How to go solar in Serbia

By Bojana Vlajcic

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EBRD GEFF credit line for energy efficiency helps a homeowner in Belgrade to install solar panels 

With many sunny days, Serbia has great potential for solar energy. However, the use of solar power in residential buildings and individual houses is still in its early stages. The country’s recently adopted energy laws, combined with the lower costs of solar technology, raise expectations that this may soon change.

For Nikola Rađenović from Belgrade there were no doubts about installing solar panels on his house, even before these developments. He has been determined to invest in renewables, which he sees not only as financially interesting, but also ethically right.

“I have been interested in renewables and I decided to invest in solar panels because I wanted to be, as much as possible, energy independent, but I also wanted to contribute to decreasing air pollution in my city,” explains Nikola, who is currently working to develop a mobile application for an electric bike sharing system in two Serbian cities.

Nikola had previously invested in good-quality windows and insulation, and his house was already energy efficient. In addition, he wanted to use solar panels as his main electricity source and a heat pump for heating and hot water.

With solar panels financed with EBRD’s GEFF loan and EU grants for energy efficiency, the house of Nikola Rađenović from Belgrade is now completely powered by solar energy.  

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Nikola invested €9,000 in solar panels and equipment and received a €1,600 cashback incentive. He secured a loan under the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)’s Green Economy Financing Facility (GEFF), which works with local banks to on-lend funds to residential borrowers for investments in residential energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions. In Serbia, UniCredit Bank and Erste Bank offer GEFF loans.

Although such home improvements can noticeably reduce energy use and long-term associated costs, the initial financial outlay can be high. To help homeowners invest in green solutions, GEFF provides technical assistance and grants, supported by the European Union (EU), the Austrian Federal Ministry of Finance and the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF).

“I believe I will pay off my investment in 7 to 10 years, maybe even sooner, considering the house is completely powered by solar energy,” Nikola says. “My electricity bills are zero.”

Administrative barriers have meant that Nikola’s house is not connected to Serbia’s electricity grid. He still manages to generate electricity all year round, with most energy produced from March to November and less produced on winter days. Ideally, he would like to connect his house to the grid to be able to return the surplus of energy produced in summer for use in winter. He hopes to be able to do this as the new energy laws in Serbia envision the possibility of users also being electricity producers, known as “prosumers”.

Telefon Inženjering, a Belgrade-based company specialising in solar technology solutions, sees greater interest in solar energy and believes that the new regulations will motivate even more people to consider a switch to solar.

“Previously, we have mainly worked on off-grid systems, for users who do not have access to the electricity grid, such as small weekend homes or homes in the mountains,” explains Nikola Šakan, CEO of Telefon Inženjering. “Nowadays, we work more on on-grid systems, for users who have electricity but want to make additional savings with solar energy. An average household in Serbia would require a solar plant of 5-10 kW. Such a system can be paid off in five to seven years. The installation is not complex and can be finished within a couple of days,” adds Nikola.

Decarbonisation and environmental benefits

Households in the Western Balkans account for about 60-70 per cent of energy used in buildings and the region’s energy usage is around 2.5 times higher than the average for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in Europe. Implementing energy efficiency in residential buildings is critical to achieving energy savings.

Together with the EU and other donors, the EBRD provides finance and delivers policy support to harmonise countries’ laws and regulations on energy efficiency under the Regional Energy Efficiency Programme (REEP) for the Western Balkans.

So far, through the GEFF programme, over 7,000 households in the Western Balkans have invested around €40 million in green residential solutions, less than half of what is available under the €85 million Western Balkans GEFF programme. These investments already contribute to saving over 31 million kWh of energy and over 11,200 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. That is the equivalent of taking more than 6,000 cars off the road.

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