Serbia is a nation with a population of around 6.7 million in the Western Balkans. It became a sovereign state in 2006 after the intense violence of the Yugoslav Wars. Since 2014, Serbia has been engaged in accession negotiations to join the EU. However, as of 2022, a U.N. Joint Programme reported that 12.3% of Serbians are living in absolute poverty, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine negatively impacting many families.
Many of these poor Serbians are also subject to energy poverty, meaning they cannot afford up-to-date dwellings and appliances or spend most of their income on energy bills. Introducing renewable energy in Serbia could be a solution to this issue, as it would help provide Serbians currently living in poverty with more efficient energy and a resulting higher standard of living, as well as create new jobs, foster economic growth and prevent further environmental damages associated with fossil fuels.
Currently, the state-owned Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS) monopolized Serbia’s electricity market. According to Our World in Data, 100% of Serbia’s population has electricity access. However, this is not a particularly high benchmark to meet as it only requires that a source of electricity is capable of providing basic lighting and a few other services like charging a phone or powering a fan for a few hours per day.
While Serbia has complete electricity access, not everyone in the country can use clean sources of gas for cooking. The percentage of people who can procure clean and safe fuels is only around 80% as of 2020. The other 20% of the population must use sources such as charcoal and animal dung, bringing down the number of people who have complete access to energy.
Renewable energy in Serbia is still developing and a substantial amount of Serbia’s energy continues to come from coal plants. As much as 70% of the nation’s energy comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Serbia’s heavy reliance on coal as its primary source of electricity has caused severe instability in the past. For example, floods, which have become more common with changing weather patterns, caused several coal mines in Serbia to become unusable in 2014. More recently, in 2021, two of Serbia’s largest coal plants suffered massive breakdowns, launching the country into a crisis and forcing the government to import electricity. Despite efforts, thousands were left without power as the coal plants struggled to meet their previous output potential.
Hydropower is the most popular form of renewable energy in Serbia, contributing 30% of the country’s energy. Serbia has built the most extensive hydropower infrastructure in the Balkan region, with a capacity of 2.935 MW currently operational. However, Serbia has not yet reached its full potential in harnessing this renewable energy, as an additional 7,000 GWh of hydropower remains unused. Locals have expressed concerns over the installation of hydropower plants due to environmental damage compared to the relatively low electricity generated.
Wind and Solar
Renewable energy from wind and solar sources is limited in Serbia. Several private renewable energy companies, such as Masdar, Fintel Energija, Nova Commodities, New Energy Solutions and CWP Renewables, focus on these forms of power.
There are 398 MW of wind power available in Serbia and the country is looking to generate even more. Due to its strong winds, projections show that Serbia is capable of producing 2.3 TWh of energy from wind farms.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Serbia has a solar power potential of 3.6 GW, and government officials hope to build on that potential. Along with an average of 270 sunny days per year, the average solar radiation in Serbia is 30% higher than that of Western Europe, making it a strong candidate for solar power plants. Unfortunately, by the end of 2021, only 52 MW of solar power were installed in Serbia, although the country recently opened its largest plant to date in April 2023, and it has a capacity of 10 MW alone.
In 2022, the World Bank granted Serbia a $50 million loan for its Scaling Up Residential Clean Energy (SURCE) Project. This initiative aims to provide clean and efficient heating solutions and rooftop solar panels to 25,000 households over five years.
In March 2023, Serbia updated its Law on the Use of Renewable Energy Sources. The new amendments allowed for the Serbian government to implement auctions to install more renewable energy plants, as well as helped provide solutions for overloads occurring when connecting wind and solar farms to the existing power system.
As a result of the updated law, the Serbian government introduced plans to launch its very first renewable energy auction in June, offering to support wind power projects with a capacity of 400 MW and solar PV projects with a capacity of 50 MW. The government hopes this auction will be the first round in a three-year cycle that will produce 1000 MW of wind power and 300 MW of solar power.
Serbia’s implementation of renewable energy brings extensive benefits, particularly for those facing energy poverty and struggling to afford clean and safe electricity and fuel. Although there is still room for progress in fully realizing its renewable energy potential, the country’s efforts demonstrate continuous growth, and the government is taking concrete steps in the right direction.
– Sofia Oliver