Industrial Complex and Collective Housing: Green Energy Transition in Burgas

It was our great pleasure to pay a visit to Burgas, where the local municipality as well as the Center for Energy Efficiency EnEffect, hosted the project’s second consortium meeting between May and June 2023. Among site visits, idea sharing and interactive workshops, the consortium and external partners touched base to move the project forward.

Bulgaria’s thriving Black Sea coastal city, has a rich industrial history . It kicked-off with the establishment of the first oil refinery in Bulgaria in 1906. It was the birth of the countries petroleum industry. Over the years, Burgas has grown into a significant industrial hub. It encompasses sectors such as oil refining, chemical production, shipbuilding, and manufacturing. Then after the collapse of the UDSSR major parts of the industry collapsed as well. The economy suffered a major shock, had to be restructured and realigned.

In the recent years, however, it is also gaining its recognition for its innovative, sustainable, and green projects. These contribute to its fame as being increasingly liveable. Also it has, through a variety of projects, become a driver for clean energy transition and alternative energy production on a national scale. Ten years ago, old derelict industrial complexes were re-vitalised. Today, this re-vitalised industrial zone houses thirty-seven companies. They offer services ranging from food production through logistics, construction materials to car industry. As the zone is located along a protected lake area with diverse wildlife, all of the industry is environmentally friendly.

The Industrial Complex

The revitalised industrial zone is also were the city of Burgas is now building an Anaerobic Installation, a powerhouse building on organic waste. The idea is to turn organic waste coming from the large hotellery complexes along the Black Sea coast into energy. Topped with energy photovoltaic panels the powerhouse shall provide energy for the entire industrial zone. It is still under construction, but poised to revolutionize the city’s approach to waste management. The facility will incorporate advanced systems specifically designed for waste processing. It will utilize engineered tunnels where waste will decompose through the action of specialized bacteria in an oxygen-free environment. This groundbreaking process will yield valuable byproducts such as compost and methane, which will generate electricity, heat and fertilizers. Funding for the installation, including the building itself, as well as essential vehicles and organic bins, will be a combination of external funds and the municipality’s own investment.

The reason for choosing Burgas as a meeting spot for the TANDEMS Annual Meeting proved a wise choice. We were under the fantastic guidance of Ivaylo Trendafilov, who works for Strategic Development Department in the Burgas and EnEffect, the centre for energy efficiency. TANDEMS is an assemblage of sustainable energy enthusiasts from Austria, Belgium and Netherlands. Therefore thanks to our guides we had a chance to see two of the most prominent projects implemented to serve the purposes of the Clean Energy Directive. The first one being the Anaerobic Installation. The second one a collective housing complex close to the city center.

The focus of the renovation process here was to introduce energy efficiency measures.

Community Housing

In fact, quite some years ago already, the municipal administration had proposed several residential apartment renovations under a state program. In total that program offered funds worth one billion Euros for the renovation of multifamily buildings all over Bulgaria. The municipality granted that fund to one of the houses at the multifamily residential complex located at “Bratya Miladinovi”. Thanks to that the apartment complex implemented energy efficiency measures.

What make the renovation efforts an interesting case study for TANDEMS, are the challenges that come with citizens involvement. More precisely the challenge of cooperation. The Bratya Miladinovi complex has over 300 apartments, but only half of them were renovated. This is because the dwellers association, which applied for the project could not reach an agreement with all residents even though the municipality fully covered the renovations. These residents, who participated in the project, received a set of energy efficiency upgrades. These included isolation, woodwork, plaster work and refurbishment of common spaces such as staircases.  

The TANDEMS meeting

Inspired by the field visits, after return to our meeting venue in the middle of Burgas‘ green lung, there was also plenty of project-related work to be completed. Our focus: cooperation and sharing models in energy transition. Or, as we call it in TANDEMS: the development of an Open Collaboration Model (OCM).  The goal is to provide tools and guidelines that help local governments to work with citizen initiatives with implementing cooperative approaches facilitating the energy transition.

Inspired by the field visits, after return to our meeting venue in the middle of Burgas‘ green lung, there was also plenty of project-related work to be completed. Our focus: cooperation and sharing models in energy transition, or, as we call it in TANDEMS: the development of an Open Collaboration Model (OCM).  The goal herat is to provide tools and guidelines that help local governments to work with citizen initiatives with implementing cooperative approaches facilitating the energy transition.

The consortium worked on ways allowing to include all actors in the OCM in equal parts: the municipality, the citizens, and the businesses. How can good collaboration work if citizens do not feel empowered to not only envision, but also create their desired future? How can actors work together if there is no common narrative? The complexity of political and administrative and legal frameworks is adding a whole plathea of challenges to the case. However, with the project proceeding, we are confident about coming up with some great ideas.

The nZEB Roadshow Event

On the last day TANDEMS also took part in the nZEB Roadshow at the ‘The future of Energy Cooperatives in Bulgaria’ panel. The roadshow did offer the opportunity of gathering insights to other clean energy projects in Bulgaria. One of the presenters was Tsvetan Georgiev, co-founder of the first Bulgarian energy community IZGREI. He spoke about the administrative or legislative challenges of setting up an energy community, but also the successes such as joining the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives and connecting with a network of equally engaged citizens. Understanding each other’s challenges and opportunities, but also the hopes and prejudices that  come with energy cooperatives as well as learning from each other is the foundation of forming a holistic approach to energy transition in Europe.

We closed the meeting with a glass of beer at the beach after three  days. Intense days, but  also inspiring, productive and heartwarming. And this is yet another dimension of EU-funded projects. We have had the chance to sit together with sustainability enthusiasts, with people passionate about clean energy transition. Motivated to make a change. So, thanks again to our hosts, Ivaylo Trendafilov and EnEffect. Meanwhile, we look forward to continuing our journey!

Discovering the Municipality of Gabrovo: Energy Communities in Bulgaria

Interview with Todor Popov, a lawyer with experience in project management for energy efficiency, sustainable management and clean energy and Vanya Lazarova, an expert in citizen participation and the use of ‘One-Stop-Shop’ model* in the field of European projects.  

Can you introduce us to Gabrovo Municipality and tell us why did you decide to participate in TANDEMS? 

Gabrovo, located in central Bulgaria, is a pioneer and leader in the field of energy efficiency and energy consumption optimisation. We opened the first passive kindergarten in Bulgaria or the first ESCO street lighting contract (Energy Savings Performance Contract). Gabrovo is Green Leaf award winner in 2021 and among the first 100 climate neutral EU cities by 2030. Hence, we have decided to participate in TANDEMS. TANDEMS aims to promote the development of energy communities as means of energy transition. We are looking forward to involving citizens, engaging local governments and policy makers. This is very important for a sustainable energy transition. However, apart from TANDEMS we partner also in another LIFE project; namely Life LOOPS. This project focuses on reducing regulatory barriers to energy development. It explores options for wind, biomass, microhydro as well as clean transport.  

Why do you think it is important to discuss and tackle clean energy, energy transition and energy communities?

The theme of energy transition and energy communities was presented as a natural continuation of policies to reduce the carbon footprint of human activity, as an opportunity to improve the economic and social situation of the local community, which from a consumer becomes an energy producer. Through energy communities, independence and stability are achieved. Currently in Bulgaria there are not so many restrictions to energy communities since there is a lack of legislative framework. On the other hand, this exact lack of legislation is also a huge challenge and obstacle for us.

Another difficulty is overcoming the lobbying of large energy companies. These companies have no interest in involving citizens and local communities as players in the energy market. This is quite the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. Citizens must be aware of their role and their opportunities. This is why which is why it is important to talk about this topic.  

Did you receive any feedback from citizens, municipalities or other actors? 

Feedback is still scarce. People do not have enough knowledge and information on the topic. Right now we can see that there is some positive some sceptical reaction to our work. I believe, however, that when we deepen our work with citizens, we will receive more concrete reaction. On the 27th and 28th of April we held a conference in Gabrovo entitled ‘Cooperation for the implementation of green policies’. Representatives of local companies, local authorities and NGO’s attended the conference. The Gabrovo Municipality was represented by Todor, who is the director of administrative, legal and information services, Zhana Bastreva and Maria Radoycheva, chief experts in ‘Infrastructure and Ecology.  

Cooperation for the Implementation of Green Policies

We presented Gabrovo’s policies in the field of environmental protection. Among our main themes was the topic of energy efficiency, renewable energy and opportunities for local communities. We discussed ways to collaborate in order to achieve clean, affordable and secure energy- in the form of energy communities. We also of course presented TANDEMS and LifeLOOP projects, their objectives and benefits as well as any challenges they entail.  

What are your next steps? 

We plan to hold a number of thematic meetings with citizens and representatives of different communities. We plan to invite trade unions, condominiums, small and medium sized enterprises, schools and so on. On 2nd of May we had an expert meeting between Municipality of Gabrovo and EnEffect, who is our partner. We discussed a potential pilot project, which would involve working with citizens. Our next step in this field would be scheduling a meeting with the citizens and several follow-up meetings in June. We hope to launch the implementation of the first pilor community in June.  

*One-Stop-Shop is a model offering multiple services in a centralized location. Citizens can access services in one place rather than in many dispersed places.