“Bulgaria has a new government and in my opinion, energy efficiency and sustainable technology should be its top priority,” Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev said after a meeting with Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, in Sofia at the end of May. At the same time, the Inter Expo Center Sofia opened its doors for the ninth South-East European Exhibition and Congress on Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, at which companies from ten countries presented innovative green energy solutions. Vacuum tube collector producer Sunrain Solar Energy was the only Chinese company at the fair.
In mid-February 2013, fierce protests of tens of thousands of citizens in the capital of Sofia and other big cities of the Balkan country led to the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and his government. The demonstrators pointed to the high energy prices, which many people in the EU’s poorest country just cannot afford anymore. Over the last years, the right-wing cabinet of Borisov had spearheaded policy clearly directed against renewable energies. “Various lobby groups of Bulgarian energy businesses, but also the state oppose the introduction of cheaper green energy,” Nikola Gasdov, President of the Bulgarian Photovoltaic Association (BPVA), complained at the opening of the trade fair. In his view, “figures tell more than the widespread myths and legends”. Similarly, Velizar Kirjakov from the Association of Producers of Ecological Energy (APEE) criticised the state-owned electricity company Natsionalna Elektricheska Kompania (NEK) and energy monopolies for manipulating public opinion with rumours about the expensiveness of renewable energies. “Hopefully, the new government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski will devise a new energy strategy,” Kirjakov said.
The second SEE Solar – South-East European Solar PV & Thermal Exhibition was part of the green energy trade fair. While most of the SEE Solar’s exhibitors focused on photovoltaic technology, there were also companies presenting solar thermal systems. One of these companies, Pestim Energia (Bulgarian for “We save energy”), at home in the southeast Bulgarian city of Sliven, has been selling the Compact solar panel system by Greek company Advanced Solar Technology (A.S.T.). “The uniqueness of this solar water heater can be found in its design, which combines collector and boiler in a single unit,” Elitsa Naneva, General Manager of Pestim Energia, explains. She believes that the compact construction makes the solar thermal system “more efficient and easier to maintain”.
Pestim Energia participated for the second time at the SEE Solar and Naneva was satisfied with the event. “Our exhibition stand found the same lively interest as the year before,” she says. It is her experience that visitors are now much more knowledgeable about the qualities and advantages of solar water heaters than they were in the past. “Back then, people were somehow wary of solar thermal energy, but now they know it as a reliable technology which can help them avoid high energy bills for heating and cooling.” Pestim Energy sells solar water heaters from Greece and from Bulgarian company Tesy to customers across Bulgaria and its neighbouring countries, such as Macedonia and Romania. “Solar thermal energy is more widespread in Greece and Macedonia,” Naneva says. “Market development in Bulgaria and Romania is still at an early stage.”
When it comes to Southeast Europe’s growth in renewable energies in general and in solar thermal energy in particular, it all boils down to financing. Most of the Balkan countries offer green energy customers inexpensive loans often funded through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). For example, the Bulgarian American Credit Bank (BACB) has made such loans available to its clients. But some weeks ago, the BACB also started its own credit line called “Mojat selen dom” (Bulgarian for “My Green Home”). “Being on the fair for the first time, we are happy about the interest people show in our offers,” BACB banker Nelly Donchevska said. Clients preferred BACB loans to credit lines funded through EU money, because the Bulgarian loans were less bureaucratic, she said. The BACB finances solar water heaters for both private persons and commercial enterprises.
“Bulgarians are furious about the high energy bills they have been receiving and suspicious of the big energy companies, so a lot of them wish to gain independence through solar collectors,” Donchevska explained, adding that such an investment could pay off in five years. According to her experience, most of Bulgaria can hardly afford qualitatively better but more expensive products from Western European companies and prefer domestic or Chinese products.
“We are the only Chinese solar thermal company on this fair,” Robert Dong from Sunrain Solar Energy said proudly. Before coming to Bulgaria this year for the first time, Sunrain had already cooperated with a Bulgarian distributor for three years. “Now, we were curious to come here and see how things are working out in Bulgaria and also in the entire Balkan region.” Dong was a bit disappointed that there were not as much visitors as he had expected. “It’s somehow difficult to communicate with the Bulgarians because not all of them speak English, so we are lucky to have our Bulgarian partners with us,” the Sunrain Manager said. He also hoped to meet more people from other Southeast European countries. Next month, Sunrain will be on the Intersolar Europe in Munich. “We produce better solar thermal energy systems at lower prices and our prices are stable,” Dong said, asserting Sunrain was not affected at all by the ongoing PV trade war between China and the West.
SEE Solar: www.via-expo.com/en/pages/see-solar
Bulgarian Photovoltaic Association: www.bpva.org
Association of Producers of Ecological Energy: www.apee.bg/en
Pestim Energia: www.pestimenergia.bg
Advanced Solar Technology (A. S. T.): www.a-s-t.gr
European Bank of Reconstruction and Development: www.ebrd.com
Bulgarian American Credit Bank: www.bacb.bg
Sunrain Solar Energy: www.sunrain.com
Frank Stier is a freelance journalist based in Sofia, Bulgaria, who reports from the Balkan region for different news agencies (firstname.lastname@example.org).