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Mislav Kirac

No longer in the dark ages: Solar power brings life to rural Croatia

In the small village of Cikote, Milka and Stevo Balac have been living without electricity for more than 10 years.

Dusty light-bulbs are still in their fixtures, but they are just a memory of what it was like to have a light, refrigerator and a radio. By the time I first met them, both Milka and Stevo had lost any hope for ever getting back access to electricity.

In the past year, I have driven thousands of kilometers across the country and talked to hundreds of people in similar situations.

Taking this journey has made a huge difference in the way that I see my country – a supposedly “developed” country and a member state of the EU.

In Croatia, once you scratch the surface beneath the big numbers, you find a surprising world of marginalized people living without access to the most basic living conditions.

It’s the kind of irony that belongs in novels: here are people living with no electricity access – in the country of the great innovator Nikola Tesla.

Thanks to solar energy, they are now producing renewable energy in their backyard, resilient to grid failures and ever-increasing energy prices.

All of this is now changing with our intervention. At UNDP in Croatia, we set out to prove that autonomous solar systems can bring electricity to remote areas for a fraction of what grid renovation might cost.

And we’ve achieved it our goal: Solar power is now giving affordable and sustainable power back to the people.

Most of the households deprived of electricity were once on the grid. They went “off-grid” due to destruction caused by war in the 90’s.

Twenty years after the war, in 2015, there still remained little hope for these people, because grid renovation to remote villages is considered economically unviable for the national grid operator.

With our team, we launched  3 pilot projects in 2013 and 2014, proving that autonomous solar systems can bring electricity to remote areas – and at a lower cost, too.

After proving the concept, in 2015, with funding coming from Croatian Fund and from municipalities, we launched a national rural electrification project in order to bring access to electricity to every household in Croatia.

The project received great support from the media, national and local authorities and perhaps most importantly, from its users. So far, we have managed to set up 16 autonomous solar systems, with 37 more planned to be installed in 2016.

These households are now able to store produced milk, cheese, eggs, meat and other high quality products, through which they have a chance to increase their income, multiplying the benefits of our work.

 

Mislav Kirac is Project Coordinator, United Nations Development Programme

 

Source: http://europeandcis.undp.org/blog/2016/08/16/no-longer-in-the-dark-ages-solar-power-brings-life-to-rural-croatia/