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The challenges of energy transformation and the role of ESO in meeting the 2030 targets

Climate change is a threat not only to Europe but to the whole world. The European Climate Pact is responding to escalating challenges as a result of global climate change. The package of measures to decarbonise the European economy aims to make it modern, resource-efficient and competitive, with zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. More than 75 per cent of EU greenhouse gas emissions are due to energy production and use. Therefore, the decarbonisation of the EU’s energy system is crucial to achieving climate goals.

Bulgaria has a balanced and diversified electricity mix, in which a significant share is occupied by solid fuels as a traditional means of ensuring energy security. Carbon quotas, which are expected to continue to rise, will make high-emission generating capacity increasingly unprofitable in the future. In order not to jeopardise the adequacy of the electricity system in achieving the set European decarbonisation targets, the replacement of coal-fired power plants with new low-emission technologies must take place smoothly and in stages. The new energy mix needs to be balanced between zero-emission base capacities, RES capacities and storage systems. For better manoeuvrability of the system, storage technologies must be developed: pumped-storage hydropower plants, batteries and hydrogen production.

In the period under review, the demand for electricity will increase due to the increased electrification of carbon-intensive production, hydrogen production and the increase in electric vehicles. The trend requires the provision of technological opportunities to increase production from emission-free sources, energy storage and consumption management. Consumer participation as an active party will play a key role in achieving the manoeuvrability of electricity systems. Domestic solar installations combined with batteries and electric cars can help to better manage distribution networks.

The implementation of these measures requires an appropriate legislative framework to ensure the active participation of consumers in the electricity markets, including the balancing market, alone or by grouping; effective interaction between transmission and distribution system operators in order to achieve greater manoeuvrability in management, avoid local congestion and reduce their technological losses; elimination of price caps, which will allow market processes to operate adequately and stimulate investor interest; reducing congestion on cross-border and national infrastructure through effective coordination between transmission system operators in the synchronous zone of Continental Europe.

The potential of green hydrogen must be developed as an effective solution to meet energy needs, especially in transport and energy-intensive industries. After 2040, green hydrogen is expected to play a major role in the decarbonisation of carbon-intensive production, as well as a means of regulating electricity systems in the face of a high share of intermittent renewable energy production. In the years before, it was necessary to invest in the reconstruction of the existing gas infrastructure, as well as in the construction of a new one suitable for hydrogen transportation. Energy carriers produced from biomass as well as hydrogen can offer solutions for storing energy from renewable sources in synergy between the electricity and gas sectors and end-users.

The Electricity System Operator has a clear vision for solving the urgent tasks facing our energy transformation. Over the next 10 years, we will focus our efforts on connecting the new zero-emission generating capacities, as well as on the balanced management of the electricity transmission system. In the medium term, new renewable energy facilities, energy storage facilities, hydrogen production technologies, new nuclear facilities should be built in Bulgaria, and in the long term, projects for hydropower, bioenergy and geothermal renewable energy should be developed. In order to ensure the adequacy and manoeuvrability of the electricity system during the transition of the energy mix from high to low emission, new steam and gas power plants should be built to ensure the necessary manoeuvrability after 2030.

Electricity systems in Europe are managed in accordance with the geographical location of consumption and conventional generating capacity. The widespread introduction of new RES leads to a change not only in the energy mix but also in the flows through the electricity system. Therefore, it is necessary to completely modernise the planning, management and maintenance of the electricity transmission network of Bulgaria, by introducing the most modern digital tools and methods. At ESO we work hard to build systems for automatic control of substations and digitalisation of processes in the management of the power system in low-carbon production and support research and innovative activities that contribute to maintaining the balance and adequacy of national and regional electricity networks.

An important part of the transformation is the consistent work to increase the transmission capacity of the electricity transmission network to ensure the connection of the new RES. For this purpose, the Electricity System Operator will concentrate its efforts in the coming years in transforming the 220 kilovolts (kV) network to 400 kV voltage. Initiatives at the European level to increase the transmission capacity of electricity between different parts of the continent with a view to making better use of the climatic characteristics of individual countries would be of great priority.

The single pan-European electricity market also makes a significant contribution to the implementation of the European Climate Pact measures. Its expansion is crucial for guaranteed and affordable energy supply for EU citizens. The pan-European single market is an EU achievement that, through cross-border electricity infrastructure, enables energy to be produced in one country and delivered to consumers in another. The specifics of Bulgaria’s geographical position oblige us to find a solution for the integration of the Western Balkans markets into the Single pan-European day-ahead electricity market in order to maximise the conditions for electricity trade in the region.

In the coming years, Bulgaria must also undergo reforms in the field of the balancing energy market in order to implement the requirements of Regulation (EU) 2195/2017 and our country to join as an active participant in the pan-European platforms for the exchange of regulatory and balancing energy. The Electricity System Operator responsibly meets current trends and works actively to support the EU’s energy transformation.

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