The Western Balkan region has the largest remaining unexploited hydropower potential in Europe as its river catchments have remained largely undeveloped. Up to 30 per cent of rivers remain in near-natural or pristine states and have a very high conservation value. The region has an estimated 80,000 GWh technical potential, which is concentrated in the mountainous regions of Montenegro and Albania.
The region has experienced significant political and economic changes over the past 25 years. The breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and associated military conflicts resulted in the fragmentation of a once unified and integrated power system within the region and the loss of the interconnection with the Western European grid in 1992.
The main domestic sources of electricity generation in the region are coal and hydropower. Albania derives 98 per cent of its domestically produced electricity from hydropower, Bosnia and Herzegovina 41 per cent, Serbia 30 per cent and Montenegro 31 per cent. One of the major obstacles facing the Western Balkan countries in joining the EU is the adoption of environmental and climate policies. Nonetheless, meeting these standards will provide an opportunity for power system reform.
As the region tries to limit greenhouse-gas emissions in line with EU goals, it could see the increased co-generation of biomass and gas with coal, while also promoting the development of renewable energies, mainly focusing on hydropower.
The EU has sent strong signals towards fostering regional integration to increase energy trade for a more efficient power market. By expanding the total market size, new interconnections would improve reliability, reduce costs and decrease the risk of unsustainable infrastructure damaging already-fragile ecosystems. An integrated market allows for the possibility of thermal and hydropower technologies to complement each other, as well as lowering the required reserve capacity and overall balancing costs.
In 2015, the EU announced that it would invest in a number of transmission projects across the region, especially between Albania and Macedonia, as well as works to improve the Serbian and Montenegrin grids.
Despite the high unexploited potential in the Balkan region, the development of new hydropower projects has stalled primarily due to environmental concerns and a lack of financing. While there are many potential projects in the planning stage, it is expected that the majority will not come to fruition. Many of the developments in the region are small (less than 10 MW in capacity) or include the modernisation or retrofitting of existing infrastructure.
Serbia has the highest installed hydropower capacity in the region, with some 2,835 MW currently operational. Over two-thirds of this capacity is concentrated near to the border with Romania, which hosts the Iron Gate 1 and 2 stations (2,116 MW and 540 MW respectively), which are shared equally with Romania. The country boasts an undeveloped potential of 7,000 GWh, focused on the Drina and Danube rivers.
With financial assistance from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Serbia announced plans to install new hydropower plants and two existing dams, and to rehabilitate a further 15 existing power plants totalling around 30 MW. With increased projected solar PV and wind penetration, Serbia has identified the essential need for a further pumped storage station, potentially the 680 MW Bistrica or 1200 MW Iron Gate 3.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has a hydropower potential of more than 6,000 MW, of which only 2,504 MW is currently exploited. In 2015, the country commissioned a 5.2 MW hydropower plant in Rogatica in the Republika Srpska region. The Republika Srpska also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the China International Water & Electric Corporation (CWE) for the development of the 160 MW Dabar project in the south.
This project is expected to improve generation at downstream stations, and provide flood protection and irrigation services. However, the project has met strong opposition due to the water transfer away from the Neretva catchment and associated ecosystem damages. The country, in its in its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC), also announced plans to commission a further 120 MW of small-hydro plants (
Macedonia has a technical hydropower potential of 5,500 GWh, of which only about 1,500 GWh is currently utilised, representing a total installed capacity of 674 MW. Most of its currently operational stations are located in the mountainous north-west, near to the Albanian border.
The country officially opened five small hydro plants in 2015 located in Kavardarci in the Tikveš region. The project includes an irrigation system on the Bosava River. The five power plants of the Kolektor cascade range in capacity from 1.4–2.8 MW and total 10.9 MW.
Kosovo currently relies almost exclusively on two coal power plants for over 97 per cent of its power generation, and the system is marred by high technical and commercial losses. With the planned closure of one of the coal power plants in 2017, the country faces peak capacity gaps, which are required to be met through expensive imports.
There are plans, however, to augment power supply through the construction of an aggregated 63 MW of small-scale, run-of-river projects across the country, while the Energy Regulatory Office of Kosovo plans some 140 MW by 2020. Kosovo’s long-term energy strategy also includes the 305 MW Zhur station which will provide peaking support to accommodate variability in the grid.
Montenegro has abundant water resources, despite its relatively small size. Two large hydropower plants, Perućica (307 MW) and Piva (363 MW) provide for approximately three-quarters of domestic power supply, but account for only 18 per cent of total hydropower potential. There are currently 27 projects being implemented on some 25 water courses, totalling 83 MW. The country also signed an MOU with Norinco International Corporation Ltd, a Chinese Company, to explore the possibility of developing four hydropower plants on the river Morača with a combined installed capacity of 238 MW.