Bulgarian experts remain critical and not optimistic about Bulgaria's energy policy

Energy / Bulgaria
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Bulgarian experts remain critical of the future of the green transition, Bulgarian energy and the solutions proposed, including by the European Commission. The main reason – the lack of a clear perspective for the development of the sector. This became clear during the free discussion forum "On hot energy topics - openly and without a prior agenda", which was held at the House of Europe in Sofia. 10 topics for speeches and discussions have been pre-announced - from the possibility of achieving decarbonisation and the construction of nuclear power to the future of natural gas and RES, including the development of networks. However, no representatives of the state were present at the free discussion to justify the current decisions, the reasons for them and the vision for the future.

"We have 33 years of transition behind us. What has happened out of the predicted 33 years?", asked the representative of "Overgaz" Svetoslav Ivanov, pointing out that it usually starts with one wrong question - with what capacities to produce electricity, while the right question is - what electricity do we need.

According to him, modern gas distribution networks have a wonderful opportunity for energy storage. "In Bulgaria, since the gas distribution networks are made of non-metallic materials, they are able to transport hydrogen", he pointed out.

"Gas and mixing with hydrogen is a leitmotif of the European Commission", said BEMF Deputy Chairman Anton Ivanov, explaining why such an approach is proposed. At the same time, he recalled that the use of energy during peak hours always means a higher price and always raises questions.

Within the framework of the free discussion, the topic of the production of electricity from photovoltaics was also raised, including changing the net metering of electricity produced by households. "In Bulgaria, no one wants to pay for the development of the network," Anton Ivanov reminded again in response. Angela Toneva from "Energo-pro", for her part, recalled that the price of the energy transition is related to the costs that the energy companies will make for the development of the network. She explained that systematic investments must be made for this, which, however, will have to be paid for by consumers. "The capacity of the networks is almost exhausted, including that of ESO. We are all for the green transition, but the price will be paid through the cost of transmission and network access, which will be the result of the investments made. 10 times more investment is needed to develop the networks compared to the investment currently. The systemic problem is related to investments in the network," Toneva pointed out. According to her, solving this requires political and regulatory will.

Iliyan Vasilev, who moderated the forum, added that Toneva's stated needs for a tenfold increase in inventions are only for the "Energo-Pro" network, but this also applies to the other energy companies. He added that these investments will be paid for by consumers, taxpayers, or by the European Commission, which in turn will use taxpayers' money. "There is no such thing as a free lunch," Vassilev said.

"Energy should be based on different sources," commented Kiril Temelkov from the Bulgarian Gas Association. According to him, hydrogen will enter as a source in the future, but no one knows yet in what way, given the concerns that it causes pipe corrosion, since not all gas distribution and gas transmission networks are from non-metallic sources. In particular, the expert drew attention to the isolation of gas experts from their participation in the development of an energy strategy. Temelkov also asked a question in the name of what certain projects are being developed - for society or to protect a certain business project. In this regard, he gave an example of the launched initiative of the European Commission for general purchases of natural gas. According to him, the initiative itself does not change anything in the politics and regulations of Europe. "Everywhere (politicians) are dealing with something that's not policy and regulation, but that's what they have to do," he said. However, since neither the policy nor the regulations change, then it is a business project.

Anton Ivanov, for his part, reminded that our country does not have an energy strategy.

"We don't reflect (in the energy policy) what we need, but what Brussels imposes on us as a matrix," Ilian Vassilev stated for his part.

The energy expert and former director of "Mini Maritsa East" Shteryu Shterev, for his part, reminded that the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences had already developed an energy strategy model years ago (the BAS model was presented to experts and journalists years ago by Prof. Alexander Tasev and justified the need for the development of nuclear energy, b.r.). Shterev, based precisely on the BAS model, indicated that nothing has changed at the moment - neither production nor consumption expectations. Examining the main points of the presented model, he reminded that without basic electricity the transition cannot happen. In this regard, the experts also commented on the intention to change the approach in the Recovery and Sustainability Plan regarding the preservation of thermal power plants in the Mariski basin with fewer hours of operation at the expense of photovoltaic capacities.

In the discussion, although in passing, the topic of the need for personnel was not overlooked. "The question is, if we want energy, who will do it?" asked Ilian Vassilev. The topic of PAVETS Chair was also present among the discussions, and Prof. Vasilev from the Technical University explained that repair is necessary and should be done using new technologies.

Nuclear power also found itself at the center of debate. The question of whether the current vision of 4 nuclear energy blocks is megalomaniacal was also present, and opinions were definitely not unanimous. Energy expert Georgi Kaschiev shared his opinion from the point of view of the EC's requirement for geological storage of highly radioactive waste, as according to him, until there is a solution to this issue, there is no way to build new NPPs.

"We have units 5 and 6, which can theoretically operate until 2041-2050, and we need to focus on solving the issue of radioactive waste. We should leave the pursuit of new large-scale reactors," he believes. In response to a number of questions from the experts in the framework of the discussion on spent nuclear fuel, Georgi Kaschiev explained that the construction of a geological disposal project costs around 5 billion euros. "Things seem intractable," he commented, discussing the possibilities of future nuclear power plants from this perspective. He also commented on the current situation with spent nuclear fuel and its removal to Russia. According to him, at the moment there are nearly 950 heavy metals on the site of the plant. A minimum of 50 tonnes was paid out until 2015, but then it was suspended. "It was restored in 2020 - 2021," he pointed out, without omitting the criticism of those in power during that time for neglecting this problem, which is even more severe now after the war in Ukraine.

Kaschiev also outlined the possibility of processing spent nuclear fuel in France, which, however, would also require significant investments.

Anton Ivanov, for his part, explained what the European framework for nuclear energy is, and Ilian Vasilev, for his part, raised the question of the equipment at the Belene site, as, according to him, it can be used in Ukraine, but after the war.

Regarding natural gas, Ilian Vassilev opined that there is an "alarming tendency to play geopolitics", based on data that Russian gas transit through Turkey has increased by 18%. "The problem is that there is a toy with the Turkish gas hub, which cannot be liquid without Russian gas," Vassilev commented. Discussing the solutions regarding the infrastructure being built, he expressed concern that in practice it does not provide diversification.

"We are champions in the transit of natural gas, relative to consumption," said Svetoslav Ivanov from Overgaz. He also used data, comparing the development of infrastructure aimed at consumers in Turkey and Bulgaria in recent years (in Turkey from 5 to 65 billion cubic meters, and in Bulgaria a decline from 7.2 to 2.5 billion cubic meters). In this regard, he acknowledged the development of the gas transmission network, the BGN 6 billion investments made, but criticized the construction of diversions for cities and the benefits for Bulgarian consumers. The experts also commented on the policy aimed at keeping Bulgargaz as the only major player in the natural gas market in the country.

Ilian Vassilev commented on the situation from a geopolitical point of view, and according to him, the battle is not about "Turkish Stream" at the moment, but about blocking the Trans-Balkan gas pipeline, through which the blue fuel does not reach the respective destinations. The experts, in particular Krasimir Manov, criticized the expansion of the gas storage in Chiren.

Within the framework of the free discussion forum, however, there was a lack of experts at the state level to answer the questions and criticisms. Thus, the question of whether it will ever be possible to resolve the issue of exploration and extraction of natural gas, which is now prohibited with a moratorium, was not answered.

"We will remain the biggest transitors, even though we run on gas," commented Anton Ivanov.

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