Slovakia catching up on green technologies


Slovakia may seem to have been a late starter in developing renewable and green energies, but its economic players are catching up, using research as an instrument to promote cutting-edge technologies. EURACTIV Slovakia reports.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic were two parts of a common federal state until 1993. Comparisons between the two countries are thus telling regarding trends in developing renewable and green technologies.

According to analysis by Peter Kolesár from Candole Partners, the Czech Republic has experienced a rapid growth in photovoltaic (PV) installations and wind projects: there are currently 411 MW of PV installations and 180 MW of wind turbines in the country (see EURACTIV 26/02/10).

However, Slovakia only has 200 kW of PVs and five MW of wind turbines and investment in renewable energy resources has been low. The main reasons for these differences are the following:

  • The Czech Republic has adopted a support scheme guaranteeing feed-in tariffs for 20 years or green bonuses paid together with the electricity price.
  • The Czech Republic benefits from the presence of a Green Party in its parliament, which actively proposes policies on renewable energy resources.
  • More pressure is exerted by energy investors in the Czech Republic to increase the feed-in tariffs. Feed-in tariffs are a policy mechanism designed to accelerate efforts to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy as a power source.

The Czech regulator ERÚ (Energy Regulatory Office) has now proposed to amend renewable energy laws to further reduce feed-in tariffs for PVs from the current 5% annual cut.

The situation is quite different in Slovakia, where the development of renewable energy policies has been slow. Reportedly, part of the reason for this is the lack of expertise and resources at the Economy Ministry and the transmission system operator (SEPS; Slovak Electricity Transmission System) for analysing current renewable trends.

In spring 2009, a new renewable energy law was introduced in Slovakia and since then the country has become more attractive for projects and investments in renewable energy. In particular, a large number of requests have been tabled for developing wind energy projects.

However, SEPS has officially declared that projects using renewable resources, such as wind or solar power, have a negative impact on the stability of the retransmission system because they are unpredictable and should therefore be limited. Furthermore, the expansion of renewable energy resources in Slovakia has other constraints, notably the fact that 23% of Slovakia comprises protected bird areas.

Moreover, there is a widespread view that renewable energy installations would hike consumer electricity prices and breed disputes with landowners – meaning that distribution companies wanting permits from the state would have real problems.

Public interest in solar collectors

As a part of an economic recovery package, the Slovak government agreed last year to promote the installation of renewable energy sources. For this it allocated an additional budget of 100 million Slovak korunas, or 3.3 million euros, to support biomass boiler and solar collector installations, which have been the main targets of plans for renewable energy since 2007. The first call for proposals began in April 2009. The partial budget for public funding in 2010 is eight million euros.

Since the programme started, the Economy Ministry has received 1,500 applications – over 80% of which have been for solar collector installations.

Compressed natural gas is in fashion

The Slovak Gas Enterprise (SPP), the dominant, state-supported gas distributor in Slovakia, E.ON Ruhrgas and Gaz de France have started a programme to support the development of CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) as an alternative and clean motor fuel of the future.

"In the long run, SPP supports the use of natural gas for fueling vehicles and it has really good reasons for that," states the company on its CNG website. "When using compressed natural gas for powering the vehicles, no mechanical impurities are created, the fuel does not smell, and the vehicle produces 60–80% fewer gaseous emissions," it adds.

CNG is promoted as a fuel for public transport in large Slovakian cities and citizens are also encouraged to buy personal vehicles running on bi-fuel engines, one of the fuels being CNG.

Research as a driving force

With EU backing, Ludovit Jelemensky and Frantisek Janicek, both from the Slovak Technical University, opened the National Centre for Research and Application of Renewable Energy Sources in June 2009. It is the first centre of excellence in Slovakia which focuses on renewable and new sources of energy at top academic level in cooperation with private companies. Its primary research topics are biomass, solar energy and hydro-energy resources.

"We want to be a small research institute providing consultant services for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs and agricultural cooperatives who would be interested in using renewable sources," says F. Janicek, vice-rector of STU. Together with Janicek, he is aiming to develop the centre through networks with top scientific teams.

There are three other innovative R&D projects supported by EU funds, but they are administrated by private companies. One is a new robotic platform for ultra-deep drilling – primarily geothermal, but also for hydrocarbon prospects.

The main obstacle to the exploitation of geothermal power is the exponential growth of drilling costs when the wells are deeper than 5-6 kilometres. The Slovak Ministry of Education secured around 2.7 million euros from the EU's structural funds to support ULTRADRILL technology, the robotic platform of Slovak-based Geothermal Anywhere.

The main difference between ULTRADRILL and traditional methods of ultra-deep drilling is the selected method of rock disintegration: conventional contact bits are replaced by contact-less plasma jets, which have a multiplied destructive effect.

This technological concept already exists in the form of an operating electronic virtual design. The prototype is in development, writes the company on its profile

"Concerning biomass, there is a real possibility of using approximately 12 to 14 TW of electric energy. I think that Slovakia could then look like our neighbours Austria or Switzerland, if there was the possibility to deal with these issues"” Professor Frantisek Janicek, vice-rector of Slovak Technical University and representative of the Centre of Excellence for Renewable Energy Sources, told EURACTIV Slovakia.

"In Slovakia there is little governmental support for research and development in the field of renewable energies. The government supports the installation of current wind and solar technologies, despite their low-level efficiency, cost and the limited natural potential of Slovakia to exploit these types of renewables," said Igor Kocis, CEO of Geothermal Anywhere.

"The best solution would be to significantly increase investment for additional research. But there is currently no such direct support. Companies and institutes rely on generally (not specifically) defined calls for R&D projects, so they have to compete with the other industry segments. EU structural funds have helped, but the renewable energy sector cannot rely solely on these sources," he said.  

"The agency of the Ministry of Education issues calls for proposals that are predominantly oriented towards new infrastructure, not the research itself. At the same time, the amount and accessibility of venture capital for renewable spin-off or start-up companies remains limited. A focused government role is vital, but it is currently lacking," Kocis added.

In March 2007, European leaders signed up to a binding EU-wide goal to get 20% of their energy needs from renewable sources – including biomass, hydro, wind and solar power – by 2020. To meet this objective, EU leaders agreed on a new directive promoting renewable energies, which set individual targets for each member state (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on EU renewable energy policy).

Renewable energies such as wind and solar power, hydropower and biomass could play a major role in tackling the dual challenge of energy security and global warming, because they are not depletable and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

A new EU directive on renewable energies, agreed in December 2008, requires each member state to increase its share of renewable energies in the bloc's energy mix, in order to raise the overall share from 8.5% today to 20% by 2020. A 10% share of 'green fuels' in transport is also included within the overall EU target (EURACTIV 05/12/08).

Slovakia’s share of renewables in 2005 was 6.4% and its target for 2020 is 14% of all energy produced.

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