Think-tank: Bulgaria will be a net importer of electricity after 203017.02.2022Media
Bulgaria is likely to become a net importer of electricity after 2030, accounting for about 15% of its needs, said Martin Vladimirov, Director of the Energy and Climate Program at the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD), a European public policy institute, in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV.
Martin Vladimirov, together with Ruslan Stefanov, is co-author of the Kremlin Playbook series, assessing the size and mechanisms of the Russian economic influence in Europe.
He spoke to Georgi Gotev, Senior editor of EURACTIV.com and Publisher of EURACTIV.bg.
This article is part of our special report Renewables’ integration in the electricity grid.
Author: Georgi Gotev / EURACTIV.bg
Content of this article does not reflect the positions or opinions of the EU-SysFlex project or its partners. EU-SysFlex is not responsible for the information or opinions included in this article.
How would you present the state of renewable sources in Bulgaria, compared to other European countries, as well as in their development and perspective?
Bulgaria still lacks clearly defined long-term goals and a transparent framework for decision-making regarding the country’s energy and climate security policy. As far as I understand, the new Bulgarian government has promised to table such a full-fledged strategic framework by March this year. Which means we should have a fuller picture by the middle of the year. Probably before that we will have a finalised National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which will hint at the direction of development.
Bulgaria will need to transform its energy sector over the next decade by gradually phasing out coal-fired power generation and making significant investments in renewable energy-based (RES) power plants. Bulgaria’s goals for increasing the share of RES in final energy demand lack ambition, which we hope the Bulgarian government will change when updating the National Energy and Climate Plan in 2023.
Currently, the goal of 27% of RES by 2030 is not only low, but is actually based on the false belief that biomass (firewood) will increase its share in the heating and cooling segment from about 30% to 44%. The planned investments in the renewable energy sector are insufficient for the transformation of the energy mix. There is also the need to shift the focus away from large-scale energy projects and towards the decentralisation of electricity production with a leading role and thought for households and small and medium enterprises.
Currently, the focus is on financing a large-scale scheme for RES investment tenders, under which a minimum quota of 25% is set for the installation of battery storage systems. This project to connect 1.7 GW of RES capacity puts excessive focus on the use of batteries. In the framework of well-interconnected power markets in the SEE region, the excess power storage capacity does not make economic sense.
In addition, the project follows a discriminatory funding model in which the public support for RES investors gives an advantage to larger plants. It should instead be supporting energy citizenship via the decentralisation of the power supply, the creation of energy communities and the development of smart grids.
What is the capacity for balancing by the system operators of renewable sources, when, for example, there is no wind, or when the sun does not shine brightly enough?
The unlocking of the RES potential of Bulgaria, a 100% decarbonisation of the electricity mix is possible. Bulgaria will become a net importer of electricity after 2025 (for between 10 and 25% of consumption depending on the speed of the coal phase-out) but the power system should not face significant supply security issues.
Both Greece and Turkey are net importers, and they are successfully balancing their system. Our analyses, modelling electricity flows in Southeast Europe, show that even with the complete closure of coal-fired power plants, the system remains adequate due to the large cross-border transmission capacity, huge hydropower and gas power plants in the Western Balkans, Romania and Greece.
Governments in the region should speed up the completion of key electricity connections, including the high-voltage power line between Bulgaria and Greece, and the 1,200-megawatt Bulgaria-Romania connection, which is not currently planned to be completed before the lignite plants close. Such links would reduce peak electricity prices and pressure on the integration of the regional electricity market, which currently does not provide sufficient import opportunities.
The decentralisation of the power grid cannot be possible without the integration of smart grid technologies, allowing for better monitoring and control of the energy system and further ensuring the security and efficiency of its supply. Furthermore, modernisation of the power grid will ensure stronger resilience to some of the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events, which is crucial for the future of Bulgaria’s energy security.
In addition, it is essential for the Bulgarian Electricity System Operator (ESO) to cooperate more actively with operators from neighbouring countries in order to increase the distribution of net transmission capacity at the borders with Romania and Greece. At present, the cross-border transmission capacity is not used optimally, which blocks regional electricity trade. Optimising electricity transmission capacity in the region would eliminate national energy self-sufficiency policies that aim to protect national markets from external competition.
The transformation of the electricity mix on the part of RES and Kozloduy nuclear power plant should put an end to rising electricity prices, and volatility may occur at limited times of the year, when a combination of imports, demand management systems and energy efficiency, would smooth out the peaks and ensure security of supply.
In practice, with ambitious decarbonisation, European models show that after 2040, the need for a nuclear power plant to provide base capacity is also disappearing, as the market will get saturated with RES-based electricity, especially when biomass and large wind farms will begin to provide power close to base capacity.
Meanwhile, with the development of a smart grid, comprehensive mechanisms for reacting to the needs and storage solutions contribute more effectively to the stability of the system, as they provide much more flexibility than nuclear energy. In this context, it makes sense to talk about the construction of a new nuclear power plant only after 2040, to replace the Kozloduy NPP, which is planned to be decommissioned by 2050.
Are energy storage ideas just beautiful dreams? What can new technologies offer?
Hydropower plants (HPPs) are one of the most flexible technologies for electricity generation and their role in ensuring the sustainability of the system is expected to grow. In this sense, adequate funding should be directed to the modernisation and expansion of existing hydropower plants. Due to delays in ongoing repair projects and regulatory inconsistencies, Bulgaria uses only one-third of its large pumped storage HPPs and an even smaller proportion of smaller run-of-the-river plants. In times of rising prices and shortages of electricity supply, hydropower plants would ease the pressure on the system and offer cheaper electricity during periods of peak consumption.
However, if a more modern solution is sought to support storage technologies, it would be more efficient to invest in the development of battery systems that can be used freely by all participants in the electricity market. Such a solution was proposed in the latest version of the national Recovery Plan, but on a scale that would be difficult to implement in this limited time.
It makes more sense to support storage systems for small and medium-sized businesses, which can reduce their dependence on the grid and hence improve its performance at peak consumption. Support measures aimed at industrial consumers are in place in the Recovery plan. However, the proposed financing scheme for RES installations up to 1 MW would also lead to the non-utilisation of a large part of the existing market potential.
How do you assess Bulgaria’s readiness for “Fit for 55”, especially with a focus on renewable sources, but in general?
With the Fit-for-55 package, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030, the European Union is the first international player to make the long-term goal of climate neutrality a real policy for European citizens. A successful European decarbonisation strategy will reduce Russia’s (and China’s) ability to slow down Europe’s energy transition by engaging individual member states in major energy projects that deepen Europe’s dependence on expensive fossil fuel-based technologies.
Although the EU has increased its overall ambition, some member states, such as Bulgaria, are reluctant or unwilling to increase their climate targets by 2030 and adopt more ambitious measures to accelerate the transition (such as early coal phase-out, directing EU and national funds to sustainable energy infrastructure and expanding renewable energy sources, encouraging investment in innovative technologies, and removing legal and administrative barriers to small-scale household and community projects).
In order to avoid a social backlash in Bulgaria, an in-depth analysis and debate based on data is needed, which demonstrates how these goals can be achieved. Even before the political debate on the new EU package has officially begun, there is already opposition to it from businesses controlling individual markets. Just by mentioning this strategy, they are threatening protests. Imagine what resistance there will be when making concrete decisions? And when the state still does not have a clear vision, when it has nothing to stand against these networks of interests, it will easily bend under coordinated pressure.
We risk missing the last train of decarbonisation and in the absence of a clear energy transition strategy and the adoption of a policy platform for tough decisions to reduce carbon emissions, the inertia of short-term decisions and interests will prevail as before. In 10 years we will see that we are far behind.
If so far we have been proud to have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 40% since 1990, thanks to the collapse of the Socialist industry, this argument will no longer be valid in 10 years. In the meantime, we will have wasted a lot of money on continuing with the current model of a centralised, non-transparent, state-cantered system instead of transforming the energy and the economy.
The electricity sector will play the most significant role in the long-term decarbonisation process, as all sectors are gradually electrified. The process has already begun and is proceeding at a rapid pace in the buildings sector, but a similar approach will be needed in mobility and industry, where the removal of fossil fuels will be a Herculean challenge. Strong support is needed to achieve the decarbonisation targets in the form of tax incentives and loan schemes for business projects with high production standards, optimising production processes that are in line with the EU’s industrial strategy.
Does Bulgaria have any strategies for its energy future? For example, for 2030, a not so distant date? Or something longer term?
At the moment, our strategy for the energy and climate future is a wishful list of projects and reforms that should satisfy all private interests in the country at the same time. This is impossible given the limited economic resources and the strategic EU documents to which Bulgaria has to adhere. Achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is a possible goal for Bulgaria.
However, it will require a significant change in the country’s energy and climate strategy so that it is in line with the EU’s long-term framework for decarbonisation. There is also a need for better coordination of the National Recovery and Resilience Plans with other national and European financial instruments, such as the Territorial Just Transition Plans, the Operational Programs and the Modernisation Fund. The combination of these financial resources should be better targeted at tackling the many risks to energy security and unlocking Bulgaria’s energy transition.
The cheapest way to a low-carbon and energy-secure economy is to transform Bulgaria’s energy mix and electrify major industries. This also means modernising and improving the sustainability of the entire energy system. Bulgaria will have to take decades-long strategic decisions on energy sector governance if it is to meet its commitments under the European Green Pact.
Read in Bulgarian
Read more on EURACTIV.com.