By David Shoup
With 210 sunny days out of the year, Romania is a rich environment for solar energy. But you don’t see all that many solar panels adorning the rooftops of Bucharest. In large part, this may be because Romania is already leading the continental pack when it comes to sustainable energy sourcing.
The European Commission set a target for EU nations to have 20% of their electric energy use come from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, water or nuclear power by 2020. Romania is ahead of the curve, predicted to hit over 26% by 2020, and 35% by 2030. This places the relatively new EU member all the way up as the seventh most renewable energy using country in the bloc, an impressive feat given Romania’s relatively recent membership status and turbulent economic history.
Nuclear and hydropower, which together make up nearly half of Romania’s renewable energy sources, are almost entirely state owned, and the current governing party has traditionally been a strong proponent of coal power, which is damaging to both human and environmental health. However, with the recent political shift seen in the May European Parliamentary elections, a good deal of wiggle room could emerge for private developments in solar energy. As of this year, there are 25 solar farms in the Bucharest region, but little data available on how many individually owned solar panels are in private use.
“Renewable energy policy has been lacking in Romania in the past,” said Nicu Stefanuta, a newly elected MP in the European Parliament from the Save Romania Union (USR), a young party which enjoyed a wave of popular support in the May 26 elections. “But by partnering with both the EU and local businesses to install solar panels, we’re taking a big step forward.”
In the past, bureaucracy has played an outsized role in the dearth of solar panels for households, and it was reported that homeowners in Ploiesti as recently as 2016 were required to secure traffic police permits in order to install a solar panel. But under the leadership of Cornel Brezuica, the Environmental Fund Administration of Romania (AFM) is paving the way for broad and progressive changes.
The AFM is launching a bold new operation to subsidize as many as 30,000 homeowners to switch from the electric grid to solar panel energy in August. The 120 million Euro program will cover 90% of the cost of solar panels and their installation by 270 private companies across the country. Cornel Brezuica, President of the AFM, said that homeowners will be able to qualify for the subsidy on a first come, first serve basis. Brezuica said that prior to launching the program, AFM staff had to first streamline national and local legislation in order to override previous regulations that made it a headache for homeowners to install renewable energy devices for private use.
“The process of receiving this subsidy will be fairly simple for homeowners,” Brezuica said. “Once we publish the list of approved companies, individuals will only need to submit proof of ownership, be debt-free to the state, and provide a single form. Then, we will subsidize the installation company and the homeowner will only have to pay one tenth of the cost.” The majority of the funds come from the EU, and the AFM has set technical standards to ensure that the solar panels being subsidized will be of high quality and come with a twenty year warranty.
Founded in 2004, the AFM has been particularly busy as of late. Brezuica says that the fund is currently in the process of providing subsidies for solar panels at 10,000 homes across Romania that are more than two kilometers off the electric grid. A separate program is also underway to implement large scale recycling in counties that lack a recycling center.
But Brezuica is particularly proud of the electric car subsidy program RAMBLA+, which last year granted 1,500 individuals and companies 10,000 Euros each to switch from gas guzzling automobiles to electric or hybrid cars. A major follow up to this program is now underway.
“At the end of this year,” Brezuica said,” Romania will become the third EU nation after Germany and the Netherlands to build electric charging stations on every 100 kilometers of national roadway.” The plan is now in the final stages of approval by the EU Commission.
Stefanuta, who spoke to OZB Magazine about a greener future for Romania from a delegation trip to Washington, D.C, made clear that the pursuit of green energy programs will be a priority for his party.
“For [USR}, renewable energy is very important and something we will march forward on,” he said. “Is 30,000 [solar powered homes] sufficient? I’m not sure, but it’s an important start.”
Pointing to a recent increase wildfires and floods on the continent, Stefanuta said the need for raising the standards on renewable energy reliability is both pressing and of critical importance for the safety of Europeans.
“During my campaign, I talked a lot about the European civil protection mechanism,” he said. “We saw that even wealthier states in the EU can not deal with the negative effects of climate change in time without some assistance. We need to enlarge this civil protection program to protect Romania from future natural disasters.”
For this American author, coming from a nation that has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, such Romanian attitudes towards the urgent need for these renewable programs is a refreshing change of pace. OZB Magazine will be posting the full list of solar panel installers that AFM is partnering with on it’s website, at OZB.ro.