con la colaboración de
János Korom

Slovakia on its way of decarbonisation

Veronika Oravcová

10 mins - 21 de Junio de 2022, 16:30

EU-wide policies to fight climate change and to become a world leader in these efforts have intensified discussion of how to achieve these goals also in its Member States, including Slovakia. These debates have appeared especially during the last years supported also by an increased public interest in climate and environment issues. For example, one of the most visible movements, The Climate Needs You delivered to the Slovak parliament a petition signed by more than 130,000 people calling for speeding up the green transition by declaring a climate emergency, achieving climate neutrality by 2040 and setting specific steps to achieve it. Although Climate Law is not (yet) specified within the Slovak legislation, Slovakia together with other Member States committed to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. 

In order to succeed it is crucial to update low-carbon strategy (the current one was approved by the Parliament in February 2020 and does not reflect the EU-wide higher ambitions for emissions decrease by 2030) and to clearly identify specific goals or measures in various sectors within a particular timeframe. Slovakia has several sectoral strategies aiming to decarbonize and lowering emissions, but there is poor coordination between ministries responsible for climate-related agenda and a missing clear vision of how to achieve climate neutrality. Indeed, lack of specific polices and measures was also criticized by the European Commission in the evaluation of Slovak National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP). Although Slovakia is one of the countries that declares the higher ambition for emissions reductions by 2030 and proposes emission decrease of -20% instead of -12% resulting from the Effort Sharing Regulation, it did not assess of whether or not the reported policies and measures are sufficient to reach the targets
Table 1.- 2020 and 2030 energy and climate targets in Slovakia 
Source: Author based on European Commission data.

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Prioritising nuclear energy as a low-carbon source
Nuclear energy has always been a priority of the various governments in decarbonisation efforts. Although nuclear has been considered a domestic source, Russian invasion into Ukraine has opened also debates on dependence of nuclear fuel, which is, alongside natural gas and oil imported from Russia. Slovakia has two nuclear power plants in operation with four reactors in Jaslovské Bohunice and two reactors in Mochovce and all of them (all being VVER 440) use Russian fuel from the TVEL company. TVEL company won public procurement in 2018, as it gave a cheaper offer than the American company Westinghouse and the contract with the company is until 2026 with the possibility of the extension until 2030. However, currently price is no longer the only criterium for the government, as there have been an intense debates over the need to diversify nuclear fuel and to get rid of energy dependence of Russia's imports. 

Moreover, Slovakia has been struggling to finish two more units in Mochovce nuclear power plant that, according to original plans, should have been in operation since 2012 and 2013. The struggle is not only due to requirements of higher safety standards, but also a corruption, which resulted into much higher price than originally expected; the investment has already surpassed 6.2 billion eur, much more than 2.8 billion as originally expected.

Currently nuclear accounts around 55% of electricity production and after commissioning two more units it will achieve around 75%, which means than almost all generated electricity will be based on nuclear or renewables (RES), mainly hydro energy. While the preference of the government to support nuclear in order to achieve climate goals is clear, the support for renewables is more complicated. The NECP even emphasizes that after putting two units in Mochovce in operation "it will be difficult, even impossible, to increase the RES share above the proposed RES target in the electricity generation sector". 
Figure 1.- Electricity production in Slovakia (2021) 
Source: OKTE. 

Indeed, Slovakia set its 2030 RES target to a 19.2% share of renewables in final energy consumption instead of the 24%, which was the value recommended by the European Commission. Slovakia was struggling to meet even its 2020 RES target (set at 14%), but the situation changed rapidly once the figures on biomass use were corrected and even the 16% threshold was surpassed. The correction was down to a change in the methodology used to calculate biomass use to include households and small companies, which had not previously been part of the official statistics and Eurostat reporting. Given that Slovakia corrected its reporting of biomass use the 2030 RES target is easily reachable and is far from ambitious. It is questionable if Slovakia will increase the target substantially under the 2023 revision of its NECP and also in the light of Fit for 55 Package and REPowerEU Plan, which is proposing to further increase the share of renewables to 45% at the EU level. 

Slovakia is still lagging behind in solar and wind energy. There is almost no wind energy production (there are just few wind turbines) and solar accounts for less than 3% in electricity production. But the situation with high energy prices and also legislative changes led to the higher interest in photovoltaic installations of the households and companies. Moreover, there is an unexplored potential of use of geothermal energy in district heating system that would help not only with decarbonisation, but also to decrease country´s dependence of gas imports. 

Air pollution as a persisting problem
Slow progress in decarbonisation is visible at the persisting problems with air quality in Slovakia and remains one of the main environmental challenges. Although the country has experienced significant decrease of air pollution since 1990, this change has been gained mainly due to the closure of heavy industry, such as arms industry or metallurgy and not because of introduction of effective policies. Despite some positive developments the country is still challenged by high levels of air pollution which has a high impact on health, nature and economy , it is estimated that air pollution causes 5,000 of premature deaths per year. There are several areas responsible for high air pollution: residential heating, road transport, coal-fired power plant and industry. 
Figure 2.- Final energy consumption by sector (in thousand tonnes of oil equivalent) 
Source: Eurostat.

Air pollutants are found especially in the locations where residential heating by solid fuels is important, especially during the heating season in the mountain area with good access to firewood. The Ministry of Environment estimates that there are approximately 350,000 of household having solid fuel boilers with 120,000 of households having boilers older than 30 years. That is why complex renovation of family houses is also an important part of Slovak Recovery Plan planning to renovate approximately 30,000 households subsidized up to 19,000 eur per household. Road transport has also significant impact on the air pollution located close to the roads with high traffic intensities, especially during winter time. Slovakia is one of the EU countries importing older diesel cars, which makes the situation with air pollution even worse. The average age of car fleet in 2020 was 14.3 years, which is above the EU average of 11.8 years. These aspects are crucial parts of the debate also in relation to the Fit for 55 Package proposal to extend ETS scheme on transport and building sector, where Slovakia emphasizes the higher risk of energy poverty.  

Contrary to the other countries in Central Europe, such as Czechia, Germany or Poland, for Slovakia is not such a difficult task to phase-out coal. Domestic coal is uncompetitive and the sector is highly dependent on state subsidies. Year 2018 was a crucial milestone for Slovak coal mining industry, because Minister of Economy announced the end of state subsidies for coal mining in 2023, which was approved by the government resolution a year later. The coal mining region Upper Nitra takes part in the pilot coal regions in transition supported by the European Commission. 

Energy security back in the focus
After the Russian invasion into Ukraine decarbonisation discussions are in the shadow of energy security concerns, as Slovakia is almost completely dependent on Russian natural gas, oil and nuclear fuel. Slovakia has the second most concentrated gas infrastructure in terms of gas pipelines developed in residential areas (being Netherlands at the first place). Energy security debate is not entirely new, as Slovakia was one of the Central and Eastern European countries that in 2009 experienced total cessation of natural gas supplies through Brotherhood pipeline with estimated loss of more than one billion eur on Slovak economy. The reason why the country was hit broadly by the cessation of supplies was the lack of infrastructure, as the gas flew in one direction only (from East to West). Gas crisis changed also the attitude of political leaders of the region who started to push forward diversification projects to increase energy security and to create new infrastructure projects. The upgrade of the infrastructure meant that Slovakia has currently access to Polish LNG terminal in Świnoujście and also to Croation terminal in Krk Island

However, this time the situation is different and discussion in Slovakia (as well in other EU countries, especially in Central Europe) is focused around cutting off Russian energy supply. This debate is twofold: firstly, the country is trying to diversify supplies and find alternative suppliers for natural gas and oil as well, as the main refinery Slovnaft has been processing Russian oil, and secondly, the new geopolitical situation has intensified debates on speeding up higher deployment of domestic renewables and energy efficiency measures. The role of natural gas in decarbonisation have been discussed also in previous years, but new reality calls also for short-term solutions of how to replace natural gas. There is a potential to develop geothermal and solar energy as well as biofuels and to speed up renovation of public buildings.
(Here, the Spanish version)

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