Home Tourism Sunny Albania turns to solar energy to power its development

Sunny Albania turns to solar energy to power its development

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CORRECTS the last three paragraphs to say that the land was appropriated, but the families were not relocated

Along Albania’s southwest coast, the sun shines, warming the Karavasta power plant’s 234,828 new solar panels, which will be connected to the country’s energy grid in the coming weeks.

In less than two years, French company Voltalia has built the largest solar power plant in the Western Balkans, where much of the region remains dependent on fossil fuels, including coal.

Situated on 200 hectares of land provided by the Albanian government, on the edge of the Karavasta Lagoon National Park, the plant will be capable of producing 140 megawatts, powering hundreds of thousands of homes in this country of just 2.8 million people. ‘residents.

The energy surge will be a welcome boost for the Balkan country, where power outages have long been a scourge after the collapse of its communist governments in the early 1990s.

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And even though the network has stabilized in recent years, power outages remain frequent.

Albania currently receives around 99 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric plants.

But with regular droughts and dilapidated energy infrastructure dating back to communist times, Albania is struggling to keep up with the country’s breakneck pace of development, fueled by the millions of tourists it welcomes each year.

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A wave of activism in recent years against a series of new hydropower projects prompted the Albanian government to create a national park last year to protect the Vjosa River, one of Europe’s largest undammed waterways.

While construction of the dams is suspended, Karavasta’s backers hope that an average of 300 days of sunshine per year will ensure stable electricity production.

“From this winter, 100% of the energy produced by the Karavasta solar power plant will be sold to the Albanian national company,” Constantin von Alvensleben, Voltalia country director for Albania, told AFP.

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“If Albania produces a surplus of electricity, it will be able to export it to users in neighboring countries such as Greece, Italy, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia.”

Although the country promotes its green energy sector, Albania produces around 650,000 tonnes of crude oil per year from dilapidated infrastructure that environmentalists have long criticized for the damage it causes to local communities.

But along its sunny coastline, engineers say the terrain is ideal for solar farms.

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Luca Anthouard, an engineer working on the project, says the salty, unusable expanses of land around Karavasta allowed the developers to build a project “on a large scale according to European standards”.

But before the signs were erected, the cracked earth was home to small green frogs, known as Pelophylax Shqipericus, or Albanian frogs.

“(It’s) a protected species,” said Vilma Terpollari, Voltalia’s environmental advisor, who is also responsible for ensuring the amphibians return to the site in large numbers.

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“We have developed specific projects to protect this species by creating new habitats so that they can come back and breed here,” she added.

Throughout the sprawling development, photos of this little frog with a fluorescent green line on its back remind workers to be careful.

The project also includes thick power lines carrying electricity from the solar farm to a redistribution station that could disrupt the birds’ flight path.

“Voltalia has installed bird diverters,” Terpollari said, “a first in Albania.”

This feature – which is essentially a large tower that makes power lines more visible – is all the more important due to the location of southwest Albania, close to migration routes and nesting areas that harbor pelicans and pink flamingos.

Millions of birds pass through the nearby Narta Lagoon and Karavasta Estuary each year, providing critical areas for migratory species traveling between northern Europe and the African continent.

As for the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, 53 families saw their land appropriated to allow the construction of the power plant and the power line.

“They will be reimbursed by the State, in accordance with the law,” said Ramatlen Bollobani, project advisor, adding that Voltalia would also contribute to the compensation of the families.

Only one family contests the land dispute.


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