We had the pleasure to introduce the PANEL2050 project and the Central and Eastern Europe Sustainable Energy Network during the conference “Financing Energy Efficiency in Central and South-Eastern Europe.” The event was held in Sofia, Bulgaria and hosted by the European Commission in partnership with the Bulgarian Ministry of Energy and the UN Environment Finance Initiative.

The conference focused on the way of financing the transition to a low-carbon economy in the Central and Eastern Europe region. Bringing together around 100 participants from governments, international organizations, NGOs, universities, local and regional administrations and businesses from throughout Europe, the event enabled interesting discussions and the sharing of ideas and experiences.

By bringing together such people, the event aimed to share best practices from the CEE region as well as other countries on how energy efficiency investments can be financed. This includes the use of private funds and innovative financing instruments, notably in the building and industry sectors. The speakers focused on practical experiences in developing and structuring investment programmes and involving the relevant actors in the process to strive for maximum efficiency and success of the activities.

Andreas Karner (CPU, Austria) and Hector C. Pagan (University of Tartu, Estonia) explained the innovative approach that has been developed in the PANEL2050 project to build the capacity of local energy advocates to engage stakeholders and carry out inclusive and effective roadmapping to improve communities. The need for efficient dialogue between different stakeholders and the importance of well-thought-out involvement practices was also stressed in other sessions.

One idea that resonated in the conference is that some groups working in the CEE region do not fully utilize the diverse funding mechanisms that are available for sustainable energy initiatives. Those working in the field must learn to adapt them to the local situation to maximize the potential benefits.

It is also worth to mention that to realize the full potential of energy efficiency, public funds are not enough and private financing will have to be unlocked at the regional and local levels. In that context, energy policy should create more favorable investment conditions, encourage demand for energy efficiency and help consumers to undertake energy efficiency investments more easily.

Nevertheless, it is clear that transnational projects like PANEL2050, with partners from 10 CEE countries, play a key role in improving the situation in the wider region. PANEL has also helped to shape local policies, coming up with the best possible solutions. As PANEL has shown, it is also crucial to engage different stakeholders from businesses, researchers and the government, so they can work together and spur the transition to a low-carbon society.