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As well as bringing about lower prices, solar energy will create half a million jobs in the EU by 2024.
Photo: Ljubica Vuko

The ‘Sunny Days’ conference, the first conference dedicated to the use of solar energy organised by the Renewable Energy Sources Association of Croatia and the Island Movement, opened on Thursday evening at Hvar’s Arsenal. During the two-day program, representatives of ministries, institutions, academia, equipment manufacturers, the banking sector, investors, counties and local communities will discuss solar energy projects identified as key to making better use of this rich natural potential.

The participants were greeted by Stipe Čogelja, Deputy Prefect of Split-Dalmatia County, Rikardo Novak, Mayor of Hvar, Maja Pokrovac, Director of the Renewable Energy Sources of Croatia and Maja Jurišić, President of the Island Movement.

“In accordance with the Energy Development Strategy of the Republic of Croatia up to 2030, with a view to 2050, and previous activities in the field of energy in Split-Dalmatia County, we believe that energy transition and rational use of energy is our future,” said Stipe Čogelja.

The Deputy Prefect of Split-Dalmatia County also emphasised that the energy transition provides a unique opportunity to apply new green technologies and innovations, which will significantly accelerate modernisation, enable job creation and ensure the development of a low-carbon, sustainable society.

“Despite Split-Dalmatia County being rich in resources and having potential for the development of renewables, thus facilitating its future energy transition, we are still obliged to actively work and plan in this sector. I must mention that the development of the Blace reversible hydroelectric plant has intensified and after the revision of the project, an environmental impact study and all necessary research are currently being carried out”, said Čogelja.

He added that the adoption of the County spatial plan is expected soon, which will include 31 sites designated for photovoltaics, with some of the sites having already been developed, such as Vis and Vrlika. Čogelja is convinced that the realisation of these projects will soon make Split-Dalmatia the most advanced county in terms of solar energy”.

“Soon we will publicly present the Action Plan of Split-Dalmatia County up to 2030, which is being developed within the framework of the PROSPECT2030 project, being carried out by the Hrvoje Požar Energy Institute, with Split-Dalmatia County as associate partner. By taking an active approach, the County is striving to increase the number of projects being carried out, to strengthen and develop its capacities and to be of support and assistance, i.e. one of the key stakeholders in the energy development of the County”, said Čogelja.

He also said that more than 500 projects relating to energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources in family homes with a total value of HRK 12,348,402 have been implemented in the County.

“Furthermore, Split-Dalmatia County is also committed to energy independence and the creation of a framework that will result in new business and life opportunities for all islanders from the County. Therefore, the County is currently developing a SECAP for the island of Brač and as an associated partner participates in the BLUE DEAL project which seeks to strengthen the potential of marine energy usage, and especially working to strengthen the competencies of small and medium enterprises, which are key to implementing the green transition”, said Čogelja.

He also pointed out that the establishment of a county energy agency will be an additional tailwind to the efforts of Split-Dalmatia County to implement the green transition. It has already been prepared and, as he announced, will soon be presented to the County Assembly.

On behalf of the host town of Hvar, the Mayor Rikardo Novak greeted those gathered for the Sunny Days conference, emphasising that the town of Hvar has an average of more than 2700 hours of sunshine a year.

“I thank the organisers who recognised the potential of our island and organised the first conference of this kind in our town. This is the result of the cooperation that began in August last year, when we presented the Energy Transition Strategy with our partners in Hvar and set a goal of achieving energy self-sufficiency by 2035“, said Novak.

This document, which, as the mayor of Hvar explained, represents a solid foundation for further development and progress on the issue of energy self-sufficiency, marked the beginning of the process of transition to clean sources and forms of energy.

“I am pleased to stress the role of and unity shown by local communities on the island who have supported the vision of Hvar as a self-sustaining island from the beginning, and we believe in good cooperation with citizens”, said Rikardo Novak.

He also said that the Arsenal building itself stands as an example of their vision of self-sustainability. “Sea water from the port of Hvar is used for cooling and heating the space, through an extremely complex system located in the attic of this facility, which is unique in Croatia. It is the result of creative and imaginative thinking in the most environmentally friendly sense, which we also try to use when developing other projects. Although at the time of construction the system was very expensive, in the long run it has proven to be extremely cost-effective. Due to the relatively constant sea temperature, it consumes very little electricity”, said Novak.

He emphasised that from experience so far, this appears to be the case with all projects involving renewable energy sources.

“We have to think long-term and look to the future, beginning today. Every day we must change our mindset and be patient in order to preserve what nature, as the greatest teacher of patience, offers us. Just as energy is often thought of as meaning forceful and bold, I would like us at this conference, but also after it, to be efficient, forceful and bold in implementing energy transition projects and using renewable energy sources. This is our pledge for a green and sustainable future. In the end, energy is what drives everything around us, let’s use it!”, Rikardo Novak concluded.

On behalf of the organisers, Maja Pokrovac, Director of Renewable Energy Sources of Croatia, pointed out that a regulated market and stronger development of solar potential will not only benefit investors, but also local communities, as some of the key stakeholders.

“There will be multiple benefits, including new green jobs. And every new job is important and valuable. Therefore, the key topics at the conference go in that direction: the new legal framework for green transition, innovative solar technologies, the use of solar in business, industry and entrepreneurship, economic and financial sustainability and the role of citizens and local governments in this transition. We want to steer the relevant institutions, as well as the general public, in the direction of solving the problems identified and aid better understanding of the RES sector”, Pokrovac said.

She also expressed confidence that the discussions and conclusions of the conference will serve as a good basis for achieving this goal and that it will be only the first in a series of events that will become a training ground for key actors in the low-carbon economy and stimulate lively discussion of renewable energy projects.

Maja Jurišić of the Island Movement emphasised that the transition we are in includes all stakeholders and that all segments are equally important – from national to local. Cities across Europe, she pointed out, have become major drivers of the green transition, reducing environmental impact, adapting to climate change and ensuring sustainable living conditions for local communities.

“Over 10,000 cities have pledged to reduce CO2 emissions and acceded to the European Covenant of Mayors. We are seeing this trend throughout Croatia, and in the last few years on the islands as well. An example is the joint SECAP action plan for the islands of Brač and Korčula, in which Split-Dalmatia County played an important role, as well as clean energy transition strategies for Cres-Lošinj archipelago, Hvar, Brač and Korčula“, said Jurišić.

She also pointed out that local self-government units have the opportunity to participate even more actively in the coming period. In addition to informing citizens and promoting the use of renewable energy, developing strategies, plans and collecting relevant data and developing projects in local communities, they can actively participate in investment, contribute to the development of joint investments with citizens and thus manage resources and benefit from such projects, which will have a positive impact on the very communities they manage.

Furthermore, Jurišić stated that large European cities such as Barcelona, ​​Paris and Ghent consider renewable energy sources to be public goods, believing that such projects and investments should benefit the community as a whole. This is ultimately the definition of sustainable development which apart from financial aspects, equally takes environmental and social aspects into account.

“Examples of towns that have already taken this path in Croatia are Križevci – Križevci Solar Roofs and Vrgorac Solar Town, as well as the town of Hvar, which is establishing a Committee for Energy Transition, the towns of Cres and Mali Lošinj, which are co-founders of the energy cooperative Apsyrtides. The establishment of a new island energy cooperative on Cres and the reactivation of the cooperative on Korčula are indicators of the islanders’ awareness that the potential of renewable energy sources is growing and that we are at a turning point where more citizens will get involved and participate equally in the energy transition. We consider the involvement of citizens to be key to the implementation of the transition to clean energy, which will significantly contribute to local development, economic recovery and achieving the goals of the European Green Plan”, said Maja Jurišić.

Walburga Hemetsberger, director of SolarPower Europe, addressed the gathering in Hvar via video link, emphasising that solar has shown great resilience during the pandemic, and that the technology is the most cost-effective today. According to her, a large growth in solar energy is expected in the next five years, and as early as 2023 more than 30 GW will be installed per year.

“Apart from reduced costs, solar energy is also the fastest creator of new jobs. More than half a million direct and indirect jobs are expected to be created in the EU by 2024. In addition to higher employment, there are also benefits in developing production in Europe, solar modules and cells”, said Hemetsberger, asserting that Croatia could play a significant role with greater production. But all that potential also needs a regulatory framework to make it possible.

Prof. dr. sc. Neven Duić from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture in Zagreb talked about the implementation of solar technology.

“Does the sun even shine in Croatia?” he asked rhetorically at the beginning of his presentation.

As professor Duić said, on existing roofs alone there is space for 4 GW of solar panels, which could meet 25 percent of current electricity needs. The total roof area in Croatia amounts to 70 km2, half of which has good potential for solar panels. Even though the number of roof installations has increased tenfold from 2019 to 2020, that number is still small – below 1,000 systems per year, and we need 100,000 roof systems per year.

“The price of electricity from solar is lower today than ever before. The future is solar renewable. In the north this should be combined with wind energy. But in Croatia, the solar sector is developing very slowly. Procedures should be accelerated, people should be educated”, stressed prof. Duić.

I should add that all efforts to increase the use of renewable energy sources and involve citizens in the energy transition are in line with EU policies in order to achieve the ambitious goal of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. Achieving these goals requires a higher share of energy from renewable sources and higher energy efficiency.

With the European climate regulations, approved by the European Parliament in June this year, the political commitment of the European Green Plan to the EU’s climate neutrality by 2050 becomes an obligation.

Source: Jutarnji list