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.