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CEE has huge renewable energy potential, says report

While the CEE market is a late adapter of zero carbon technologies, it presents opportunities for market expansion via innovative, cost-effective technologies, offering positive public health, quality of life, economic prosperity, and climate outcomes, says a report by the Prince of Walesʼs Corporate Leaders Group (CLG).

The report, titled "The Energy Transition in Central and Eastern Europe: The Business Case for Higher Ambition," was assembled with the cooperation of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, with the support of Germanyʼs Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety.

"Deploying low-carbon, resource-efficient energy solutions can deliver growth, jobs and competitive advantage," says the report. "CEE countries might be newer member states of the EU, but they follow the same market trends and legal obligations as older member states. This provides both challenges and opportunities."

The research notes that, despite the regionʼs vast potential, it faces significant challenges related to political constraints on decision-making, the volatility of the legal environment, and the shortage of skilled labor. If these issues can be addressed, there are great economic and investment opportunities in the region. By seizing these opportunities, CEE countries may also experience other benefits that improve overall quality of life.

Renovation challenges

The residential building stock in many countries (with a high proportion of Soviet-era multi-unit buildings) makes the region highly suitable for standardized energy efficiency solutions, the report says. At the same time, high levels of private ownership, even among poorer households, present challenges to the widespread implementation of these solutions.

In the CEE region, some 86% of the housing stock is owner-occupied, compared to 75% in the SEE region, and 61% in northern and western EU member states. Still, approximately 25% of Hungarian households are planning to carry out at least one energy efficiency refurbishment in their homes within the next five years.

The CEE market has natural potential for renewable energy generation, including solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal sources. In Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, the solar irradiation and yearly potential sum of electricity generation from a 1 kW photovoltaic solar configuration is approximately 1.5 times greater than for Germany or the United Kingdom, the report notes.

Even so, protection of the traditional fossil fuel industry is causing a severe underutilization of this potential, with not enough investment in energy infrastructure. Nevertheless, the report expects investment in renewables to increase, due to constantly decreasing costs and ambitious EU targets for the post-2020 period. Growing awareness of climate change will also accelerate the process, the report notes.

"Rising electricity prices and CO2 quota prices will clearly turn companies and governments to renewables in the future," says Balázs Felsmann, senior research associate at the Regional Center for Energy Policy Research (REKK) in Hungary.

Several projects in the region have already been carried out, with the first geothermal heat and power plant in Hungary connected to the grid in late 2017 and plans for further geothermal power and heating developments announced last year. The first grid-scale energy storage projects in Poland and Romania started operations in 2018.

Socialist heritage potential bonus for mobility

Mobility-wise, the report says that the extensive public transport network inherited from the socialist era gives the region a comparative edge, alongside a broad interest in and support for innovation. These factors may serve as a solid basis for future mobility services that incorporate shared solutions, invest more efficiently in improved infrastructure for mass transit, and allow for smart mobility solutions, it adds.

While there is strong interest in new innovations such as electric cars, the relatively low purchasing power in CEE countries limits the opportunities. Furthermore, the relatively high age of vehicle fleets increases the risk of the region becoming a depository for highly polluting vehicles from Western Europe, as countries there implement bans on the sale of the internal combustion engine and diesel cars, the report concludes.

"In the West, they lost public transport passengers to cars and now try to get them back; in the CEE, we have the chance to stop the decrease earlier," says Łukasz Franek , deputy director of the Kraków Road and Transport Authority in Poland. "Fortunately, we could not afford large road infrastructure projects like major cities in Western Europe, which sets a natural limit to car traffic," he adds.

The report advises governments to examine the significant economic opportunities, consult with businesses, support training initiatives, and adopt a holistic approach when finalizing their national energy and climate plans (NECPs). This, it observes, will help provide a stable and reliable regulatory environment that is attractive to long-term investors; ensure public investments are consistent with future trends and private sector solutions; and plan for the future of the economy in a way that is inclusive and takes into account the wellbeing of all citizens.

The report also advises the EU to provide funding to support the energy transition in EU member states to address current bottlenecks and support investment.

The full report is accessible here.