Harnessing the sun’s abundance in Albania

Youth in Albania learn how to install and repair solar water-heating systems.
Albania’s vocational training centres now offer courses on installing and repairing solar water-heating systems. Photo: UNDP in Albania

Albania has plenty of sunshine—around 265 days a year. Now it is learning to harness the sun’s abundant rays as a source of clean, renewable energy. Nestled high in the Albanian Alps, the National Park of Thethi is home to one of the country’s largest woodlands and a variety of endangered species. Spectacularly beautiful, it is also poor and remote, with few modern energy sources and rudimentary facilities that are likely to discourage less adventuresome guests.  Long distances to markets and limited land for agriculture make livelihoods hard to come by.

Highlights

  • The project fosters efforts to manufacture, install and maintain solar water heaters, to cover up to 70% of the demand for hot water and reach the target of 38% renewable energy by 2020.
  • Installations of solar panels to heat water more than doubled between 2009 and 2012, and are expected to triple by 2020.
  • After the installation of the pilot system at Tirana’s orphan house, electricity bills sank by 67 percent.

In 2012, UNDP, with funding from the Global Environment Facility, worked with local officials and business owners to introduce some improvements. Guesthouses now have solar water heaters for comfortable showers and kitchen use, and some 12,000 tourists visit the park per year, compared to only 300 in 2006. Marie Marku, a business owner, invested her own funds to co-finance the changes:

 “I never thought that such an intervention would have such a great impact,” she says. “The number of guests has doubled, and I think a big part of the reason is due to the solar panels.”

The changes in the park exemplify Albania’s emerging efforts to diversify its energy sources. Since 2008, UNDP has supported a number of measures to help reduce barriers and cultivate change, training architects, construction companies and installers on producing, installing and using solar water-heating systems.

Outreach to potential users encouraged them to move past thinking that solar energy was too complicated or expensive, and an online tool was set up allowing citizens to calculate their savings.

When the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities expressed interest in reducing the energy costs of social service institutions, UNDP experts determined that up to 60 percent of their electricity use goes to heating water. As an experiment, a solar water-heating system was installed at Tirana’s Orphan House and electricity bills immediately sank by 67 percent.

Denada Seferi, the ministry’s Director of Social Policy, says, “This initiative is not only a simple energy-related intervention— it impacts directly the life quality of children living here. Such a project inspires us to continue the transformation of all social care institutions.”

By 2020, UNDP aims at encouraging the installation of 520,000 square metres of new solar panels for heating water. Installations have already expanded from 50,000 square metres in 2009 to nearly 112,000 square metres by 2012—an increase of about 25 percent per year.

A major boost for solar water heating occurred in 2013, when Albania passed its Law on Renewable Energy, using UNDP expertise to develop provisions to promote the systems. The law stipulates tax exemptions for installations, as well as guidelines on certification and labelling. Annual sales of solar water-heating systems are expected to rise steadily by 10 percent per year, with a return on investment time estimated at less than five years.

Since initial investments are one of the barriers to solar water heater conversions, talks have now begun on a new national renewable energy fund that could provide financing. In the interim, the UNDP project and the Government are jointly funding innovative new projects by municipalities and industries, building on the success of demonstration projects, such as the one in the National Park of Thethi.

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