Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlović has said the country will need to invest at least €17bn ($19.6bn) in renewable energy over the next 20 years.

In an interview with Reuters, Mihajlović said that the investment would be necessary to replace the country’s coal-fired power plants and develop hydroelectric and solar energy generation capabilities to meet growing demand.

Mihajlović said: “We are talking about investments over the next 20 years that are at a minimum of €17bn.

“By 2040 or 2050, we should have zero lignite consumption… while building new production capacities at the same time.”

Like its neighbouring countries Bosnia and Kosovo, Serbia is facing increasing pressure to reduce its carbon and fossil fuel footprints.

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The three countries depend heavily on ageing coal-fired power plants to meet their electricity requirements.

As a result, Mihajlović said that Serbia’s transition from coal to cleaner energy sources could take a long time.

Serbia plans to produce renewable energy by developing hydropower, solar and wind plants.

It is also aiming to acquire a stake in the Paks nuclear power plant in Hungary to procure clean electricity, as well as working to ensure stable natural gas supplies.

The country’s plan involves increasing the gas storage capacity of the northern Banatski Dvor facility to almost 800 million cubic metres to secure stable natural gas supplies from Russia and other countries.

Russian natural gas company Gazprom holds a 51% stake in the facility, with Serbian state-owned company Srbijagas owning the remaining interest.

Serbia will also invest around €85m to build a gas pipeline to procure supplies from Bulgaria.

Mihajlović said: “The future pipeline will allow us, from 2023, to connect to Azerbaijan’s gas supply and a new pipeline that goes from Israel to the East Mediterranean pipeline.”

Earlier this year, Mihajlović said that Serbia was aiming to generate up to 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2040.