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Lithuania’s road to carbon neutrality – interview with Vice-Minister of Energy Daiva Garbaliauskaitė

Lithuania aims to produce 100 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2050. A very ambitious goal that comes with exact measures and clear policies.

CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Daiva Garbaliauskaitė, Lithuania’s Deputy Minister of Energy responsible for the development of renewable energy about the country’s energy transition strategy and the role of different sources in the energy mix.

“At the moment we are an importing country, so we need to focus on local onshore and offshore wind power and increase the number of prosumers,” Mrs Garbaliauskaitė begins. “With the new government, the commitments go even further, up to 50 per cent of renewables in the energy mix by 2030.”

Mrs Garbaliauskaitė has high hopes for the Baltic Sea and therefore offshore wind energy whose phase one envisages the development of 700 megawatts (MW) of the offshore wind farm, planning to be completed by the end of 2023.

“It is the first offshore wind energy project in Lithuania and we are excited about it, but it requires a high level of cooperation also with the transmission system operator, which means also taking into consideration another mega project – the synchronisation with continental Europe,” the Deputy Minister underlines.

In the next 4 years, the country also plans to install 1.2 gigawatts (GW) of onshore wind power and 1 GW of solar, which is quite ambitious, meaning that it has to at least double the pace at which we are working now.

“We will rely on the EU Recovery and Resilience facility (RRF) and other EU funding measures to make it happen,” Mr Garbaliauskaitė mentions.

“We should develop renewable energy projects as soon as possible which means also removing all the bureaucratic limitations in place regarding unnecessary regulations.”

She highlights that the main challenge Lithuania is facing in the upcoming five years is that the transition is going to happen in two directions at the same time: on one hand, a green revolution, connecting and generating as much clean energy as possible. On the other hand, connecting to the continental European network by 2025.

“This is not an easy combination of projects and hence the cooperation both on an international and national level among all the stakeholders involved is crucial to see a clear picture and provide answers, for instance, on how we are going to balance the system,” she explains.

In particular, involving people will be key as lockdowns are forcing consumers to rethink ways to generate energy.

“The goal is to have 50 per cent of prosumers (among all the consumers) by 2050,” reveals Mrs Garbaliauskaitė. “In the meantime, we are increasing the level of decentralisation in order to enable consumers to become prosumers. We enabled virtual power plant systems that turn consumers into prosumers and small scale power plants focusing on renewable energy communities.”

“At the moment we estimate that more than 240 million euros from the recovery fund will be allocated for the energy transition for prosumers.”

Therefore there is a need to review the country’s incentives’ schemes to go further with the technology neutral auctions or chooses others.

“There is a debate around this topic at the moment,” explains the Deputy Minister. “The latest technology neutral auction was not successful, so on one hand there are thoughts of abandoning it. On the other hand, we have received claims that the auction should have been diversified between solar and wind because the competition and the costs are not the same. So we are focusing on this issue and trying to review the auction under this perspective.”

Other than renewables, Lithuania is making headlines for its stand against Belarus’ nuclear power plant. Although its operator has many times said that the NPP is strictly following the safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Lithuania’s Ministry of Energy has raised several concerns.

“The fact that Belarus was not compliant with international standards was clear since the beginning because it started the selection of the sites and the construction works before applying for safety standards,” underlines Mrs Garbaliauskaitė. “So in this sense, for Lithuania, this nuclear power plant is not compliant with regards to the environment and safety standards. It has been 2.5 years since the EU sent recommendations to Belarus but the majority of these was not implemented until now. It shows that Belarus is concentrating on following their project schedule and not on the improvement of the safety level and we see it with the number of incidents that happen on site. That’s why it is a threat for both Belarus, its neighbouring countries and the EU in general.”

Other than renewables, gas is also an important part of Lithuania’s energy mix, especially considering how the demand for LNG terminal services keeps growing. Mrs Garbaliauskaitė sees gas as a transitional measure to reach climate neutrality.

“What we are focusing on now is how to transform it and make it green,” she says. “Lithuania has a transmission system that has a big potential for using hydrogen, therefore a big accent is given towards innovations and especially moving from gas to green hydrogen. It is expensive at the moment but these kinds of projects in the energy industry take quite a long time to be developed and if we want to see results in 2030, we need to act now.”

“Looking at EU policies, we believe that hydrogen could become more competitive already in 2026-27 depending on how fast we develop these technologies, meaning that we do it ourselves and we do not import know-how.”

Indeed, the Ministry of Energy has launched a hydrogen platform whose participants are going to cooperate to achieve national and European energy and climate targets, by the creation and development of hydrogen technologies.

“There are several working groups in the frame of this platform focusing on specific aspects of the development of hydrogen, for example, production or usage in the transport sector because we have also a very ambitious plan to make the transport sector green and hydrogen will play a role,” Mrs Garbaliauskaitė states.

Hydrogen, gas and renewable will all contribute to Lithuania’s energy transition and as Deputy Minister, Daiva Garbaliauskaitė’s goal is to ensure a smooth and secure energy transition in order for the country to become climate neutral as soon as possible.

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