Sustainable Energy Industry in the Region
In view of the fact that the energy sector is nowadays undergoing rapid changes, both in terms of technology and organization, and in circumstances where the only thing beyond dispute is the basic need for energy and sustainable development, it becomes evident that a professional and creative consideration of the state of the energy sector (namely, an integrated energy policy, with results that would be a source of support for all the decision makers in the sector), is not only a challenge, but also a natural reaction of energy professionals to outstanding issues.
As far as energy is concerned, Southeast Europe shares the fate of the rest of the Continent. Among the more important features of the region’s energy sector, we find: insufficient quantities of available fossil fuels (combined with strong reliance on low-calorie lignite), high import dependency, uneconomical energy consumption, and an excessive share of electrical energy in total final energy consumption. The huge environmental problems generated by thermoelectric power plants require a redefinition of energy policy aims, as well as indicate that the dominant reliance on lignite is not sustainable in the long run. Therefore, finding an optimum energy mix remains a key challenge in the sector.
Long-term scenarios of the energy industry’s development must be based not just on traditional thermal and hydropower energy solutions, but include renewable energy sources, greater energy efficiency, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the application of smart grid technology, which will allow the above-mentioned three aspects to be optimally integrated into the conventional electrical energy system. The contemporary energy industry does not exclude certain options. Rather, it turns to the synergy of different sources to create optimum results.
The notion of environmental protection entails that all human activity, and manufacturing activity in particular, should go hand in hand with the protection of the environment that has been inherited and must be preserved for future generations. The role of the energy industry is especially significant in this context because energy production, in most power plants, is associated with high environmental risks.
Reconciling the discrepancy between growing energy needs worldwide and the limitations imposed by ecological and resource (fossil fuels) considerations helps to increase the reliability of energy delivery to consumers and ensure a realistic price of energy generating products (one that reflects legitimate costs in the sector and incorporates the development component). The wider community, in turn, gets better indicators regarding sustainable development and environmental protection. It is also important to point out that a sound business policy can turn environmental issues into opportunities for development.
Renewable energy sources can significantly contribute to reconciling this discrepancy. They are part of inexhaustible natural forms energy that are everywhere around us. Biomass, solar and wind energy, as well as hydropower and geothermal energy are among the more significant renewable energy sources in Serbia and the region. The majority of renewable energy technologies have reached a mature phase of development, enabling them to compete, in terms of the effects on the economy, with conventional energy sources--if the costs of environmental protection are included in total energy-related costs. Wind farms and solar power plants, in particular, have made it possible for the expectations from renewable energy to cease being a mere futuristic flight of fancy. Energy production from renewable sources has become an obligation in the EU accession process.
The production of electricity generated from wind and solar power plants, as well as run-of-the-river hydroelectric stations, is exceptionally variable and directly depends on the intensity of wind, solar radiation and available water flow. This is why in a system with a dominant share of renewable sources, changes in consumption requirements (which have to be matched by production) cease to be of primary importance. Instead, thanks to smart grids (namely, demand response and energy storage), consumption starts matching variable production rates for the first time ever.
Energy efficiency and technical measures aimed at consumption and peak load management are of special importance for the energy industry in the region. Namely, if the problem of payment balance deficits is viewed through the prism of balancing out production and consumption, it becomes clear that the opportunities for reducing consumption are far bigger and more profitable for the economy compared with options that emphasize production increases.
Energy efficiency is one of the more important pillars of contemporary energy industry. It was born out of initial conceptual analyses at the beginning of the energy crisis in the second half of the 1970s, and later developed into concrete and implementable programs founded on three pillars. The first pillar certainly consists of technical expertise and technology, and includes advanced solutions and performance of the energy processes. The second is the regulatory pillar, which makes regulating this field in a legally binding fashion possible, in terms of defining minimal requirements. Finally, the third one is the economic and financial pillar, which stimulates the development of a realistic basis for implementing energy efficiency projects. Smart grids have also been very successfully applied in the energy efficiency-oriented projects.
An important component in the development of a power supply system, in addition to safety and sustainability, is the competitiveness in the sector which is achieved through the energy market and energy-generating products.
The energy industry, and in particular the electrical energy industry, must not be a bottleneck of development. On the contrary, it should be a driving force that galvanizes the accompanying industries too. The development of all branches of industry in Serbia can unfold very successfully, as a complementary corollary to the development of the energy industry.
Therefore, from the point of view of sustainability (which also means limited sustainability in case of natural disasters), the optimum development of the energy industry in Serbia and the region, should be based on realistic needs, technological development, as well as economic and environmental constraints. The advancement and promotion of the industry, in which energy plays a central role, still remains a basic necessity. This combination of essential energy needs and modern technologies (whose attractiveness will enable them to dominate the traditional ones over time) with sustainable development, ensures that the energy sector will remain vital, profitable and relevant in equal measure.
Nikola Rajaković is a Professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the University of Belgrade.
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