Crowdfunding energy efficiency in Croatia

Oct 28, 2015

Solar panels on the roof of the Ostrog Primary School @UNDP Croatia

“Until recently, our school spent a huge amount of money on energy bills,” says Nevenka Maras, director of the Ostrog Primary School in Kastel Luksic, Croatia. “But now with solar panels and acquired energy independence, we are setting an example.”

Surrounded by a beautiful botanical garden, Ostrog has long been known in the community for encouraging environmental awareness. And yet, for years the school’s energy use had been unsustainable—not only expensive, but harmful to the environment for the emissions it produced.

Two years ago, the school began using solar energy under the Solar Sunflower pilot project, organized by UNDP Croatia and Hrvatski telekom. The project installed a solar tracker in ten Croatian primary schools in order to teach children about renewable energy, and to save modest amounts of money.

This was the spark that ignited the school's campaign to dramatically increase its use of solar power—with the help of UNDP Croatia, an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign was launched in late 2013 to fund the construction of a solar power plant for the school.

“We all helped, because we didn’t want our school to use oil anymore!” excitedly explains a 10 year old Roko. “We learned that we need to use energy from sun as it does our school, if we want to have a beautiful nature.”

Robert Pasicko, a Low-Carbon Development Expert from UNDP Croatia, says UNDP was “encouraged by the donations from all over the world and the vision to make an even greater impact on the children’s lives, their education and environment.” With added support from the community, the Energy Cooperative Kastela and the private company Eko Orbis, the school ended up raising more than USD $115,000.

Pasicko explains how the donated money was used: “The school got a solar power plant [with the capacity to produce] 25.5 kW, thermal insulation and a waterproof roof. The classroom lighting was replaced with more efficient LED lighting that saves energy, complies with legal standards as well as keeps the sight of children healthy.”

The school’s system is designed so that, on an annual basis, it produces the same amount of electricity it consumes. Ostrog Primary used to spend more than $10,000 annually just for lighting— since the implementation of energy efficiency measures, those costs have dropped by more than 60%, freeing up the school to invest in other areas of education. The school also has plans to sell excess energy for approximately $5,000, another boost to its budget. The effort has reduced the school's emissions by 31.29 tonnes per year.

The partnership with Eko-Orbis represented the first time that the ESCO business model (in which investments are financed with savings) was used in Croatia. Maybe more importantly, Ostrog Primary showed schools without state support or adequate funding that sustainable energy was still attainable.

Renewable energy constitutes a significant portion of UNDP’s efforts in Croatia. Solar and wind energy have abundant potential in the country, and UNDP is working with communities like Ostrog to take full advantage of these resources.

As the world prepares for this December’s climate conference in Paris, Ostrog stands as an important symbol of how small communities can take energy independence into their own hands.  

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