The truth about the non-existent wind industry in Albania | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW
The Lezha mountain range in northern Albania towers over the Adriatic Sea. Here, in the not too distant future, a large wind farm is expected to start generating electricity. This is an extraordinary step in wind power generation in an area where the copious wind is not extraordinary at all.
Albania is blessed with hundreds of outstanding locations for onshore and offshore wind power generation. Yet, sadly, nowhere in all of Albania – neither on land nor off its 345 km long (215 mile long) coastline, is a single turbine that spins with the wind to produce electricity. ‘energy.
Last April, the Albanian government finally gave Biopower Green Energy and Marseglia Group, an Albanian-Italian company, the green light for the first-ever onshore wind project in Albania.
Once in operation in the Lezha Mountains, 39 turbines worth 244 million euros will provide a capacity of 234 MW, covering around 1% of the country’s electricity needs. The project, which began in 2008, took 13 painstaking years to begin construction. But now that it’s finally underway, and the power should be flowing sometime next year.
To Albania’s credit, its electricity supply has the distinction of coming almost entirely from renewables, or to be more precise, from one particular renewable energy source: running water. Albania is home to major river systems, among them the mighty Drin, which has hydroelectric power stations that account for about three-quarters of the country’s total capacity.
Hydropower plants, like this one near Saranda in southern Albania, account for about three-quarters of Albania’s total power capacity
Despite decades of efforts by foreign and domestic companies and encouragement from international governments, efforts to take advantage of Albania’s prodigious wind have stalled time and time again. There are many reasons for this, insiders say: the dominant hydropower lobby, excessive bureaucracy, an insufficient market and an outdated grid.
But it looks like the deadlock will finally be broken with the Lezha project. In 2021, the government launched a tender for an additional 100 MW of onshore wind power plants.
Regarding offshore parks, five Turkish companies have submitted applications to build wind farms with a capacity of around 10 MW each on the Karaburun peninsula in Vlora, southern Albania.
While this move is welcome, it only scratches the surface of Albania’s vast potential in this area. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates Albania’s solar and wind potential at more than seven gigawatts: more than three times the country’s total generation capacity. The IRENA report claims that the country could deploy 600 MW of wind and solar power by 2030.
Administrative formalities and paperwork
Before private sector companies can launch their wind projects, they must clear a series of hurdles, including obtaining preliminary approval and a series of permits, carrying out costly technical feasibility studies and provision of financial guarantees.
Engineer and developer Enerjan Gremi has struggled for years to launch five wind projects in Albania
Enerjan Gremi, an energy developer, complains that the procedural requirements are far too onerous. He has been struggling for years to launch five wind projects.
More expensive than hydroelectricity
Another difficulty is the financial viability of wind projects. The price of electricity from wind farms with an installed capacity of up to 3 MW, set by the Albanian Energy Regulatory Authority, is around €76. On the other hand – and here the weight of the hydroelectric sector becomes clear – the price of a megawatt of hydroelectric energy is half of this. This makes wind energy much less competitive in the Albanian electricity market.
Gremi told DW that the parks he wants to build will take at least eight long years to pay off. Yet another problem relates to data, particularly on wind speeds. “With this type of data, foreign companies would invest in project development as they do in hydro development,” Gremi says.
Opening of the Albanian Energy Exchange
Another major step is the creation of the Albanian energy exchange, ALPEX, which would include neighboring Kosovo. This year, Kosovo opened a 27-turbine wind farm funded by German wind and solar farm developer Notus Energy.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (left) urged Western Balkan countries like Kosovo to become more energy independent
Scheduled to open in November, ALPEX will allow private sector companies to sell energy to the market independent of state regulatory authority. The exchange is one of the main recommendations of EU experts.
Outdated power grid
Pajtim Bello, a former deputy energy minister, now an independent energy-savings expert, says the legal framework for wind power expansion is finally in place. The real problem, he argues, is the power grid, which needs updating or even replacement to cope with large volumes of wind and solar power.
And then there is the familiar problem facing the development of wind farms all over Europe: the protection of wildlife. Flying birds and mammals or bats are in danger, says Mirjan Topi, ornithologist at the NGO Birds of Albania.
“Birds of prey and large waterfowl such as pelicans and herons can collide with turbine propellers and be maimed or killed. Prior to the construction of wind farms, a well-founded study of the presence of birds and of bats and their behavior in the affected areas must be carried out,” said Topi, who laments that this is not currently the case.
Optimism for the future
Gremi is optimistic about the chances of wind power in Albania: “By cutting red tape, wind power could peak in five years.
While this optimism is encouraging, it does not change the fact that Albania does not yet have a single wind turbine using this abundant natural resource to produce renewable, carbon-free energy.
This article has been developed with the support of journalismfund.eu
Edited by: Paul Hockenos, Rüdiger Rossig, Aingeal Flanagan