Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm for rooftop solar power generation in Serbia held back by cost and bureaucracy | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

Late last year, after much saving and planning, 16 460-watt solar panels were finally bolted to the roof of Dragana Maricic’s two-storey house in the northern town of Ruma. Serbia. These solar panels contain solar cells that generate electrical energy. His four-person household is one of the country’s first solar photovoltaic (PV) prosumers.

Prosumers are households that produce and consume electricity from their own solar power plants, even if these power plants consist of only a few panels. In Serbia, energy produced at home that exceeds the needs of a household is sent to the grid. In return, the prosumer receives credits on future energy purchases from the utility company.

Almost everyone in Serbia – including politicians and scientists – agrees that this system has the potential to deliver a wide range of benefits for the environment, household budgets, businesses and regional power grids.

Why then, ask Serbia’s solar pioneers, isn’t the country swept up in a solar revolution?

A dream come true

Dragana’s son, Nenad, an engineering student, has dreamed of having his own solar power plant since he was a child. “He was still in elementary school when he presented his vision to us, but we were skeptical and couldn’t believe it would work,” Dragana told DW.

Dragana Maricic and her son Nenad in front of their house in Ruma, Serbia

For Nenad Maricic (right), installing solar panels on the roof of the family home was a dream come true. He and his mother, Dragana (left), hoped the panels would cut their electricity bills by 50%

But this dream has indeed come true. The family has invested around €7,000 (just over $7,000) in the project, which generates around 1,200 kilowatts of electricity per month, well above their average monthly usage of 500 kilowatts.

Comfort and savings

“It’s great. I don’t have to think about when I turn on the washing machine or worry about how long the program lasts,” says Dragana.

Chart: Total renewable energy capacities in Serbia (2020)

The family also thought that the remaining energy that the Electric Power Industry of the Public Enterprise of Serbia (EPS) “saves” for them in the form of credits would be useful in winter, when they plan to use electricity rather than gas for heating. their house.

A complex and flawed system

In Serbia, the prosumer model only became feasible for private households this year. And with changes to the law on the use of renewable energy sources, the state finally created a system that was apparently designed to motivate citizens to try their luck with solar energy. But the system was failing.

“They claimed that everything could be done in three steps, but that was not the case. We had more than 100 pages of paperwork,” explains Nenad Maricic.

Bad communication

It also took six months for the family to get their hands on the relevant guidelines to become a prosumer. Neither the ministry, nor the municipality, nor the EPS could give them exact information.

Nenad Maricic reads his family's first electricity bill for 2022

The Maricic family were very disappointed when they received their first electricity bill for 2022: the costs associated with producing electricity on their roof are much higher than expected

“They kept sending us back our file, asking for changes. During all this time, nothing changed with us. Only the papers changed and the fees accumulated,” explains Nenad.

As DW learned from conversations with experts who participated in the legislative process, a lack of communication between institutions has slowed the effort considerably. This spring, the Ministry of Finance even temporarily stopped the whole process because neither the Ministry of Energy nor the public electricity company had calculated the taxes in the prosumer model.

The first electricity bill of 2022

When the Maricics received their first utility bill for 2022, their buoyant enthusiasm dissipated. “The energy minister first said that we only had to pay a few basic fees – no more than 1,000 dinars (about €8). Then, during the process, we were told that we also had to pay excise duties and other taxes,” says Nenad Maricic.

It turned out that even those intrusive costs weren’t all they would have to shell out for the privilege of being a prosumer.

Pay for access

The fees that bother them the most are the fees they have to pay to access the distribution system in the first place. All consumers pay for the grid, but prosumers now also pay a price for the energy that has been saved for them by the utility.

Chart: Total energy supply in Serbia

“That means we have to pay for the energy we produce,” says Nenad. He calculates that the cost of these fees and taxes means that his family only saves 20% on their electricity bill.

No progress

The Maricics are now uncertain about the wisdom of their investment. Initially, they calculated that their investment would pay for itself in ten years, or even sooner if electricity prices rose as expected. Now they estimate it will take 15 or even 20 years.

After DW reported these issues in Serbia, the ministry met with prosumers and promised to set up a working group that would include prosumers to find a solution. So far, however, nothing has changed.

High interest and demand from private consumers

The rocky start to the solar power generation campaign could dampen the zeal for clean energy deployment that was evident when the new law was passed. The Department of Energy, EPS and companies that install solar power plants have all told DW that interest in increasing solar home systems is extremely high.

Nenad Maricic takes a reading from the family's solar power plant, Ruma, Serbia

The Maricics’ solar plant generates around 1,200 kilowatts of electricity per month, which is far more than the family’s average monthly consumption of 500 kilowatts

“Demand is currently three times greater than supply,” says Miroslav Micic of Top Solar, a Serbia-based solar technology company.

High installation and operating costs

The Independent Center for Environmental Improvement, based in Belgrade, estimates that the potential for solar energy in Serbia is 30% higher than in Central Europe.

In Serbia, however, according to energy efficiency expert Slobodan Jerotic, the question really is how many households can afford to invest €5,000-6,000 in solar power systems. “We’re talking about 10,000 families at best, and that would be about 30 megawatts in total, which isn’t huge,” he says.

This article was developed with the support of journalismfund.eu.

Edited by: Paul Hockenos, Rüdiger Rossig, Aingeal Flanagan