Bringing Electricity to Remote Areas in Croatia with Renewable Energy Sources

21 Jul 2014

imagePHOTO: UNDP CROATIA

With UNDP's help, rural areas will begin to restore power supply

According to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, there are currently over 2,500 households in the Republic of Croatia without access to electricity, and it is estimated that around 50% of those are located in rural areas. Renewable energy can play a crucial role in bringing electricity to these households, as was demonstrated in UNDP's pilot project called “Bringing Electricity to Remote Areas in Croatia with Renewable Energy Sources.” A stand-alone solar power plant was installed in two homes in the remote villages of Homoljac and Čavlovica, as a part of the pilot project started in Ajderovac, Lika Senj County.

“Energy is closely linked to poverty reduction because it is central to practically all aspects of the core conditions of poverty – such as poor health, lack of access to water, sanitation and education. It is important to note that if the region has no electricity available it is likely that there will be a negative migration of citizens which will contribute to lack of development,” says Jelena Kremenjaš, UNDP Project Coordinator.

The pace of installing electricity in rural Croatia is painfully slow, mostly because many of these households are located in areas of special state concern, as a result of war-related destruction.

“Rural electrification programs can undoubtedly face major obstacles. The low population densities in rural areas result in high capital and operating costs for electricity companies. Consumers are often poor and their electricity consumption low. This should give an even stronger support to the use of stand-alone photovoltaic system - it's cheaper and environmentally friendly,” says Admir Pajić, UNDP Technical Expert.

Within the pilot project for rural electrification that UNDP implemented in Sisak-Moslavina and Lika-Senj County, it was determined that many homes without electricity in rural areas are scattered over vast expanses of land, which is why the construction of a standard power grid infrastructure is 3 to 5, (and in some cases even 8) times more expensive than using renewable energy sources.

The pilot project included the supply and installation of independent photovoltaic (PV) systems of 2.4 kW for two households with permanent residency in the areas of special state concern, Čavlovica and Homoljac. The system cost HRK 50,000 (EUR 6,500) per household, while the cost of connection to the public grid would have been around HRK 400,000 (EUR 53,000) – almost eight times more expensive than the renewable energy approach. The Serb National Council also financially participated in securing the final solution for families, by providing household electrical appliances to encourage demand for solar electricity.

In addition, a systematic approach has been developed to help determine whether stand-alone PV systems or conventional connections to electric grids should be chosen for households. This included the establishment of a registry to locate the households in rural areas of four pilot-counties (Karlovac, Sisak-Moslavina, Lika-Senj and Zadar County) without access to the electrical grid. The result was 84 homes in 64 communities, with 38 of those still inhabited year-round despite having no electricity. Also, a methodology was developed to provide an overview of the optimal ways and costs of electrification for each of the locations found in the registry. In doing so, several factors must be taken into account such as the distance from a possible connection to the existing grid; and electricity consumption of the households, in order to ensure the installation of optimal renewable energy system which can satisfy household energy needs. The analysis was made by in-house software that was developed by UNDP for that purpose.

To summarize, the construction and reconstruction of sub-transmission lines and electricity distribution network is a very capital intensive venture, which is not always economically effective, especially in distant rural areas with low consumption rates. On the other side, the state has an obligation to secure electricity supply to all its citizens. There are more economically efficient ways to do it especially if new technologies and renewable energy sources are taken into account.

The state authorities should carry out feasibility studies of the whole electricity supply system that needs to be extended or repaired in order to determine the rate of return on investment of amenities. They must also begin to provide electricity to rural areas gradually with the use of renewable resources off-grid installations where it is economically more efficient.

It is evident that economically and environmentally sustainable energy solutions to secure electrical infrastructure are needed, renewable energy sources are inevitable part of those solutions, to secure access to energy for every citizen of Croatia.