A Ray of Light – FYR Macedonia GEF Sustainable Energy Project
September 9, 2013
Since early 2011, blue skies have taken on a new meaning for Zoran Balevski and Slave Ivanovski, and for the whole of FYR Macedonia as well. The country has more than 200 days of sunshine a year, which these two entrepreneurs are harnessing in the first serious FYR Macedonian solar power plant.
Balevski and Ivanovski blazed a trail in the renewable energy field when they installed more than four thousand solar panels in this landlocked nation’s largest valley. Their company, Mega Solar, had support to get off the ground from the Sustainable Energy Project financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and managed by the World Bank.
Balevski, Mega Solar’s manager, learned about the benefits of solar energy through his work in Slovenia and his travels through Western Europe, where he witnessed solar power plants and wind farms at work firsthand. It wasn’t long after he came back home that he began to realize his idea of making solar energy a reality for his power-starved country. Aided by solid research, he first had to pick a site for the solar plant.
Not well known, it’s the right mix of sun and temperature that generates the most energy. Contrary to popular belief, if it’s too hot, power generation goes down. In fact, in its first year of operation, Mega Solar generated the most in March, a relatively cool month.
Mega Solar picked Germian, near Bitola, the second largest city in FYR Macedonia, after careful planning and study of information available from the European Union’s Joint Resource Center and different NATO maps of the country. However, this was only the beginning. The hard part was to follow.
“Looking at things from this perspective, I can say that finding a good location in a country like FYR Macedonia was easy,” says Balevski. “What was exceedingly difficult was to persuade the bankers to invest in something that no-one in FYR Macedonia took seriously.”
Indeed, it took two years of wading through different bureaucratic procedures and knocking on doors to get the project going and to build the plant. Despite the obvious profitability of the investment, commercial banks were skeptical and hesitant to be the first to back Mega Solar.
Getting assistance from the World Bank was crucial. It helped increase the confidence and decrease the interest charged by the commercial bank.
But persistence paid off. Balevski and Ivanovski got in touch with the World Bank team that was working on the implementation of the GEF-financed Sustainable Energy Project and quickly found a reliable partner for both funding and advice. The skepticism of the commercial banks quickly decreased after the World Bank became involved, and soon after, the local branch of Société Générale approved the investment and financed the lion’s share of the project. After 77 days of intense work on the ground, the solar plant was connected to the local power grid and the first kilowatts of power were delivered in summer 2012.
The plant covers an area of 20,700 square meters and has a capacity of one megawatt. It produces 1,650 MWh annually. And it doesn’t end here. The plant also serves as an education center for Bitola University, whose academic staff uses the measurements for their own research and students come for educational visits. And the plant’s owners are planning to procure a smaller inverter that will serve to record the history of exposure to sun over longer periods of time.
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