Decarbonisation in South East Europe and the role of nuclear power

6 November 2019


Costis Stambolis

Executive Director

Institute of Energy for SE Europe (IENE)

In view of the very ambitious targets set by the European Commission for decarbonising power generation across Europe, and SE Europe in particular, which relies a great deal on coal and lignite for power generation, and the inadequate policies so far applied, it is highly debatable if the targets set for 2020 and the revised, even higher ones for 2030, let alone those of 2050, can actually be met.


By 2030, the EU has set a domestic GHGs reduction target to at least 40% below 1990 levels, along with the other main building blocks of the 2030 policy framework such as energy efficiency which must be improved by 32.5% by 2030. Whereas the share of renewables in the final EU energy consumption mix to reach at least 32%. Both targets are to be reviewed by 2023.


Latest thinking suggests that the EC will revise upwards these targets, while it is preparing to set even stricter limits for 2050. However, apart from the self-flagellatory element in EU's logic in its effort to curtail carbon emissions (which incidentally are falling steadily over the last decade), its current strategy, based entirely on the promotion of natural gas and Renewable Energy Sources (RES), backed by strenuous energy efficiency measures, lacks boldness of purpose and a clear view of market operation, especially with regard to the needs of adequate base load. But adequate base load is an absolute necessity if we are to achieve higher RES grid penetration.


In the case of SE Europe, in spite of EU's ambitious targets set for its member countries in the region and for those in the West Balkans under the umbrella of EU-funded Vienna-based Energy Community, progress towards decarbonization has been extremely slow to say the least, with a number of countries actually proceeding with the construction of new lignite fueled plants (e.g. Greece, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia). These countries continue to view their energy future aligned with the continuing exploitation of their abundant indigenous coal resources which cover a substantial part of base load needs. Although there is ample EU support for large-scale use of RES and energy efficiency schemes, no such support or encouragement exists for the further use of nuclear generated power which could cover the region's growing energy requirements.


If the EU and the EC are serious in their quest of achieving much lower emission targets and eventually aim for carbon neutrality by 2050, they have to revise their policies with respect to nuclear power generation and hence include it as one of the main pillars of their long-term energy strategy.