Using maps and energy offices to build Solar Cities in Bulgaria
by Sofia Shabafrouz, GIZ / EUKI
Bulgaria has the sun on its side: The EUKI project Unlocking the Solar Potential of Burgas and Sofia informs citizens, businesses and public institutions in these two cities about how to use their properties – especially roof spaces – to generate energy.
Considering the meteorological conditions in Bulgarian cities, solar power is the most promising source of renewable energy for them. Businesses in particular are capitalising on this and investing in photovoltaic systems. For many private homeowners, weighing up this kind of investment is often more difficult. ‘Personally, I’ve always wondered about the cost of photovoltaic systems in apartments. I was keen to know how much of your energy consumption they would cover, but I couldn’t get hold of the information,’ says Ivaylo Trendafilov from Burgas Municipality. Now, these questions can be answered. Trendafilov works for the energy office in Burgas , one of the first to open in Bulgaria and part of the EUKI-funded project ‘Unlocking the Solar Potential of Burgas and Sofia’, also known as ‘Solar Cities’. Another energy office opened in Sofia.
Successful pilots in Bulgarian cities
‘The offices opened at a really good time, as a programme had been launched for sustainable energy renovation of multi-family residential buildings in Bulgaria that entailed a complex application process for citizens,’ he says. In these one-stop shops, officers explain the programme’s requirements and citizens receive support with filling out the paperwork. 3,200 people have already come through the doors of the office in central Burgas since it opened in 2022 to find out about the national programme and smart methods of installing solar panels.
‘We were the first cities in Bulgaria to open these offices. The people of Burgas recognised the office as an information point. Our unit should continue with this work even if financial sustainability is the biggest challenge to the long-term running of this project. The EUKI funding is a really useful tool for financing a project like this, as municipalities cannot usually fund them from their own budgets.’
Ivaylo Trendafilov, Chief Expert in the Strategic Development Directorate of Burgas Municipality
Another of the project’s accomplishments are accurate solar maps produced from drone footage that focus on public buildings and apartments. These maps are available online at burgas.solarcities.bg and sofia.solarcities.bg. ‘A total of 5,700 buildings were mapped in three residential districts of Sofia. 2,800 of these buildings were identified as offering the most potential. The map provides very detailed information, including feasibility studies for installing panels on each building and data on how much energy can be produced,’ explained Tsonka Harizanova from Sofia Municipality. The metropolitan municipality organised two information days for citizens and businesses (an open-air one and one at its own premises), along with two training events (one for employees of municipal administrations and one for citizens and businesses in the pilot districts). The 500 or so attendees showed great interest in the opportunities offered by the project. At a two-day exhibition for renewable energy sources in Burgas mid-October 2023, 20 representatives of photovoltaic installers, charging stations operators or automobile companies showed their products to interested businesses and citizens. They also participated in information sessions dedicated to the benefits of photovoltaic installations, solutions for generating and storing solar energy as well as the status and perspectives of an electronic vehicle charging infrastructure in Bulgaria.
Lessons learned, obstacles and next steps
While having one centrally located office works well in Burgas, a single office in just one of 24 districts is insufficient for Sofia Municipality, whose residents also tend to prefer the virtual services via e-mail and phone. Bulgaria plans to undertake the challenging task of setting up one-stop shops in each of the capital’s municipalities and districts.
‘In Bulgaria, the installation of photovoltaic systems is on the rise. We’re seeing lots of requests and many new businesses, but we lack qualified people, especially engineers, to meet the demand. As municipalities, it’s difficult to find skilled professionals, as they prefer to go to the private sector, where there are fewer budgetary constraints. But the situation’s not hopeless. Recently, a lot of young people have been coming to work for municipalities, and we can offer them a career.’
Tsonka Harizanova, Head of the Climate and Energy Department, Sofia Municipality
Right now, the project is expanding the service portfolio of the energy offices, for instance, by adding different training courses on financial aspects of photovoltaic systems and publishing a set of consumer guidelines on solar panel installation. A number of milestones have been achieved by the Solar Cities project, but it still has a great deal of work to do in empowering municipalities, citizens and businesses to transition to using renewable energies that offer high potential.
The Energy Office of Burgas is located in a city-centre building owned by the municipality. © Photo: Burgas Municipality / Ivaylo Trendafilov
Citizens can visit the one-stop shops in Burgas and Sofia to discuss solar panel options and state-funded opportunities for energy-efficiency renovations. © Photo: Burgas Municipality
The project has used drone footage to create solar maps for areas of Burgas and Sofia and made them available online. © Photo: Burgas Municipality / Ivaylo Trendafilov
Employees from the Energy Office of Burgas visited homeowners’ associations to explain the programme’s requirements for carrying out sustainable energy renovations on multi-family residential buildings. © Photo: Burgas Municipality / Ivaylo Trendafilov
Attendees at a training event for citizens learned about how to build and commission a photovoltaic system. © Photo: Sofia Municipality
Small and medium-sized businesses presented their activities within the exhibition hosted by the Burgas Energy Office on the 12th and 13th October 2023. © Photo: Burgas Municipality / Ivaylo Trendafilov