INTERVIEW: Renewables company Notus expands in Southeast Europe

INTERVIEW: Renewables company Notus expands in Southeast Europe
Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti at the official opening of the Selac wind farm. / Notus
By Clare Nuttall in Pristina January 22, 2024

Potsdam-based Notus Energy is expanding in Southeast Europe after successfully building Kosovo’s largest wind farm. From its office in Pristina, the company is eyeing opportunities in other Western Balkan countries, mainly in wind energy, head of Notus Europe Rico Koch said in an interview with bne IntelliNews

Notus builds renewable energy plants and is an independent power producer (IPP), with experience in Western and Emerging Europe, and Latin America. In Kosovo it built the Selac wind farm near the village of Bajgora, the largest wind farm in the country today and one of the biggest in the region. 

The wind farm, which was brought into operation in March 2022, has capacity of over 103 MW, supplying more than 100,000 households or up to 10% of Kosovo's electricity consumption.

The project was developed by Sowi Kosovo, which is now majority-owned and controlled by Israeli renewable energy company Enlight Renewable Energy, alongside Notus and local Kosovan partners. 

Construction of the wind far was somewhat challenging given its location in the mountains at altitudes of up to 1,800 metres above sea level. The turbines had to be transported via the port of Durres in neighbouring Albania. 

“The benefits of the site are clear: it’s the windspeed. Kosovo does not have so many good areas for wind, and most of the areas are in the mountains,” Koch tells bne IntelliNews. However, he adds, the company already has experience dealing with similar environments in Austria, France and South America. 

Another challenge was that the project “survived at least six different governments”, Koch notes. While successive governments backed the project, during the period of political instability before the 2021 general election, there was still the need to explain it to each administration given Kosovo has little experience with wind power. 

“It was in the end the biggest renewable energy project in Kosovo. One of the highlights of this project for me is that the project was a joint venture between a German company, a company from Israel and from Kosovo,” says Koch. 

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) provided funding for the project, alongside Erste Bank Austria and Slovenian bank NLB. 

Guri Shkodra, Notus’ country manager for Kosovo, stresses the importance of the project for the country. 

“I think it was an important project for Kosovo because we are an energy importing country, and we were faced with a lack of electricity especially during the winter season when consumption increases,” he says.

“It continues to be one of those landmarks, the starting point of a long process of decarbonisaton the country has to go through, which includes the energy transition as well.

“Coming from an environmental activism background I was behind the project as it avoids hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 a year, which is highly important for us as a lignite country.” 

With the wind farm under its belt, Notus is now expanding in the region, having already increased its team. 

“We set up our headquarters for the Balkans here in Pristina because of our experience and the people who work for us. We have already started investments in Bosnia, in North Macedonia, in Albania, and of course also in Kosovo we see further opportunities,” says Koch. The company has also been active in Bulgaria since 2007. 

In terms of types of project, Koch says Notus is “more focused on wind because it needs a bit more knowledge, experience and investment, so there are not so many competitors as in the solar sector”. However, he adds, "we would not say no solar” under the right circumstances. 

Notus’ expansion comes at a time when countries in the region – many of which are coal dependent – are looking to increase their renewables capacity. 

In 2023, Kosovo’s government announced its new energy strategy, which sets the goal of reaching 1,400 GW of installed renewable electricity capacity by 2031, divided evenly between solar and wind. 

Shkodra welcomes the move towards green energy, though he says the target may be ambitious, given it took seven years to complete the Selac project. 

Developing Kosovo’s wind potential may also require higher investments than other countries, given much of it is at higher altitudes that “bring a lot of challenges in construction”, he adds. 

The shift to renewables is in line with global trends, and was accelerated by the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

"After the war between Russia and Ukraine, people in the European Union – and also in ex-Yugoslavia plus Albania – understood we should not depend for gas or anything else on somewhere else in the world; it puts us under pressure … we want to have independent energy,” says Koch.  

When it comes to achieving a full shift to renewables, he adds: “I would say it’s immediately feasible, its only a matter of will.” 

In 2023 Portugal used only renewable energy – a combination of wind, solar and hydropower – for six consecutive days. Germany produced more than half its electricity from renewables last year. 

“It won’t happen tomorrow, but it is possible,” he says. “We have new technologies and if things continue as they are, in five years Germany will be independent of all other other resources [except renewables] – and the sun is not out so often in Germany as it is here.”