European perspectives

Energy in the Czech Republic: baby steps forward, but nuclear plans still dominate

Since 2015, a new State Energy Policy has been in effect in the Czech Republic. But government plans still rely heavily on building new nuclear reactors. Nonetheless, earlier this year renewable energy plans were also revised and updated. They count on a small amount of growth, but this new strategy raises hopes that the stagnating green energy sector will take off once again.

by Martin Sedlák, Alliance for Energy Self-Sufficiency

The Czech Way Backwards

The atomic-focused State Energy Policy of 2015 was already outdated before it saw the light of day. It is (partially) based on data which incomprehensibly does not take into account the decreasing costs of solar panels and wind turbines. There is even the looming threat that some investors will have to remove their ground-based solar projects after 20 years. The energy policy, however, stresses the further growth of nuclear energy. Over the next ten years, the government wants to put together new nuclear reactor projects. A newly established government commissioner for nuclear energy will oversee any construction. It is expected that 20 to 32 billion Czech crowns (0.74 to 1.2 bn EUR) will be spent on preparing these projects.

The Ministry of Industry is promoting nuclear energy to bolster the Czech Republic's energy independence. However, the policy forecasts growth in total consumption, which means that despite the construction of new reactors, gas consumption will increase by 10%.

It is thus clear that more reactors will not mean independence from natural gas. By focusing on nuclear energy, Industry Minister Jan Mládek has overlooked another much more important source of energy. Surprisingly, this "source" is a not source in the traditional sense; it is greater energy efficiency. Greater efficiency could reduce the Czech Republic's dependence on imported Russian gas to a minimum. Today, natural gas is used in the Czech Republic mainly for heating; thus, remodeling buildings to increase energy efficiency could halve our consumption of gas. This fact is nothing new; the numbers have been available since 2008, when experts made these calculations for the Pačes Energy Commission. It is, however, a mystery as to why the current ministry has not used this data in its updated energy policy.

The underutilized potential of energy efficiency measures is not the only problem with the new State Energy Policy. The Ministry of Industry wants new reactors so badly that it has included senselessly low costs for constructing nuclear power plants in its calculations and has essentially ignored the necessity of some form of public support for such projects—which we can see today in Great Britain and Hungary.

The Czech Republic's nuclear plans are flawed by the absence of a fair comparison between different energy sources. Take for example, the environmental impact assessment for expanding the Temelín nuclear plant. The studies do not provide a comparison between new nuclear power plants and increased energy efficiency in buildings and industry and with a renewable energy mix. According to the consulting firm Candole Partners, Czech energy consumers might even pay more for energy if nuclear is expanded. Building two more reactors at Temelín could cost consumers more than 30 billion EUR over 35 years.

Renewable Energy Sources: Are We on the Verge of a Revival?

Clean energy experienced a moment of light in the Czech Republic in 2005, when members of parliament approved the Renewables Support Act, which was inspired by the German system. The introduction of support kicked off growth in wind, biomass, and gradually even solar energy, which today cover 10% of household electricity consumption.

However, difficulties arose with solar energy in particular. In 2010 – that is, at a time when the price of photovoltaic technology significantly decreased – legislators were not able to react in time, causing investors to install a total solar capacity of 2,000 MW over the course of several years. The government then destabilized the business environment by making retroactive changes in the form of a solar tax that lowered the guaranteed revenue for solar energy investors guaranteed by law. After 2010, only new rooftop photovoltaic panels could be installed, but in 2014 support was cut off. The number of new wind turbines is only in the single digits; in 2014 biogas plants met a similar fate to solar plants, when support was cut off for them as well.

New, positive stimuli, however, are slowly beginning to have an effect. For example, subsidies for small rooftop installations for homes and business have been introduced, and support for heat-generating biogas plants has been reinstated. The Ministry of Industry has also heeded the criticisms of the Czech Solar Association, the Alliance for Energy Self-Sufficiency, and other trade groups that have repeatedly called for removing administrative barriers to operating small-scale power plants. This is the first step to raise interest in increasingly affordable renewable energy. According to a proposed amendment to the Energy Act, small sources with a capacity below 10 kW will not need a license, even if they are connected to the grid. However, whether or not this move will help revive interest in installing rooftop photovoltaic power plants depends on what the resulting statutory instruments look like.

An Action Plan for Green Energy – Not Enough Room for Growth

After years of stagnation, in updating the National Action Plan for Renewable Energy the Ministry of Industry has conceded to a strategy for meeting 2020 Czech green energy targets. The original, unambitious plan of 2010 established a target renewable share of 13%. The latest update from early 2016 increased this share to 15.9%. This growth, however, is nothing more than statistical manipulation – the Ministry of Industry is primarily counting on a decrease in consumption (which is good), but at the same time, renewables will not grow as much as they should. Nonetheless, there will be a slight increase in renewable energy sources.

Solar Hopes

The part of the Action Plan devoted to solar energy demonstrates well how the approach to renewables has changed over time. Whereas the very first National Action Plan of July 2010 essentially froze solar capacity at 1695 MW until 2020, the updated plan of August 2012 allowed for 2118 MW in 2020. The most progressive version of the National Action Plan is this year's, which has established a ceiling of 2375 MW.

Thus, over the next five years the Czech Republic could see up to 306 MW of new rooftop solar energy. Considering the fact that average household rooftop installation capacity does not exceed 5 kW, we could be talking about up to 15,000 new PV plants annually.

Batteries, for which subsidies have been available since last year as part of the New Green Savings program, will help take advantage of rooftop solar’s potential.

There's Wind, but No Sails

Ten years ago, wind turbines were the face of renewable energy in the Czech Republic. Today, their symbolic role has largely been taken over by the solar panel and the biogas plant. The largest annual increase in wind turbines occurred in 2007, before the first National Action Plan was developed, when 62 went into operation. After that, 2012 was the biggest year for wind energy when 43 new turbines began producing energy.

The overall target capacity of wind turbines in this year's draft Action Plan is a third lower than it was five years ago. At the same time though, wind energy is one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy, both worldwide and domestically. There are many reasons why its potential remains untapped. New wind projects in the Czech Republic often face local opposition. Also, in accordance with the amended Renewables Support Act, new wind projects are not eligible for feed-in tariffs. This year's updated Action Plan gives a certain hope for the reintroduction of this support in a form that matches better with market principles and EU legislation. Wind energy's perspectives in the Czech Republic are examined in a study written for Hnutí DUHA and the Chamber of Renewable Energy Sources; this report claims that 18.29 TWh of electricity could be generated by wind power annually. This forecast was made based on the geographical and geophysical potential of the Czech Republic. According to these two organizations, growth in wind energy would result in 17,000 to 23,000 new jobs.

Biomass, Heat Pumps, and Geothermal Energy

Biomass is still considered to be one of the most important sources of renewable energy in the Action Plan. In total, biomass provides one-third of renewable energy to households. In total, biomass should generate up to half of all renewable energy in 2020.

According to the new Action Plan, heat pumps should experience a boom. The installed capacity of heat pumps could grow to 12,7000 TJ, a figure that is 2.5 higher than that laid down in the first Action Plan. According to estimates, it would involve 20,000 new heat pump systems for single-family houses. In the name of energy decentralization, in order for the local potential of heat pumps to be exploited, pumps should be combined with rooftop solar panels.

Another interesting renewable source given in the action plan is geothermal energy. According to the original plan of 2010, by 2013 there should have been a total installed capacity of 390 TJ of this source and by the end of the decade 696 TJ. But since there has been no increase in geothermal sources in the Czech Republic, the 2015 National Action Plan proposes the first target for 2019 (75 TJ), and in the following years growth should be up to 222 TJ.

The Political Climate: Looking for Stability

Ten years of renewable energy have demonstrated that the clichés about renewable energy's non-existent potential that former industry ministers bandied about are far from valid. After years of denial, the new National Action Plan has at least hinted that the Ministry of Industry could give the green light to renewables once again. If the potential of green energy is exploited in practice, and not just on paper, political stability for this progressive sector must be reinstated. Only then can local renewable energy be used to lower our independence on energy imports, to create interesting new jobs, and to give families and companies the tools to generate their own electricity.