Better heating in Belgrade

Caretaker Vukojica Jovic is smiling broadly. After decades with poor and unstable heat supply, he has finally got decent heating in his flat. He and his family live in one of six blocks of flats in a part of the city called Svesgora, in which the district heating system has recently been modernised. A Grundfos pump has been installed at the pumping station of the block in the basement, and it almost immediately produced results. ”In the beginning, we did have some problems with air in the pipes, but these were gradually solved, and during the last month before the end of the heating season, I only met happy faces”, says Vukojica Jovic, whose task it is to monitor the heat supply.
350 families – or almost 1000 people – in six blocks of flats can now look forward to the next heating season with equanimity. And so does Draga Joric, who belongs to the group of people who smile at the caretaker. ”It used to be really bad, so we are very glad the district heating system has been reconditioned. For the first time ever, we now have good and stable heating”, she says.Thanking the municipality
The Municipality of Belgrade received numerous calls from citizens the week after the new pumps had been installed in their blocks. They were not calling to complain, but rather to say thank you. ”That sort of thing does not happen very often in Serbia, where people like to complain”, says Sasa Ilic, who is the manager of Grundfos’ office in Serbia. But people have plainly been freezing during some of the past few winters, which have all been very cold, so this has meant a lot to them. Furthermore, new pumps in blocks like the ones in Svesgora entail power savings of 25 per cent. The basic difference compared to the past is that the blocks are now directly connected to a large heating station. They used to be connected to a heating station in their own block of flats, which was often old, and which did not work properly. The savings are significant though Serbia still subsidises heating and power consumption. The country is trying to adapt to the EU, and the prices are gradually increasing every year towards market prices. ”So in a short while, we will all have to think about energy savings”, says Sasa Ilic.

The local Grundfos Sales Manager says that several years’ good dialogue with Belgrade District Heating have been crucial to Grundfos winning the first open procedures in connection with the reconditioning of the large district heating network. ”But of course we also make the best pumps”, says Sasa Ilic and laughs. He prefers to install e-pumps in large buildings such as the University of Belgrade. This took place last winter, and it immediately resulted in power savings of 25-35 per cent. ”Naturally, that makes us popular”, says Ilic. ”The only problem is that e-pumps are far more expensive than standard pumps, and as heating and electricity is subsidised in Serbia some companies choose the cheap solution. If we had market prices, they probably would not have”, says Sasa Ilic. But Belgrade District Heating, which is one of Serbia’s largest pump customers, has chosen the long-term solution. ”Apart from the supply of 180 pumps in the first open procedure and a further 65 in the second, we have established a service contract with the company, so they can draw on us whenever they need to”, he says. And it is not over yet – more open procedures are coming up. ”But you can talk to Belgrade District Heating about that. Lets go see them”, says Sasa Ilic.

During the past few years, the Balkans have undergone profound changes. But large reconditioning projects in the district heating sector are still only initiated if money is received from outside. District heating is a politically sore point as the need for investments is enormous and the customers only pay a very small part of the real price. If they were to cover the real costs, their heating bills would increase so dramatically that it would probably cause unrest in the population.

Energy savings
The traffic of Belgrade is chaotic, and there are constantly queues on the central roads. As the temperature has now nearly reached 35°C, travelling by car is not exactly pleasant. But we reach a café in the centre of Belgrade, where Sasa Ilic has arranged for us to meet Srdjan Nikodijevic, project manager of the large reconditioning project. He, too, expresses great satisfaction with the achieved energy savings. ”To Beogradske Elektrane the combination of better heat supply and large energy savings is a dream come true”, he says. The district heating system covers 40 per cent of Belgrade, and to begin with 40 per cent of the system is being modernised. ”Around 5500 pumping stations, which are connected to three different power plants, have to be reconditioned, so there is plenty to do”, says Srdjan Nikodijevic. The project is financed by means of municipality funds and a large amount from the EU to Beogradske Elektrane, which is owned by the municipality, and which is the mother company of Belgrade District Heating. It has been decided that some of the money should be spent on energy savings, and this is why the district heating company has received the money for the reconditioning project. ”Our prices are so low that we do not have money for investments ourselves. So this is the only solution right now. The prices are gradually increased, but in a relatively poor country like Serbia we cannot do this from one day to the next”, says the project manager.

Doubt about ownership
The ownership of the district heating system is a problem in Belgrade. In Serbia’s neighbouring countries, the district heating systems are owned by the district heating companies, while the residents own the installations inside the houses. In Serbia, on the other hand, the district heating company owns all installations as far as the valves in the flats. Customers are only responsible for problems in the radiators. Beogradske Elektrane operates power plants, builds pipes and is responsible for boilers as well as pumps. ”Therefore, we have a turn-out team of 2,500 employees and 400 vehicles”, says Srdjan Nikodejevic.

Belgrade has 2 million inhabitants, and Serbia-Montenegro has little more than 8 million inhabitants, not counting Kosovo.
Furthermore, several million Serbs have immigrated to countries in Western Europe, North America and Australia. They make considerable contributions to the personal finances of many of the people living in Serbia.
The electricity price in Belgrade has been increased to approx. EUR 0.05 per kWh. This is an increase of 30-40 per cent in only two years, and the price is expected to increase by a further 20 per cent during the coming two years.

The large reconditioning project is financed by means of a large amount of money from the EU and a donation from the German investment bank KFW combined with own funds from the Municipality of Belgrade. Moreover, the EBRD has financed several district heating projects, and some years ago DANIDA donated some money to Beogradske Elektrane, of which a large part has been used to replace pumps.