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ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT - SLOVAKIA NEEDS TO DEVELOP ALTERNATIVE SOURCES IF IT IS TO SURVIVE AN ENERGY CRISIS

Nature is the future

EXPERTS agree that the development of renewable sources of energy is a necessity for our global future. Sun, wind and water may be difficult to exploit, but the limited nature of gas, coal and oil means that we will have to try.

EXPERTS agree that the development of renewable sources of energy is a necessity for our global future. Sun, wind and water may be difficult to exploit, but the limited nature of gas, coal and oil means that we will have to try.

However, Slovak officials have not paid sufficient attention to the issue. That is despite the fact that renewable energy sources could go a long way to at least partially solving the country's dependence on energy imports.

Insiders emphasize that at the moment, renewable sources are not sufficiently developed to replace traditional fuels but add that neglecting renewable alternatives could harm Slovakia's ability to survive an energy crisis.


MPs reject Energy Policy


The proposed new Energy Policy, recently submitted by the Economy Ministry to the business caucus of the Slovak parliament, has prompted discussion on renewable energy sources in Slovakia.

Apart from other shortcomings, MPs criticized the proposal for not properly considering the possibilities of alternative sources. MPs rejected the proposal saying the ministry should rework the whole policy. Following the parliamentary debate, Vladimír Hecl of the Energy Centre in Bratislava said that the government should pay more attention to renewable energy sources.

However, MP Ján Rusnák, the chairman of the caucus for economy, privatization and business, commented, "We have to be realistic and not compare Slovakia to, let's say, Austria. We will never have so much funding for this matter."

Ľudo Sluka from the Ekopolis NGO criticized the proposed Energy Policy for favouring nuclear energy over renewable energy sources. He pointed out that the high-energy consumption of all sectors of the Slovak economy is mentioned right at the top of the document but there were no recommendations to decrease consumption.

"The proposal underestimates the use of renewable energy sources," Sluka said.


Dependence on Russia


According to Milan Novák, director of the largest Slovak producer of solar panels, Thermo/solar, the Energy Policy proposal meant Slovakia would preserve and perhaps even deepen its dependence on oil and gas shipments from Russia.

"The proposal is aimed at importing primary energy sources from Russia. Primary energy sources account for more than 80 percent of heating in Slovakia. The potential of renewable energy sources in this area has been confirmed," said Novák.

Although Slovakia officially declares its intention to develop renewable energy sources in other documents, insiders claim that nothing practical has been achieved.

"The state declares support for renewable energy sources in all key documents. But concrete helpful steps and activities are absent. There is no worked-out strategy to use their potential although renewable energy sources are, in fact, only domestic energy sources," Ladislav Židek, general director of Biomasa (Biomass) told The Slovak Spectator.

He added that data as well as the approach of individual ministries are different on this issue. Regional statistics and analysis of demand for these types of energies are totally absent.

"The strategy for the development of renewable energy sources should become a priority for the Environment Ministry in the programme of EU structural funds.

"But the Environment Ministry should not remain the only player supporting the use of biomass. The support of ministries is minimal. If anything, they are discouraging activities," Židek, of Biomasa said.


Public awareness


The problem is not only in the government. Ordinary people's knowledge about renewable energy sources and their potential uses is very low in Slovakia. However, the situation is gradually getting better.

"In general, there is a mild increase in Slovaks' knowledge of renewable energy sources. The knowledge is much lower in comparison with the Czech Republic, for example.

"Compared to Austria, the world's leader in alternative energies, the difference is huge," Sluka from Ekopolis pointed out.


EU targets


The European Union's 1997 white paper on renewable energies sets a precise figure as to how much the share of renewable energy sources for domestic consumption should increase. It says it should go up from 6 percent to 12 percent by 2010 in EU countries. The share of gross domestic electricity consumption should reach 21 percent.

According to Sluka, only 3 percent of the energy that Slovakia itself currently produces comes from renewable sources, including hydroelectric plants. The rest is from primary sources.

He continued: "Slovakia set the goal in its previous energy policy up until 2005 that the renewable primary energy share would reach 6 percent by 2010.

"The share of energy produced from renewable sources of the overall gross electricity consumption was originally set at 31 percent but unfortunately, last year this was lowered to 19 percent. In 2001 this share represented 16 percent including hydro power plants." (See the table at right.)

Decreased dependence on imported oil and gas is important for the EU-member countries not only for environmental reasons but also for political reasons.

According to Novák, developed countries often depend on politically unstable nations for oil and gas, which means high risks and high costs to access the energy sources.

That is why multinational oil companies invest quite a large volume of finances into research and development of renewable energies.

Currently, the question of how many years the primary energy resources will last is not as important as the problem of increasing consumption.


Jobs potential


The field of renewable energy sources has a huge potential for jobs. In 2001, about 1.3 million people worked in the environmental field in Germany, while only 950,000 people were employed in the automotive industry.

The European Association of Wind Energy estimates that about 190,000 to 320,000 jobs will be created in this area. European Association of Biomass envisages about one million jobs.

Almost 100,000 jobs should be created in the photovoltaic area and 250,000 jobs in the area of solar facilities, according to Novák.

"The total replacement of energy from non-renewable sources by alternative ones is not realistic but the use of alternative sources of energy is possible in individual regions in Slovakia through biomass, solar, wind and geothermal energy," said Židek, of the Biomasa.

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