced to a private initiative. Eventual connection to the network created in several scarce cases, a numerous unsolvable problems for the roof top solar panels owners. However, the proposed Energy Law (expected to enter into force by the end of the year) provides in Article 169 items 9.10 and 11 category of prosumers as well as individual suppliers, which should create conditions for more effective use of this type RES activities.

4. Does the legislation Serbia recognize energy cooperatives (local energy communities) and Prosumers? Give us examples of good practice.

Up to now, no such a possibility was not legally recognized. Yet, in above mentioned Law that will be adopted, hopefully before not long, there is a possibility for such an option, as well.

5. According to Eurostat data, the average household in the EU consumes about 300 kWh per month. How much does the average household spend in Serbia? How do you rate energy efficiency in Serbia? Is there a regulation (law and bylaws)?

According to official statistics (May 2021), the electricity average monthly consumption in the European Union is 303 kilowatt-hours per month, and in our country it is 462. Energy efficiency has become significantly more important in the last few years. Nation wide actions to support households to increase the energy efficiency of apartments and private houses are currently in place, reinforced with significant state subsidies.
Energy efficiency in Serbia is elaborated and defined by a number of legal acts, to name just a few: LAW on Energy Efficiency and Rational Use of Energy “Official Gazette of RS”, No. 40 of April 22, 2021, LAW on Efficient Use of Energy (“Official Gazette of RS”, No. 25 of 15 March 2013, 40 of 22 April 2021, LAW on Energy Efficiency (“Official Gazette of RS”), No. 25 of 15 March 2013., and some others, by laws mostly. It is also worth nothing that local communities are obliged to create their plans for EE and to support them to the best of the local capacities.

Prof Miroslav Kopečni, Ph.D, Asocciation for sustainable development