INTERVIEW: Sunny climates and government incentives drive Balkan solar markets

INTERVIEW: Sunny climates and government incentives drive Balkan solar markets
Elen has seen a sharp increase in activity as solar projects get underway in the Western Balkans. / Elen
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje April 6, 2024

The solar markets in Kosovo, Albania, and North Macedonia are on an upward trend, driven by favourable climates and a growing interest in clean energy, said Lulzim Syla, managing partner at solar energy solutions company Elen, in an interview with bne IntelliNews

Elen, which provides design services for solar energy solutions and other projects, witnessed a remarkable surge in activities, boasting an increase of over 30% annually for the past three years. 

Syla does, however, warn that there are obstacles to overcome in developing the region’s substantial solar potential. 

“Despite this [potential], all three [countries] face significant challenges in scaling up to gigawatt capacities within the next five years, primarily due to inadequate transmission lines and limited distribution capacity. Addressing these infrastructural constraints is crucial for the solar sector's expansion in the region," he said.

Elen caters to international financial investors seeking to establish turnkey solar power plants in the megawatt range (EPC), offering services for both plant operation and maintenance (O&M). It also offers design services for energy storage, electrical installations, technical consultancy, and energy efficiency solutions.

Established in 1992, Elen is headquartered in Muelheim an der Ruhr in Germany and run by Kosovar businessmen. To date it has completed more than 500,000 square metres of electrical installations and over 450 solar projects ranging from kilowatts to megawatts.

Grand ambitions in Kosovo 

As Kosovo's government embarks on its bold Energy Strategy for the period from 2022 to 2031, Elen is primed to play a pivotal role in driving the country's energy transition, aligning with objectives to achieve significant capacities in solar energy by 2031.

The primary objectives of Kosovo's energy strategy include reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector by a minimum of 32% by 2031, aiming to fulfil at least 35% of electricity consumption through renewable energy sources (RES) by the same year, and fostering the development of new RES capacities.

These include 600 MW of wind energy, 600 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy, 20 MW of biomass energy, and at least 100 MW of prosumer capacity. The strategy also aims to achieve a total installed RES capacity of 16,002 MW by 2031.

Elen’s involvement in Kosovo extends to numerous projects within the business and industrial sectors. According to the company’s website, Elen has collaborated with various investors such as Interex Pristina, the University in Mitrovica, Tobacco Holding Group, Solar Plant Eling, American Clinic, and HIB Petrol.

“We maintain active engagement with economic chambers and governmental bodies to foster a conducive environment for renewable energy,” Syla said.

“With over 32 years of expertise, we always we have tried to contribute in our community through sustainable solutions that has effected positively our end customer,” he added. 

Growth in North Macedonia 

In neighbouring North Macedonia, one of Elen’s largest projects currently nearing completion is the Hellga Company project in Tetovo, a city in the northwestern part of the country.

“For this project, we've utilised the latest and highest quality products and solutions to ensure optimal electricity production performance. Throughout every stage of the process, we adhere strictly to international ISO 9001, 14001, and 45001 standards," Syla said.

The Tetovo project by furniture manufacturing firm Hellga Company boasts a facility generating 381.5 kWp of power, utilizing 700 pcs panels in total.

Elen’s chief also noted the ongoing commissioning of a 6.3 MW project in North Macedonia. 

“Additionally, preparations are underway for a 7 MW project in North Macedonia slated to commence next month. Beyond ground-based projects, we've also completed numerous megawatts of solar installations on business rooftops in recent months,” he said.

The 7 MW solar power plant project, covering seven hectares of land, is located in the village of Neraste in the northern part of North Macedonia, near the Kosovan border.

“Despite the challenges presented by the difficult terrain and the current cold temperature, our team is progressing the project steadily and with incredible determination,” the company said in January in a Facebook post.

According to the company's website, another notable project in North Macedonia is the successful completion of the JUS MB distribution centre project in 2022. This project involved the installation of an on-grid solar photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof, specifically designed for self-consumption with capacity of of 999.6 kWp.

The projects took place amid growing awareness of the potential of North Macedonia’s solar sector. The findings of a study conducted by the environmental research agency Ekosvest leave no room for doubt that the country possesses an extensive reservoir of untapped potential for renewable energy development.

Even after excluding all significant bird and plant habitats, the renewables potential remains high, reaching up to 11 GW for solar PV and 0.35 GW for wind energy. This suggests that harnessing just half of these prioritised locations could yield 7.7 terawatt-hours of electricity annually — exceeding North Macedonia's current electricity consumption and potentially meeting the projected electricity demand in 2030 as per the energy-efficient scenario outlined in the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP).

The targets set for installed renewable energy capacity in the national Strategy for Energy Development of North Macedonia up to 2040 stand at 750 MW for wind power and 1,400 MW for solar photovoltaic power.

Sunny Albania 

Benefiting from some of the highest sunshine hours across Europe, Albania is also poised for significant solar energy growth. Regions such as the extreme north and coastal south present prime opportunities for the expansion of solar energy infrastructure, complementing the country's existing hydropower sector.

Highlighting recent achievements, Elen’s chief notes participation in a 12 MW project in Fier, in the southwestern part of Albania. The investor in the Fier’s feed-in tariff project is Seman Sunpower.

Researchers say leveraging solar energy could play a pivotal role in reducing Albania's dependence on energy imports. However, as Syla pointed out, there is a pressing need for infrastructure investment. Realising the country’s potential entails substantial investments in grid infrastructure, the streamlining of legislative frameworks, and bolstering access to funding to facilitate its widespread implementation.

In a study titled "Evaluation and Integration of Photovoltaic (PV) Systems in Albanian Energy Landscape”, researchers from Albanian University highlighted that as of 2021, the installed generation capacity of PV in Albania was at a mere 1% of the total.

Tirana has been working to encourage investment into solar and wind projects as the country diversifies away from dependence on hydropower. The nation's parliament took a crucial step forward in this regard by passing the Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources law on April 14, 2023.

A brighter future 

Looking ahead, Elen outlines ambitious plans for sustainable energy initiatives, both regionally and globally, with a strategic focus on solar energy, energy storage, and EV charging solutions until 2025, Syla stated.

The company is poised to expand its reach into the international market, particularly in MicroGrid solutions, reaffirming its position as a pioneer in the renewable energy sector.

According to Syla, leveraging tools such as drones, thermal cameras, predictive maintenance solutions, the company ensures the implementation of top-tier solutions for its clients, thereby enhancing efficiency and performance in electricity production.

“Our strategy is to be leader in Balkan region as an EPC [Engineering, Procurement, and Construction] in solar energy, also energy storage and EV charging solutions,” Syla told bne IntelliNews