Balkan update: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina ready for their biggest PV projects, Macedonia inaugurates first module fab

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Solar appears to be building momentum in a number of Balkan countries, which have, to date, been somewhat reluctant to exploit their considerable solar PV potential.

With a lack of funds, onerous red tape and relatively low electricity prices hindering the rollout of PV in the region, there has been little in the way of development in the majority of Balkan countries, particularly after the solar subsidy schemes were exhausted. But recently, good news has filtered in from three in the region.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – First utility-scale PV tender announced

The Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining of the Republika Srpska has launched a tender for the construction of a 65 MW solar PV plant, worth an estimated KM 150 million (US$89.4 million). International and local investors are invited to submit their bids until July 27, the Ministry announced.

According to earlier media reports, IFS Solar, owned by Turkey’s oil company, Capital Group and Austria-based Schall Group have already displayed interest in the construction of the Ljubinje plant, which is pencilled in for this year and is expected to take two years to complete.

With a 50-year concession to operate the plant, the future operator shall pay a one-off concession fee in the amount of KM 300,000 ($188,194), plus a concession fee of KM0.0055 ($0.0035) per kWh of electricity produced.

As the first utility-scale solar project in both the Republika Srpska, and the entire Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ljubinje plant is expected to produce 104 GWh of electricity annually, to be sold on the open market.

Relying mostly on its hydro capacity, Bosnia and Herzegovina is aiming to source 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, up from the current 34%.

Croatia – Island to tap into solar

Croatia’s state-run power utility, HEP has inked an agreement with representatives of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County authorities to deliver a 6.5 MW solar PV plant on the island of Cres, in order to ensure sufficient electricity supply during the peak tourist season.

As there are no large-scale solar PV plants in the country – the biggest ones are no more than 1 MW in size –  this will be by far the country’s biggest solar systems, and the first one for HEP not to be constructed at its own facilities. Since 2014, the utility has installed nine rooftop solar systems atop its buildings.

The 6.5 MW Orlec Trinket project will be built with no incentives. Its average annual production of around 8.5 GWh will suffice to cover the electricity demand of approximately 2,000 local households.

“I am very glad this power plant will strengthen the infrastructure necessary for tourism development on the islands of Cres and Lošinj and provide sufficient electricity when it is most needed – during the peak tourist season,” said Frane Barbaric, HEP CEO, adding that the utility hopes to be setting an example for other potential solar power plant investors.

As noted by Barbaric, HEP carried out a cost effectiveness analysis of the project, concluding that it would be a sound investment, even without any subsidies.

Total investment costs regarding the plant construction are estimated to be about kn 45 million (around $7 million). The bill will be footed by HEP, which has been granted a 25 year lease of the land on which the plant will sit, in return.

“We believe this is the beginning of our path to renewable energy sources and the cooperation with HEP on such or similar projects,“ said Marina Medaric, representative of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, adding that the project will satisfy the increased demand for electricity during summer months, and ensure the stability of the electric power system on the islands of Cres and Lošinj.

At the signing ceremony last week, future plans regarding the utilization of solar energy on the island of Cres were also presented.

Simultaneously with the development of Orlec Trinket East, Primorje-Gorski Kotar County commenced the development of the 4.14 MW Orlec Trinket West Solar Power Plant, which will place the accumulative solar capacity on the island of Cres at over 10 MW.

This is an impressive capacity for one island, given that the total capacity of grid-connected solar PV in 2017 stood at 53.4 MW across 1,231 systems, according to the latest data by the Croatian energy market operator HROTE – up by 4 MW on the previous year – Overall, wind dominates the over 1 GW of renewable energy capacity installed here.

The HEP, however, underlines that the Orlec Trinket plant is the first project among its planned undertakings concerning the development or acquisition of ground-mounted solar power plants, as the group seeks to increase the renewables share in its electricity production to 50% by 2030, and to 70% by 2050.

Macedonia – Upstream manufacturing begins

For more than a month now, the production lines at Macedonia’s first solar panel factory have been up and running.

The factory was inaugurated by Pikcell Group in partnership with Solar ET, a PVT specialist, in the country’s capital Skopje, and financed completely privately.

It is capable of producing 20 MW of PV panels annually, and is said to be able to duplicate its capacity to 40 MW annually for a maximum of three months.

Such investments in the region remain scarce, with only one more solar module manufacturing facility opened in neighboring Kosovo in 2016 – a factory developed by German company J. v. G. Thoma and its subsidiary J. v. G. Jaha Energy in Pristina, Kosovo, with an annual output capacity of 50 MW.

Dimitar Kovacevski of Pikcell tells pv magazine that the panels produced at the factory are intended to be both sold on the domestic market and exported, noting that currently the plant has 20 employees. At full capacity, it will employ 70 people, he adds. By the end of the year, the company plans to invest a total of €5 million ($5.8 million).

With around 18 MW of solar PV installed in Macedonia in the last 10 years, the latest investment may help the country stimulate its renewable energy market and advance towards its 2020 target of a 28% renewable share.

According to the latest available data by Eurostat, the country was lagging behind its goal, with just 18.2% reached in 2016.