Slovenia as trend-setter of technological breakthrough in energy transition

By Alenka Bratušek, Minister of Infrastructure, Republic of Slovenia, (pictured)
Spring 2019

Alenka Bratušek, Minister of Infrastructure, Republic of SloveniaOur future strongly depends on our common ability to respond and adapt to new energy trends and climate change challenges. Transition to a low-carbon society is challenging for all stakeholders, and Slovenian energy sector is no exception. Our domestic production is currently based on a balanced mix of energy sources (one-third hydro, one-third thermal, one-third nuclear), and that balance gives several advantages that we can use to support the competitiveness of our economy. In spite of its small size, Slovenia has achieved enviable results in the field of energy. The World Energy Council ranks Slovenia as 10th in terms of energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability.

Slovenian electricity production is already today one of the least carbon-based in the EU. In 2016, 71% of domestic electricity production came from low-carbon sources (the EU average is 58%). The Slovenian electricity system is also highly integrated with the neighboring electricity systems (almost 84% of electricity interconnection level) and flows that pass our territory are twice the amount of energy consumed. Consumption of gas is lower than EU average, while on the other hand we consume more oil than EU average. All this gives us a very specific framework for the development of smart grids infrastructure and the control mechanisms for the use of final energy especially in sectors with a large share of total energy consumption, which will inevitably play a very important role in the overall energy transition challenges.

Today, Slovenia already has several recognized projects in terms of smart networks, cities and local communities, and let me just name a few. The SINCRO.GRID is a smart grid investment project of European significance and an EU flagship project in the priority thematic area of smart grids deployment. The project is actually a virtual cross-border control center that facilitates new electricity generation from renewable energy sources in Slovenia and Croatia and its safe and efficient integration into the grid. Several other pilot projects recognized by the relevant EU programmes are also being conducted, for example GOFLEX (grid integration of renewables) and FutureFlow (TSO cooperation). All of the above are project with a high level of domestic knowledge, which has to be recognized and nurtured in the future. Electromobility is also becoming a strategic focus for the increasing part of the Slovenian economy. In the field of "blockchain" technology, Slovenia has proven to be a very encouraging environment for the introduction of new technologies, which will also leave a mark on developing energy technologies. The “blockchain” technology is particularly useful in the field of trade of electricity, as the share of active market participants is increasing.

Due to its small size, geographical position and international recognition of its know-how, Slovenia has proven to be an excellent polygon eu55for various development projects in the field of smart grids, efficient use and renewable energy sources. Our internationalization is actually being transformed by new energy platforms and business models, all dictated by the ongoing digital transformation. Today, Slovenian companies offer true innovation opportunities – in particular in the areas of processes, semi-products and final products. According to the innovation index, Slovenia is classified as a group of countries of the so-called strong "innovators" and is just below the EU average.

Our ambition in the field of renewable energy and energy efficiency targets by 2030 is yet to be determined in the ongoing process of National Energy and Climate Plan adoption, due by the end of 2019. Efficient use of energy will remain one of the key priorities for Slovenia, as there are many unused opportunities in this area, especially in the field of energy renovation of buildings and energy efficiency in industrial use. In the field of building renovation, Slovenia wants to reduce energy consumption by 60% by 2025 compared to 2015. Slovenia has therefore established a comprehensive system for the renovation of public buildings in accordance with the requirements of 3% of the necessary renovations of public buildings each year. However, it is fair to say, that while the heat sector is already contributing significantly to the energy transition goals, the transport sector remains a challenge, a true potential yet to be properly addressed.

Another challenge that will need to be addressed at the EU level is the compatibility of spatial and environmental protection policies with our energy and climate goals. Spatial planning of further use of renewable energy, especially in the field of electricity production, in areas that are protected by the EU environmental laws, has proven to be very challenging in Slovenia. It might be time to find a European answer to this challenge.

At the end, let me offer some thoughts as an active policy-maker. We do not only live in the time of energy transition into a low-carbon society but also in time of exponential growth of new technologies and innovations. In the future we can expect greater and faster changes in different technological areas as digitisation, nanotechnologies, ... A large part of the community accepts these changes almost unconscious. Many people are unaware that we are some sort of pioneers at the beginning of a technological revolution. This revolution will fundamentally change the way we live, work and relate to each other.

The greatest challenge for us, policy-makers, will be how to recognize on time the magnitude, scale and complexity of the energy transition trends already in the making, in order to make proper regulation and decision-making for innovative and transformative approach to be used by the companies and consumers alike.