Prague holds its boundless beauty in its skyline, in its history. In the spiralling churches and curving alleyways. Beneath the open doorways where Mozart played, across the cobblestones, and below the water of the Vltava river.
Along the Charles Bridge, street performers lower flaming torches into their mouths, juggle, sing, and dance with all the grace befitted to Prague. The iridescent rainbow of stained-glass windows captures the summer sun. Caught between history and myth, I wander the streets in absolute awe. As with everybody who visits Prague, it’s impossible not to fall in love. But what skulks behind the hidden passages and spectacular Renaissance architecture? What is the Czech Republic doing for the solar industry?
In the Czech Republic, solar energy has become much more than a lifestyle choice. It’s been a political debate. Solar skulked into the Czech energy market in 2010 with dreams of making a substantial splash. But, after an entire decade, solar is still struggling to make its mark. The question is why?
It’s all in the history
Too expensive. That’s what the Czech Republic labelled solar. Pricey and impractical. But that didn’t stop the Czech people. Despite the government’s views, they saw potential. In 2010, demand for solar grew at a rate that couldn’t be ignored. The government could no longer sit back, the market had to follow the demand. Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, the Czech Republic had acted, installing 2,000 MW of capacity.
Initially, the expansion was seen as a confident move in the right direction. After all, how can solar expansion ever be anything but great? It wasn’t until later that the Czech people realised the consequence of this rapid growth. A policy change that can only be described as a pushback on renewables snuck its way into the lives of solar owners. The government decided that the expansion had happened too quickly, without suitable economic interest. The only way to tackle the problem? To pop a 26% tax on every installation dating all the way back to 2009.
The Czech people had seen their dream of a green solar-run country crushed. Right before their eyes. In a desperate plea for reconsideration, people took to the courtrooms. Hoping that the green initiative would be enough to overturn the decision. But no such luck. It was a knockback for those who’d believed in solar and the industry itself. The tax, which affected the growth of large-scale solar projects most, made a distinctive ripple.
Is Prague the answer?
For Prague, the way forward appears to be rooted in domestic rooftop installations. The trick is to understand where there is room for potential. Is it through innovative solar and battery storage projects? On the roofs of parliament buildings? Or on homes? Small-scale installations with the potential to expand across the city.
In 2019, a grand total of 1,600 PV power plants were installed around the city, providing 21.9 GWh. But there is still room for significant growth. A realistic goal looks something like 482 GWh with the potential to generate enough energy to power between 120,000 to 170,000 households. That equals out to about every fourth household. Not bad, right?
We’re seeing an indisputable push from the Czech people. Whether they realise it or not, they’re increasing interest in solar is driving the government to expand the market. Call it what you like: a result of rising energy prices or a desire to hop on a trend – it’s working. ČEZ, the country’s chief energy provider claimed to have installed 2.5x more panels last year than in 2020. Whilst the number of citizens rushing out to grab batteries and heat pumps doubled – homeowners hoping to amplify their panel’s potential. A wise move, if you ask me.
How crucial are loans?
In a plea to cut dependency on Russia, the Czech Republic’s National Recovery Plan has been slipped from its shelf, and funds distributed among the Czech people. After so long spent spurning solar, the country waited, breath held, to find out who would be entitled to participate in the funding scheme. The lucky few will play a crucial role in the Czech Republic’s vision for 2030. The country’s aim is for 22% of its electricity to be generated from renewables. A statistic, not quite as staggering as Greece’s, but one that showcases growth nonetheless.
The offer extends to small and medium projects: rooftop solar, and battery storage, all the way to projects atop commercial buildings – carports, and warehouses. It seems that the country is beginning to form a vision. But there’s something stopping it, pulling the Czech Republic up short. It’s a lack of certainty. An inability to form sturdy regulations and understand the limitation of distribution structures. After all, we need to recognise where we’re weak, to understand where we’re strong.