17 Nov Slovenia unveils green roadmap in energy and logistics
Jernej Vrtovec, Minister of Infrastructure, Slovenia, outlines the country’s main goals during the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of European Union and efforts the country is making to transform its key sectors through sustainable practices.
What key goals does Slovenia have as it steps up to the presidency of the Council of the European Union?
The Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union will take place during the recovery of the European economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. Our presidency will be a success story because this government is very goal-oriented and determined. Slovenia is small but green. Slovenia is convinced that the recovery and modernization of the European economy must be based on the European Green Deal, which is a new development strategy that aims for sustainable development and climate neutrality by 2050. Our efforts will be directed towards training and the resilience of the European Union and its member states. Transport has been among the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, it is the sector that can contribute the most towards the success of the decarbonization policy. The Slovenian presidency will make a special effort to switch the sector towards alternative fuels and e-mobility, with the adoption of the Fit for 55 legislative package being crucial. The legislature includes provisions to adopt an alternative fuel infrastructure, which includes a proposal to strengthen European Union aviation and maritime regulations for sustainable fuel.
Additionally, strengthening cross-border connectivity between the European Union and the Western Balkans is another priority of the Slovenian presidency, and of key importance for the economic development of the region. The easiest way to strengthen transport connectivity is development of the Trans-European Transport Network, including specific regulations and inclusion of the region in the core network. By expanding the Trans-European Transport Network’s corridors, we will strengthen railway infrastructure, which must be capable of taking over a larger part of cargo transport. It is of essential importance that this connectivity is based on sustainable mobility and digitization and includes alternative fuels. Our goal is to achieve progress with the Western Balkans in shortening waiting times at the borders, which will heighten competitiveness of the region and decrease the environmental burden.
What are the ministry’s main goals in updating Slovenia’s logistics infrastructure?
We need to improve our road infrastructure for the digitization and expansion of transport. It is crucial not just for our citizens but also our neighbors travelling across Slovenia. So far, we have had a shortage of funds. At the end of July 2020, the European Union leaders reached an agreement on a COVID-19 recovery package that included the next European Union budget for the 2021-2027 period. The budget was significant in terms of investment in infrastructure and energy, and our recovery fund is part of this European Union policy.
Safety and resilience are two of the most important factors in any transport system. The European Union set ambitious goals in its 2011 White Paper and in the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. Rethinking the necessary infrastructure for urban transport will be based on the three following strong pillars: knowledge, regulation and human factors including individual organization, respect and interaction with automation. This approach is based on recognizing possible risks and systemic connections on all levels, including means of transportation, weather and stakeholders such as producers, regulators, operators and users. Certification and standardization must be implemented in all activities at a national, EU and international levels. They must include cooperation with our national borders and EU and international agencies to improve the draft of regulations and facilitate safety and control. Management of transport systems and urban planning will be proofed with an emphasis on the new normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. We will consider how cities optimize their planning and allocate space. The management and operation system proposed includes transport services that improve resistance to natural and random human-related disastrous events. The proposed concept will provide sustainability of the entire transport system. It will take into consideration how supply chains can be more resistant and friendly, particularly after the recent crisis. We are also promoting sustainable mobility through the national cycling network. Slovenia welcomes the transition to smart and obligatory sustainable mobility, tailored to the user.
New advances in traffic information technologies such as real time spatial management data and occupancy of vehicles in accordance with comprehensive special planning could contribute to an optimization in the required number of vehicles. Advanced green and sustainable urban logistics systems will be established that will include all main stakeholders and operators, such as the post office and real estate. These developments will have high standards in being safe, green and sustainable through the proper use of data, special consolidation and management and zero-emission vehicles.
What is Slovenia doing to update its railway services?
We have a huge project regarding rail, which involves putting down new tracks. Currently, our tracks are old. In May 2021 we began building a second track between Koper and Divača. The port of Koper is the most important port, not only for our economy but also for neighboring countries, in particular Poland, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. We also put money into a new track between Kranj and Jesenice in the northern part of Slovenia. We put more than €500 million into new tracks this year. Previously we built new tracks between Maribor to Šentilj on our northern border. Railway infrastructure for upgrading our railway tracks and stations and establishing remote traffic control are important. We also want to promote railways in Slovenia and other countries during our Council of the European Union presidency. Using railways is crucial if we want to protect our environment.
What are Slovenia’s goals in transitioning from fossil fuels to more renewable energy sources to lower its carbon footprint?
We are preparing a special strategy to phase out coal by 2033, and we are optimistic that we can achieve this goal. We then want to build more hydropower plants. We have prepared documentation for the last of the power plants to be built at Sava River near the Croatian border. While we also have wind and hydro potential, hydrogen will be important. The Jožef Stefan Institute has recently developed new hydrogen technology. However, our wind, solar and hydrogen potential are not high enough to achieve our 2050 goals; we must continue to rely on nuclear energy as a country. Slovenia has one small nuclear plant near the Croatian border in Krško, and a second is possible in the same city. Nuclear energy is crucial if we want to achieve our 2050 goals in Slovenia and other countries. It is cleaner than producing carbon or thermal energies. In the future we will be an energy independent country. Efficient use of energy in buildings is also vital. If we promote new energies, we also need to update the infrastructure of our houses and buildings. The available European Union funds—particularly grants—are an important generator of development in the green transition and digitization programs in Slovenia. Documents are still being drafted and individual programs have not yet been defined. We have potential, and we must build small wind, solar, hydro and hydrogen plants. Pilot and demonstration projects must be carried out to show whether it is possible to implement realistic solutions for the environment. The question of whether these solutions are economically feasible and sustainable must be exempted.