Business & Economy Czech Republic News Politics & International

Timidly, Czechs move to unlock untapped potential of renewable energy

wind-turbines

Prague, Czech Republic – Despite a high dependency on Russian gas imports and highly polluting coal burning, the Czech Republic has so far been reluctant to massively invest in renewable sources of energy.

But with growing popular support for cleaner sources of energy over conventional alternatives, the country’s leadership is slowly changing course.

The share of renewables in final gross consumption in the Czech Republic in 2020 stood at 17.5%, nearly 5 percentage points lower than the EU average, with wood biomass remaining very popular for heating among Czech households. Statistics on electricity production are less promising, with renewables accounting for only 15%, far below the EU average of 34%.

Rehabilitating solar energy

But this fails to provide a comprehensive view of the situation. The Czech Republic launched nearly fifteen years ago a “solar boom” and introduced generous support schemes which would lead photovoltaic production to rise from zero to 2.2 TWh.

The high cost of the initiative led to widespread criticism and, in 2013, these supportive measures were abolished, marking the end of the so-called “solar barons” era. Since then, any ambitious support for renewables has remained politically sensitive.

The “rehabilitation” of solar energy took almost 10 years, and the Czech government has largely been encouraged to change course with the adoption of the European Green Deal. In 2021, a new law granting support to renewables was approved by Czech lawmakers and welcomed by energy sector representatives.

The Czech government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala readily admitted that renewable sources of energy were underestimated in the past.

“We will contribute to the rehabilitation of photovoltaics because we consider it a key renewable in our geographical conditions. We will contribute to the establishment of new photovoltaic installations on at least 100,000 roofs by 2025,” the Czech government promised in its policy statement adopted in January.

Focus on decentralisation

Rather than vast solar energy parks, the Czech government wants to focus on decentralisation and support of clean energy investments in households and companies.

“The promotion of renewable sources, led by photovoltaic systems, is one of the main directions we need to take not only in our efforts to reduce emissions but also to minimise our energy dependence on Russia,” said Minister of Industry and Trade Jozef Síkela.

The Ministry has already opened the first calls for the support of photovoltaic installation in households and companies, funded from the EU budget.

Beyond financial incentives, the government wants to eliminate existing administrative barriers. The need for further development of renewables is particularly urgent due to possible cuts in Russian energy imports.

“The Ministry focuses on how to further support the development of renewable sources given the current situation. These measures are important for strengthening the energy security and self-sufficiency of the Czech Republic, but also because they will make it easier for companies and individuals to produce electricity from their own sources and support their efforts to save on energy costs,” ministry spokesman Marek Vošahlík said.

The planned measures includes for example shorter and easier building permit issuance process for renewable sources of energy.

The ministry also plans to update the National Energy and Climate Plan to reflect a greater emphasis on solar energy development.

“The Ministry plans to launch calls for tenders as soon as possible to support the development of renewables. The state has tens of billions of crowns available to support energy efficiency and tens of billions more to support development of renewable sources of energy,” Vošahlík added.

A study by EGÚ Brno estimates that installing solar power plants on all technically suitable roofs and facades in the Czech Republic would cover up to 27% of electricity consumption.

Apart from solar panels, biomass is also seen as an option to diversify energy imports from Russia. According to the Czech Biomass Association CZ Biom, the country can replace 10% of its current natural gas consumption with biomethane within a few years.

Winds of change

While the solar energy is no longer a taboo, the Czech Republic is still cautious when it comes to the wind energy development. Only 1% of electricity consumed in the country comes from wind, compared to the European average of 15%.

“The difference is not because there is no wind potential in the Czech Republic. We have similarly good wind power as neighbouring Austria or southern Germany. The problem is the approach of the state, which has so far considered wind and renewable energy sources in general as a kind of supplement to conventional energy,” Štěpán Chalupa, chairman of the Chamber of Renewable Energy Sources, explained.

According to the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, wind energy has a huge potential. By 2040, wind power plants could cover nearly one third of today’s electricity consumption in the Czech Republic, taking into account all the restrictions associated with their construction.

For the future development of wind energy, it is crucial to unify requirements for their construction and speed up the permitting process, which can take up to ten years in the Czech Republic, far more than the four-year procedure in Germany.

“The fragmentation of the processes and their slowness reflects the current detached and passive approach of the state administration,” said Michal Janeček, chairman of the Czech Wind Energy Society.

Czechs in favour of renewables

Recent opinion polls show that Czech attitude towards renewable sources of energy is more positive than is commonly thought.

According to YouGov survey for the European Climate Foundation, 59% of Czech respondents prefer to close existing coal and gas-powered plants and replace them with renewables. Moreover, 40% of people plan to switch to a purely renewable electricity supplier in the next 5 years, while 9% have already done so.

More than half of respondents plan to install solar panels in the next 5 years, and 11% have already done so in the past year.

“The research has shown the massive interest of Czech households in renovating their buildings and installing local renewable energy sources,” said Martin Sedlák, Programme Director of the Modern Energy Association.

“The development of renewable energy sources in our country has been hampered in recent years by the government’s unwillingness to support solutions that are independent from imports from the East,” he added.

According to Sedlák, domestic renewable energy have to become a top priority for the current government together with energy efficiency. Only then can the country become independent and self-sufficient when it comes to energy.

This article is published as part of a project to promote independent digital media in Central and Eastern Europe funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and coordinated by Notes from Poland.

Interested in reading our monthly roundup of news, analysis, and insights from across Central and Eastern Europe? Sign up to receive our joint CEE Newsletter.

By Aneta Zachová

A journalist based in Prague, Aneta is the editor-in-chief of Euractiv.cz. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.