Along with solar and wind energy, biomass, geothermal sources and biogas are other renewable energy sources that are widely used in the world. Although they bring valuable economic and environmental benefits, it is not easy for them to enter the energy market, and they are not used too much by the Black Sea neighbors Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. There are, however, several unique projects in the region that might serve as examples and are worth following.

Authors: Lilia Curchi, Lucia Tăut, Ştefan Scorpan

Biogas at a monastery in the north of Moldova 

After a 3.5 hour drive from Chișinău, we reach Zăbriceni, a village in Edineț District where we find a monastic community established in 1999. Here, 20 monks withdrew from the world to pray; however, they gradually organized not only liturgical and spiritual activities but also their chores. Located at the edge of a forest, this is the only active monastery in the north of Moldova and the only monastery that has a completely self-sufficient environmental farm. In addition, it is an example of the use of animal manure to obtain biogas.

“We used to deposit farm waste directly on the fields, and it penetrated the soil and polluted the water table. In the middle of 2013, we decided to set up a biogas installation and applied to the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environment Facility (SGP GEF) implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which co-funded 50% of the expenses. By the end of 2014, the first bioreactor was already installed,” Father Dorimedont, administrator of the monastery recalled. Since then, the capacity of the biogas installation has been extended, and the bioreactor now has a storage volume of 60m3.

After each church service, all church-goers are served a warm lunch and a cup of tea made from medicinal plants. The food is cooked using biogas, and the medicinal plants are ecologically grown on soil treated with the organic fertilizer obtained after biogas production.

Thanks to biogas, the monastic community has managed to solve both economic (reducing expenses for gas and lumber) and environmental problems (sanitary waste disposal, efficient farm waste management, reducing soil pollution, reducing greenhouse gas emissions).

According to the non-government organization Rural Woman which supported the monastery in the implementation of this energy project, the biogas production station at the Zăbriceni Monastery has been replicated four times already in households in the northern part of Moldova. The installations have a capacity ranging from 5 to 25 m3, and they produce 7-12 m3 of biomethane every 24 hours since October 2016.

Professor Ion Sobor of the Technical University of Moldova says that the state is expected to support initiatives to develop renewable energy from biogas. The storage capacity of biogas makes it one of the most stable of renewable energy sources. According to this expert, by building biogas installations we will solve not only energy problems but the environmental problem of sanitary waste disposal as well.

Professor Ion Sobor

“Zero” lari in heating bills

We are less than 50 km from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. From the highway, we enter Tsilkani, an old religious centre in the eastern part of Georgia, then we turn right and reach Ereda, a community surrounded by forests in the Mtskheta Region. To get to Otari Potshverashvili’s farm we have to cross the entire village, just as he told us on the phone. Located on the outskirts of the village, the house has two storeys allowing occupants to admire the beauty of the mountains and the forest around it.

Otari Potshverashvili

Otari Potshverashvili is passionate about using the alternative energy sources that ensure his energy independence. He has several installations and told us about them with enthusiasm. Ereda is a wine-making area, just like the entire Mtskheta Region, so Otari built an installation for making home-made brandy. It is the first thing we saw as we went through the gate.

Otari described how it works and promised to serve us with some “warming up” nectar. We resisted the temptation and walked through rows of pumpkins, tomatoes and other vegetables until we reached the other end of the farm.

Here we saw a barn and the biogas station – the only such installation in the village and the surrounding area. With this installation, the farmer saves up to 1,000 lari (312 euros) every winter. “This is a really helpful installation. Our house is big, we are seven in the family, and expenses are not at all small. Using biogas, we save at least 5m3 of firewood,” said the delighted Otari.

In addition to the biogas system, Otari Potshverashvili has also installed a solar collector. It provides him with hot water in the bathroom and kitchen. He has also mounted a solar dryer for fruit and medicinal plants in front of the house.

Energy from wastewater 

In Odessa in a modern apartment block near Lanjeron Beach, we found an unusual way to save power to heat water: using the heat generated in the sewerage pipe. Here, 150 families bathe, do laundry and cook meals by reusing the heat from wastewater that flows into the sewerage pipe. Due to an innovative system that is based on the heat pump, they have low water heating bills.

This innovative system was implemented in the residential block by a team of engineers led by Professor Boris Afanasiev, senior lecturer at the Odessa Academy of Architecture who is also the technical director of Saneco Plus company.

This 16-storey block also has solar panels to replace the use of fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This combination is recommended by Professor Afanasiev due to the benefits of efficient use and the rapid return on investment as indicated in the following graph.

Time of return on investment: solar energy and heat pumps

In the basement of the apartment block, Professor Afanasiev explains how a heat pump works. It takes thermal energy from wastewater, cools it down and generates new heat which is more intense. Heat pumps are alternative sources of energy that obtain heat in a cheaper way without affecting the environment.

Blocks with low energy consumption 

“There is a new concept in the European Union. Everyone is striving for nearly zero-energy buildings (nZEB),” said Valentin Arion, professor at the Chișinău Technical University. This status must be achieved in public buildings starting in 2019 and in all newly built buildings by 2021.

Professor Valentin Arion

We found an example of nZEB in Chişinău in the house of engineer Sergiu Cocârlă. He is the first Moldovan to install geothermal pumps that provide him with heating in winter and cooling in summer. In 2013 at the first Eco-Energy Moldova national competition, Mr. Cocârlă received the award for the best project in geothermal energy.

Focus on energy efficiency 

According to university professor Valentin Arion, developing renewable energy sources must go along with energy efficiency. “The priority should be to optimize the whole economy. At the same time, we must introduce renewable sources that replace the use of traditional/fossil fuels.” Buildings contribute a lot to greenhouse gas emissions all over Europe, including in our countries he added.

Energy optimization of buildings is the current topic in a number of the communities in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova that voluntarily joined the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. It is a European initiative that brings together thousands of local and regional authorities from around the world that volunteered to meet the EU’s climate and energy goals in their jurisdictions.

Covenant of Mayors in Georgia

Covenant of mayors in Ukraine

Covenant of Mayors in Moldova

Currently, the signatories are committed to reducing their CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030 and to adopting an integrated approach to mitigating the effects of climate change and adapting to them. The covenant is based on three pillars: mitigation, adaptation and the provision of sustainable and affordable energy. In order to achieve this commitment, the signatories develop action plans on sustainable energy and climate that include actions to reduce CO2 emissions with a view to mitigating climate change. In all the signatory mayors’ offices, these actions usually include the following:

  • improving the energy efficiency of buildings which contributes to reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions;
  • promoting local sources of renewable energy with low carbon emissions;
  • promoting sustainable transport and reducing CO2 emissions from transport;
  • improving people’s awareness so that they can adapt their behaviour and make smart choices in energy and climate.

In Moldova there are currently 20 active signatories of the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, in Georgia 16 municipalities have signed on and Ukraine has 175 active signatories.

Experts’ voice

Irrespective of the type, renewable energies need to be developed for the sake of the environment. Experts from Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia highlight that the shift to renewable types of energy is necessary if we want to achieve the main objective of the Paris Climate Agreement and to keep global temperature increases less than 2oC by 2050. In Ukraine, scenarios with a full shift to renewable energy sources by 2050 have already been developed.

Irina Stavchuk, Coordinator of the International Climate Action Network in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, says that, “The level of development of renewable energy sources in the region is low and will not grow unless state support mechanisms are introduced. This is the only way to make renewable energy sources economically viable. The governments should introduce feed-in tariff both for companies and for individuals in order to encourage domestic and foreign investments.”

In March 2018, a new law promoting the use of renewable energy will come into force in the Republic of Moldova. It stipulates that the share of renewable energy shall be at least 17% of final gross energy consumption in 2020. According to Professor Arion, the new law provides for a state support mechanism for investors in this field in Moldova. “Those who will invest in renewable energies will be supported through the so-called feed-in mechanism. In Moldova, there are investors who have been waiting for clarity on this aspect for years,” he said.

The government of Moldova has recently adopted a program for promoting a “green” economy in Moldova from 2018 to 2020 and an action plan for its implementation. The aim is to promote the implementation of “green” economic principles in Moldova in harmony with economic development and social welfare and with reducing environmental risks. According to the program, emphasis will be placed on increasing energy efficiency and the share of energy from renewable sources.

“Unfortunately, there is no law or regulation in Georgia that encourages the development of alternative, renewable energy sources, but we are working on this. Recently, Georgia has joined the Energy Community, an international organization that brings together the European Union and its neighbors to create an integrated pan-European energy market. We have a number of obligations to fulfil including developing a legal framework,” Giorgi Pangani, member of the Georgian National Committee for Energy Regulation and Water Supply noted.