With around 620,000 inhabitants, Montenegro’s electricity needs are mainly met by the 225 MW lignite power plant at Pljevlja and the 307 MW Perucica and 342 MW Piva hydropower plants.
The remainder comes from small hydropower plants and in 2017 the 72 MW EBRD-financed Krnovo wind farm came online – the first in the country. Montenegro has so far made little use of its solar potential.
The country has no infrastructure for natural gas distribution and does not currently extract oil, though the government is interested in oil and gas production in the Adriatic Sea. It is also interested in the Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline, an offshoot of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline running through Albania.
Until 2009 Montenegro imported significant amounts of electricity, mostly because of the KAP aluminium plant, which has at times accounted for up to 40 percent of the country’s electricity consumption. However the plant is now in permanent crisis and running at lower capacity. Since 2011 its demand for electricity has generally decreased, and with it the whole country’s demand. It is unlikely that KAP can survive in the long term, so demand will most likely further decrease.
Since 2010 Montenegro’s ability to meet its electricity demand domestically has varied according to the hydrological situation. In 2010 and 2013, both rainy years, it was able to meet demand domestically, while in the dry years 2011, 2012 and 2017 it still had to import relatively large amounts of electricity. Although it is more commonly Albania which is cited as being overly dependent on hydropower, Montenegro also faces this problem.
During the Berlusconi era the Montenegrin government, along with others in the Balkans, developed big ideas about exporting electricity – mostly from hydropower, but also wind – to Italy in order to enable the latter to fulfill its 2020 renewable energy targets.
In 2010 Montenegro made a deal with Italy’s Terna for the latter to gain shares in transmission company Crnogorski elektroprenos and to construct an undersea electricity cable between the two countries.
Environmental groups including Bankwatch warned that a rush for imports of Balkan energy to Italy could seriously harm the environment, due to both the direct impacts of hydropower construction and because of the danger that renewable energy would be exported while domestic demand would be met with increased lignite use.
The plans also raised questions whether the best sites for renewable energy would be taken up for export to Italy, leaving the Balkan countries having difficulties to meet their own renewable energy targets later on.
Since then the situation has completely changed. Italy managed to meet its renewable energy target several years early without any help from Montenegro. It also has a surplus of conventional generation capacity and in 2015 ENEL announced that no fewer than 23 power stations with a combined capacity of 13 GW would be scrapped within five years.
This means that Italy – which still has relatively high power prices compared to other EU countries – will most likely still import electricity, but only if it is cheaper than producing it domestically.
The undersea cable is reported to be in the final stages of construction, but it has recently been announced that its capacity has been halved to 500 MW. This indicates that Terna does not see as much potential for imports as it once did, either.
For several years the Montenegrin government has been pushing three large new energy generation facilities: the Pljevlja II coal power plant (254 MW) and the Moraca (238 MW) and Komarnica (168 MW) hydropower plants.
All of these are controversial: The Moraca and Komarnica hydropower plants both threaten valuable natural areas. Research on the Moraca dam project predicts permanent destruction of very rare and endemic fish and bird species as well as downstream impacts on Skadar Lake, which is recognised as an international (RAMSAR, potential Natura 2000, proposed Emerald site) and national (National Park) protected area.
The Komarnica valley is also nominated as an Emerald and Natura 2000 site and includes the unique Nevidio Canyon, which is protected as a Natural Monument.
Pljevlja II is disputed not only because of its health and climate impacts, but also because it is uneconomic to build. Probably for this reason it has not attracted any financing and in 2018 the Montenegrin government has de-prioritised it in order to concentrate on rehabilitating the existing unit.
Montenegro will need to build some additional electricity capacity in the coming years, in order to be able to phase out the use of the Pljevlja coal plant, but this should be possible with the use of solar PV and wind. Different sources cite varying levels of potential, but all show that a significant expansion of capacity is possible.
Additional cost-competitive potential
Decarbonisation scenario 2050
EU Road scenario
Montenegro has great potential for reducing demand through more efficient energy use. According to IEA statistics, Montenegro’s energy intensity has been falling slightly in recent years but is still more than twice that of the EU-28. Distribution losses are more than 15 percent, according to the Energy Community, while inefficient practices such as using electrical heaters and air conditioning for heating are widespread.
More on coal in the Balkans
Macedonia made headlines in December when the United Nations ranked its capital city, Skopje, as the most polluted capital city in Europe. If the ranking included non-capitals, it would not miss Novaci – a small village in the country’s south that also gasps for breath.
Prague – Proponents of coal say almost 30,000 jobs will be created or maintained in southeastern Europe if new coal plants are built, while according to new analysis  by Bankwatch, over 5,000 jobs will be lost.