By Petar Galev, Viktor Laskov, Perceptica
The European Green Deal is the EU’s answer to the climate emergency that is considered one of the biggest challenges to Earth. Through it the Union should switch to a low-carbon economy without reducing its prosperity or the wellbeing of its citizens. One of the most important parts of the deal concerns the energy sector which is supposed to become more and more dependent on renewable and green sources. Naturally, the deal is high on the agenda of countries from Central and Eastern Europe and most notably of those that are either EU Member States or strive to join the Union in the foreseeable future. The fact that the deal is expected to have a strong impact on sectors of strategic importance has politicians and experts from the region weighing in on the topic over the past year.
The present report aims to measure the share and context of media articles on the Green Deal that also mention any particular energy sources. The volume of articles both represents the topics that politicians of said countries are discussing most readily in connection to the deal and reflects the media agenda that serves to form public perception of the issues at hand. Therefore, the volume of media coverage about a particular energy source could be used to gauge its significance for the country and its political leaders in particular. While some countries were focused on new opportunities to diversify their energy sector, others seemed more overburdened with the fate of their older, heavily-polluting power plants. While the present analysis is by no means telling of the states’ future intentions in terms of energy production and the European Green Deal, it does provide an indication as to where their political elite and media experts stand at present.
Croatia is the country in the region that seems by far the most interested in exploiting green and renewable energy sources. Over 40% of all articles detailing the European Green Deal and its impact focus on green sources and wind and solar power in particular. Media are, for example, reporting on the increased interest of installing solar panels on family houses and other buildings.
Croatia is also one of the rare examples for the region where media are actively discussing geothermal energy. The 16.5-MW Velika Ciglena, the first geothermal power plant in the country and reportedly the largest one on continental Europe, has been in operation since March 2019, with its official inauguration coming in November of that year.
What is more, together with Romania, this is the only country where the share of the media conversation on non-renewable sources is less than half of the volume of articles about the Green Deal. Out of them, oil was the most discussed, as it accounts for a significant share of the country’s energy supply. Although Croatia has no nuclear power plant on its territory, it co-owns the Krsko Nuclear Power Plant together with Slovenia. The fact that the plant is scheduled for de-commission in 2023 is causing some stir in local media as it provides a somewhat significant portion of the country’s energy mix.
As much as 28% of the media conversation pertaining to the Green Deal featured wind and solar energy as topics of conversation. Local outlets did not generate any content regarding geothermal energy, which is apparently not a priority. When it comes to hydroelectric plants, 20% of outlets discussed it, making it the most discussed energy source after nuclear with 22%. Media often referred to Romania’s standing in terms of renewable energy citing numbers such as a 42% energy consumption covered by wind and hydropower, which ranks the country seventh in the EU in this regard.
A consolidation of the energy sector in Romania appears to be in place with state owned Electrica trying to buy CEZ Romania in a consortium with Hidroelectrica and SAPE. Outlets cited important stakeholders such as the CEO of Electrica, Cristina Popescu, who emphasized plans to diversify the energy portfolio of the company with wind and solar energy in search of an economically efficient mix. This further showed the importance of wind energy as a priority on a local level.
Another example of key stakeholders talking about renewable energy are the Romanian Wind Energy Association and the Employers’ Organization of Renewable Energy Producers in Romania. Those organisations criticised a new legislation impacting agricultural land sales, which in turn would make it more complicated to secure land for energy projects. On a state level Romania, much like Bulgaria expressed a desire to develop natural gas energy sources and joined a group of EU countries in their demands for such projects to be included in the Green Deal financing.
Regarding coal energy, there was a lack of conversation defending the energy source, but rather outlets focused on the opportunities to get EU funding in order to close them and transition to renewable energy sources.
Most discussions about the Green Deal often touched on either Krsko plant’s future or the future of nuclear energy in Slovenia as a whole. The country is yet to decide whether it would be building a new plant in on around the location of the current one.
While nuclear energy garnered a significant amount of attention, no less than a quarter of all articles discussed actual green energy alternatives. Environment minister Simon Zajc was the most prominent figure to discuss them in connection with the Green Deal. He stressed the possible clash between setting up more solar and wind power capacity and having a significant portion of the country (38% of its territory) protected under the EU’s NATURA 2000 programme.
North Macedonia’s electricity production is mostly dependant on fossil fuels which helps explain the fact that over 50% of articles on the Green Deal focus on oil, coal, or natural gas. Nevertheless, when assuming the position of prime minister for the second time, Zoran Zaev pledged that his government would be investing in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Zaev also promised that the share of renewable energy in North Macedonia’s electricity production would reach 50% in the end of his term. This pledge was somewhat reflected in media coverage where renewable energy has a 43% share. Still, the bulk of articles concerned hydroelectric energy of which the country already has a significant capacity.
The media in Serbia, another EU candidate country, also discussed in detail the Green Deal. Their main focus was on the future of coal, which currently accounts for the bulk of Serbia’s energy mix. Expert analysis on the topic often warned that a switch to renewable energy sources would inevitably lead to electricity price hikes.
In terms of green sources, solar was by far the most popular. Nevertheless, mentions of green energy sources accounted for less than 20% of the overall conversation on the deal.
Even though Serbia has no nuclear reactors of its own, media seemed interested in the topic, discussing the impact of the Green Deal to nuclear energy as a whole. Outlets provide examples with the situation in countries like Poland.
Bulgaria was another example of a country where media focused on non-renewable energy sources when it came to discussing the Green Deal. The attention of politicians was almost solely directed at the future of major power plants such as the Kozloduy NPP (as well as the controversial Belene NPP project) and coalfuelled plants like the various Maritsa TPP complexes.
Progress towards a carbon-neutral future was all but overshadowed by worries about the loss of thousands of workplaces and the potential impact on entire regions of the country. What is more, even articles detailing actual green alternatives likes solar power often served as a mere warning to what might happen if Bulgaria was to become too dependent on renewable energy sources. California was repeatedly cited as an example where dependency on solar power had led to power shortages.
The European Green Deal was barely present in the media conversation in other countries in the region, including, Albania, Kosovo, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. With the exception of Bosnia and Herzegovina, local outlets also rarely touched on the topic of renewable energy. Even in Albania, which sources most of its power from hydroelectric plants, the majority of articles discussed non-renewable sources.
As a prospective EU member state, Moldova noted a modest number of media articles related to the Green Deal. Similarly, to other EU issues, local outlets paid attention to Romanian affairs and covered Green Deal news related to Romania. One such topic was the hope of Romania and other Eastern European EU member states, to include natural gas energy projects in the funding related to the Green Deal.
Similarly, Bosnian outlets were mostly occupied with developments in Serbia and Croatia. The most notable story in the country was the contract signed between the Serb Republic and Serbia for the construction of hydroelectric power plants on the Drina river.
Finally, Kosovo, a country heavily-dependant on coal, also had its outlets focus on a limited number of renewable stories. The most notable project was the Zhur Hydroelectric Power Plant whose generation capacity is estimated at some 305 MW. However, the project is pending because of high costs and issues related to water use agreements with Albania.
Perceptica (www.perceptica.com) is a team of professionals specialised in creating innovative in-depth reports based on online media analytics. Mapping brand perceptions among customers provides valuable insights for helping brands, individuals and organisations thrive.