Croatia is committed to making buildings more sustainable after earthquakes with corona recovery fund

A crisis such as the corona pandemic requires firm measures. The EU has released 723.8 billion to help the European economy with the corona recovery fund (Recovery and Resilience Facility; RRF) out of the recession caused by corona. Member States submit a plan to the European Commission to claim a share of that large pocket of money. In the Decarbonizing Europe series, we put those plans under a magnifying glass. This week: Croatia.

It is not only the pandemic that has left major damage in Croatia in recent years. Two devastating earthquakes also caused enormous havoc and cost the country. Croatia is supported through Europe’s corona recovery fund with €6.3 billion in grants. A large part of that, 40.3 percent, is focused on the climate. The plan focuses mainly on making the buildings more sustainable, which desperately need to be repaired after the earthquakes. In addition, sustainable mobility is central. 20.4 percent of the plan promotes the digital transition.

Energy-efficient buildings

€789 million will go to rebuilding buildings affected by the earthquake, with energy efficiency as a major focus. Not only will they become more seismically resistant, but they will also save at least 30 percent energy from their pre-refurbishment state. This makes a significant contribution to a cleaner environment.

Neven Duic is a professor at the University of Zagreb, working in the Department of Energy, Power Engineering and Environment. According to him, one of the biggest challenges that the country will face in the coming years when it comes to sustainability is replacing the gas boilers in the buildings. “After the earthquakes, many gas boilers were renewed, while we should actually invest much more in alternatives to gas, such as heat pumps and district heating, if we want to make faster progress.”

But what does such a sustainable alternative look like? Croatia is located on the Adriatic Sea, and it takes advantage of that. Duic describes how heat pumps that work on seawater can help make buildings more sustainable. This heat can be supplied directly in the case of hotels and hospitals, or via district heating. “Croatia has been working on seawater heating for a long time. We could heat all of northern Croatia with it. We can also make much more use of sustainable sources such as geothermal energy and waste heat. It really has a lot of potential. I am therefore afraid that the gas boilers in renovated buildings will soon have to be replaced with more sustainable alternatives.”

Railways and electric cars

EUR 728 million is earmarked for making mobility more sustainable, which still has a long way to go to achieve climate neutrality. For example, Croatia’s rail network can be improved a lot. “Up until now, we have mainly invested in roads. It’s time to switch to a cleaner way of traveling. The rail network is an important part of that.”

And for those who still want to hit the road: money will be made available for electric vehicles on the road. Some 1300 charging stations will be added throughout the country. “In Croatia, the market share of electric vehicles is only 2 percent. We receive many tourists who come here with electric cars. That’s why we need to see a structure to build. This is not only important for the climate, but also for the economy. So this is a very important part of the plan.”

Hydrogen and biofuels

Croatia has set itself the goal of using more than 36% renewable energy sources by 2030. EUR 658 million is earmarked for the energy transition and the modernization of the energy infrastructure. This includes green hydrogen and advanced biofuels.

“I was quite surprised when I heard that as a country we are already investing so much in green hydrogen. Hydrogen fits into a sustainable future, but there are also obstacles and more research and investment in sustainable sources is needed before we can use hydrogen widely in our country. One of the reasons is that the electricity is still not renewable enough. Hydrogen only makes sense if it is low-carbon, ie produced mainly from green electricity in hours that it is in surplus, we only have a few hundred such hours a year. Personally, I would go for a technology that can be introduced on a large scale in the very short term. But it is still a step in the right direction.”

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Croatia has always been a frontrunner in biofuel applications, and the plan focuses on that too. Duic sees this as positive: “Global aviation will increasingly use it in the future, I predict. Although it is still an expensive fuel, several countries are becoming increasingly interested in it.”

CO₂ capture

Croatia is also investing in CO₂ capture. The country has included investments in two specific projects. A pilot project is underway at Petrokemija Kutina ammonia production facility. CO₂ is captured and transported via an existing gas pipeline to depleted oil and gas fields in Ivanić Grad, Croatia. The project aims to capture 190,000 tons of CO₂ per year. A second investment will go to a CCS installation that will be part of an ethanol refinery project. The project aims to capture 55,000 tons of CO₂ per year, which will be transported to depleted gas fields approximately 40 kilometers from the site.

Digital transition: Connecting rural areas

In terms of digitalisation, Croatia faces challenges related to the connectivity of remote rural areas. These areas are lagging behind in terms of gigabit connectivity, among other things. One of the plans is to finance broadband infrastructure in areas where there is insufficient commercial interest. This should ensure narrowing of the digital divide in Croatia. The investment will include approximately 20 local government projects. About 700,000 inhabitants have been helped.

A big job

The biggest challenge in the whole story remains to replace the gas boilers, says Duic. “And the fact that subsidies are provided for it certainly does not help. Many boilers are brand new. While they will all hopefully eventually be replaced by heat pumps. That seems like a lot of work to me.”

But all in all, the plan looks good, “if the execution is at least as good as stated on paper”, according to the professor. “Sometimes our country is simply too bureaucratic. We are very good at taking action too late. We’ve seen that before. We’ve had to send back European funds more than once because we simply hadn’t spent them. Let’s hope we really move into action now.”

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