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Bulgaria, Romania push regional renewable energy projects

Interview with Bulgaria’s Deputy Energy Minister Nikolay Nikolov
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Bulgaria’s Deputy Energy Minister Nikolay Nikolov at the Energy Week Black Sea in Bucharest, Romania, February 6, 2024.

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Bulgaria is working with its neighbors to boost energy security and collaborate on joint cross-border projects in natural gas and renewables, according to Bulgaria’s Deputy Energy Minister Nikolay Nikolov.

“Obviously, the security of supply is a must. Now since the new government in Bulgaria is in place for eight months, we are placing a lot of focus on our relations between Greece and Romania particularly as EU member countries. It is almost every month that either the prime ministers or the different ministers of those countries are meeting regularly on different topics more and more of which are connected one way or another to energy and energy supply and energy security in the region,” Nikolov said in an interview with NE Global February 6, on the sidelines of the Energy Week Black Sea 2024 in Bucharest.

He reminded that the energy ministers from the Central and South-Eastern Europe Energy Connectivity (CESEC) members met in Athens on January 19 where Bulgaria, Romania and Greece signed a declaration, envisioning the creation of a common framework between the three countries in the field of offshore wind energy, particularly the primary and secondary legislation, permitting and potentially organizing common auctions. “Having said that Greece is a bit ahead in terms of legislation. Romania and Bulgaria are now developing the legislation,” he said.

“Another point in the declaration is the hydrogen potential and the electricity mobility charging stations,” Bulgaria’s Deputy Energy Minister said, adding that the three parties are filing with the European Commission the documentation needed to receive cross-border renewable energy status and once the status is approved then it will allow the countries to get some funds through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) later in the year.

In addition to plans to develop offshore wind energy in the Black Sea, renewables in Bulgaria, particularly solar energy, are booming over the last two years, Nikolov said. “In fact, the market appetite from investors is much bigger than the capacity of the network, so we are both working on the TSO (Transmission System Operator) enlarging the capacity of the grid as well as electricity interconnections with the neighboring countries,” he said.

“But at the same time, we are looking at the possibility of an electricity cable from Azerbaijan, going through Georgia and then under the Black Sea to Romania. The idea is to transfer the green energy from offshore wind in Azerbaijan, topped up with the renewable energy in Georgia, which then comes here. We are now looking at the possibility to interconnect with that as well,” he said.

The leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania, and Hungary signed an agreement for the ambitious, geopolitically challenging cable project at a meeting in Bucharest on December 17, 2022.

Increasing energy storage

The Bulgarian Deputy Energy Minister said his country is also currently looking to put in place energy storage facilities under the European Commission’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).  The RRF is also crucial for implementing the REPowerEU plan – the Commission’s response to the socio-economic hardships and global energy market disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are developing two programs for incentivizing storage facilities between 1 and 1.2 gigawatts using different technologies. We are opening the programs as we speak now and there is quite a lot of interest in the market for those. These will play a large role as well,” he said.

“We are not necessarily speaking about batteries only but different technologies. Obviously, batteries are the most common but there are different kinds of batteries. In Bulgaria, we have experience with production. They have not been in that scale, but now these companies are looking to make separate lines of production, or separate production facilities to actually make sure they supply the market. So, we have certain capabilities within Bulgaria. Obviously, we will import as such but definitely this is an issue because the appetite in the market is much bigger than the supply ability. And because most of these projects are going to come at the same time and then the supply will not be able to meet the demand,” he said.

Bulgaria’s Deputy energy minister warned against replacing one dependency with another, noting that European countries should not become as dependent on China for batteries and fuel cells as they were on Russia for energy before the war in Ukraine. “This is what we don’t want to happen. But what we are looking at is to have these storage facilities combined with an enlarged capacity of the network with the gas interconnectors and all of this as a combination to give the opportunity of the region to first secure the supply and then to give the region the ability to play a role as a renewable energy hub,” he said.

Reduced reliance on Russian gas

Asked if Bulgaria was still dependent on Russian gas, Nikolov said, “Not anymore because over the past few years we developed a very good connection system with all neighboring countries.”

He reminded that back in 2016, the first gas interconnector between Romania and Bulgaria, which crosses under the Danube River, was completed, helping the Balkan country diversify its energy supply.

“Then last year, the interconnector with Greece was commissioned and put into commercial operation and we have a contact with Azerbaijan on delivering Azeri natural gas from TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) and TANAP (Trans Anatolian Pipeline) to Bulgaria. Two months ago, in December, the construction of the interconnector with Serbia was finalized and commissioned. So, in terms of interconnectors, we are basically connected and all of them are reversible so we can go one way or another with natural gas. And, at the same time, the interconnector with Greece allows us to get gas from the LNG (liquified natural gas) terminal in Alexandroupolis where we have a 20 percent stake as a country  (FYI: Expected to begin operation by March 2024). So, this will allow us to get from different sources so we can say that we are not dependent anymore on the Russian gas,” Nikolov told NE Global.

Bulgaria can also transit gas to Central Europe and Ukraine, Nikolov said, adding, “Given the geographical position of Bulgaria and all these interconnectors, we can actually take gas from through the Aegean Sea, we can take any gas, not only Azeri but through the LNG terminal and transmit it through Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and then Hungary and Central Europe and the rest. So, we have like a natural gas hub at the moment which is working”.

 

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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