Keeping the lights on: energy security in Bulgaria and across the EU

12.10.2018

Energy security is at the heart of the EU’s Energy Union project which aims to provide “safe, affordable and climate-friendly energy” for all European citizens. It literally means keeping the lights on for hundreds of millions of people while protecting the environment.

This month Belgium, one of the founding members of the EU, announced that it may need to import around 8% of its electricity supply this winter because only one of its seven nuclear power plants is working. This shows how energy security should not be taken for granted.

In Bulgaria, where AES runs a power plant, AES Galabovo, and the country’s biggest wind farm, people know how important secure energy supplies are.

In January 2017, during a harsh winter, AES Galabovo plant kept producing electricity to keep the lights and heating on for hundreds of thousands of people. AES’ plant met up to a quarter of total demand in that crucial period.

Thanks to AES’ expert management of its coal stocks, AES Galabovo could continue to operate when other plants could not.

Fortunately, AES Galabovo, as Bulgaria’s most modern thermal power plant, was able to shoulder a larger part of the burden of producing the country’s power needs.

Even in normal times, AES Galabovo plays a crucial role in providing secure electricity supplies, generating around 7% of the country’s electricity needs, enough to power around 750,000 households.

AES Galabovo is also key for ensuring reliable supplies for other countries in South East Europe. The European Commission has recognised its role by including the plant in plans for an interconnection with Greece.

One of the ways in which AES Galabovo plays a crucial role in Bulgaria’s energy security is that it uses local lignite as fuel. Unlike gas-fired power plants which depend on imported gas, AES Galabovo’s fuel supply is only 12 km away from the site. This guarantees the jobs of thousands of local people while maintaining a reliable supply.

The plant is also essential for ensuring the stability of the electricity grid. Thanks to the state-of-the-art facility, its power output can be ramped up more quickly than any other plant. This allows AES Galabovo to play a crucial role in smoothing out supply and demand on a daily basis. Without it , the grid would struggle to cope with the fluctuations on the system.

There are no plans to build new thermal power plants in Bulgaria and many old plants soon have to be de-commissioned so AES Galabovo will continue to be important for the country’s energy security for some time to come. The government is considering whether to restart plans for a nuclear power plant. But even if the project gets the go ahead, it could take up to ten years before the new plant would start generating electricity.

But it is not just us saying that the AES Galabovo plant is essential for Bulgaria’s energy security. Bulgaria’s energy minister Temenuzhka Petkova said in August 2018 that AES’s plant, together with another facility, are fundamental base-load capacities for Bulgaria’s energy sector. “Without them, it would hardly make it, especially in the winter”, she said.

One of the other main aims of the Energy Union is to provide climate-friendly energy as part of a transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050. AES Bulgaria helps the country achieve its national target for the share of renewable energy in its overall mix thanks to its St Nikola wind farm. In this way, AES contributes to the EU’s objective of a low-carbon economy by 2050.

AES Galabovo plays an essential role in helping Bulgaria and the EU achieve the goal of an Energy Union. It guarantees energy security by keeping the lights on for Bulgarian citizens and smooths the path towards a low-carbon economy.