Things started to change in 2012 when the government eased the administrative procedures for installing solar photo-voltaic (PV) panels. Relatively high feed-in tariffs and a simplified permitting process that now takes up to three months (down from one year) have boosted the solar industry in Croatia.
These conditions also facilitated the establishment of the Kaštela Energy Cooperative, located in Kaštel Lukšić near Split, the second largest city in Croatia. The members of the cooperative decided to create an organisation that would install solar photovoltaic systems at a fair price for locals. The cooperative members are local entrepreneurs, craftsmen and a local elementary school– Ostrog.
The public opinion on cooperatives is however still very negative in Croatia. In Yugoslav times cooperatives were very common in Croatia. They were the economic hubs for rural areas. But during the transition from socialism to free market economy, many cooperative members got scammed and fraud was very much linked to cooperatives and their managers. Such views towards cooperatives are still present and this credibility problem left from the past times must be tackled first for the Energy cooperative Kaštela – or any new cooperative in Croatia – to succeed.
In order to increase the cooperative’s credibility, the members associated themselves with the elementary school Ostrog. For the past 30 years, this primary school has been committed to environmental protection and is surrounded by a unique botanical garden and an olive grove that is taken care of by the schools’ student cooperative “Maslina”.
The Kaštela cooperative started by installing a 1 kW solar PV tracker on the roof of the school. This was an educational project implemented in collaboration with the Croatian Telecom Company (the main sponsor) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as implementing body. This gave ground for an even more ambitious project. Namely, the energy cooperative partnered with UNDP to develop the first energy independent school in the world.
This latter project is the first of its kind in Croatia because of its financing structure: a combination of donations gathered through crowdfunding and an UNDP capital grant. Moreover, it's a first renewable energy crowd-funding project in Croatia.
An energy audit conducted by UNDP concluded that a 10 kW solar photovoltaic system and energy efficient lighting are the most cost effective energy efficiency measures to start the school’s path towards energy independence. Solar energy was selected because new changes to the Croatian feed-in tariff system specify a 2 MW quota for integrated solar PV panels installed on public buildings. Since the school is public, it could take advantage of this quota and begin selling electricity to create a new revenue stream. On the other hand, energy efficient lighting would reduce monthly energy expenditures. The savings that these measures would generate can be used for new investments in energy efficiency measures or increase the quality of children’s education. In any case these measures create a snowball effect, enabling the school to pursue its energy independence on its own in the future.