The implementation of the Eko Toplane Banja Luka district heating project, which uses a renewable energy source (RES), specifically wood chips, places the city on the Vrbas river on the map of smart and green cities of the region and Europe. Using biomass, i.e. wood chips, secures the financial security and sustainability of the project, including savings for the local community and reduction of environmental pollution. In addition, it provides the citizens of Banja Luka with the additional comfort of a 24-hour heating service.
Banja Luka’s residents connected to the district heating network had struggled with the unsustainable heating system over the past two decades. There had been a steady rise in the losses of the district heating company, which had to be covered from the city budget.
The old district heating company entered the previous heating season with a debt of BAM 80 million (EUR 40.9 million). In addition, there were constant variations in the quality of service and hefty distribution losses, while another major problem was the lack of permanent monitoring of energy flow and energy management.
Boiler meeting top EU standards
In order to resolve these problems, a new company, Eko Toplane Banja Luka, was founded in May 2017. In record-breaking 7.5 months, a new, wood chip-fired heating plant was built and then put into operation in stages.
The new heating plant’s installed capacity is 49 MW, and the cascade boiler system comes with an option to add capacity, which is an ideal management solution for the entire range of outdoor temperatures, ensuring maximum energy efficiency.
With the launch of the Eko Toplane heating plant, a new era of integrating renewable energy sources and clean energy technologies started, coupled with the state-of-the-art management environment, Eko Toplane’s representatives told Balkans Green Energy News.
The Eko Toplane project involves the use of a domestic product – the GHS-W 5000 boiler unit using wood chips, with a filter unit that meets the tightest requirements regarding particulate matter and the elimination of pollutants from fossil fuels.
The start of the new plant’s operation secured a significant reduction in the consumption of fuel oil – a fossil fuel – in the 2017/2018 season, which was the testing period, during which the plant’s maximum capacity was not used at any point.
According to Eko Toplane, the ultimate goal in the coming period is 100% elimination of fossil fuels (except during extreme cold snaps, which never last longer than 5-10 days within a heating season).
The entire project to build the new heating plant was implemented by the domestic electric engineering, mechanical engineering, and construction industries. Also, the project is the result of domestic expertise and know-how.
The project is based on own technology meeting the tightest EU standards, which has been developed over the past decade in cooperation with the most eminent institutes and universities in Europe and the region, such as the Institute of Nuclear Sciences Vinča, the University of Belgrade, the KTH Royal Institute in Stockholm and technological, mechanical and electrical engineering faculties in Belgrade and Banja Luka.
Plant saves BAM 10 million, reduces CO2 emissions by 70,000 tons
The benefits of the biomass heating plant for Banja Luka are multiple. Firstly, the local community will save more than BAM 10 million (EUR 5.11 million) that used to be spent annually on the purchase of fuel oil.
More precisely, instead of a BAM 20 million (EUR 10.2 million) deficit in foreign trade in energy products, the direct effect is BAM 10 million (EUR 5.11 million) in savings due to the lower cost of fuel for the new heating plant, while the indirect effect is created by spending BAM 10 million (EUR 5.11 million) on the purchase of wood products from domestic producers, based in the local community, helping drive the community’s development and improve the quality of life.
The project’s financial stability and sustainability is ensured through a 10-year agreement with state-owned forest management company Šume Srpske on the purchase of timber products. In addition, the biomass market will be developed through the utilization of wood waste that has so far been unused.
The new heating plant fully meets the standards of the Energy Community, which defines the framework of cities’ energy sovereignty as entailing three factors – Eko Toplane will secure energy security, self-sustainability, and financial security for the local community. The plant will reduce environmental pollution in the Banja Luka area by cutting CO2 emissions by 70,000 tons annually.
Also, one of the benefits of the new heating plant is a 24-hour heating regime, which provides additional comfort to the Banja Luka residents.
According to Eko Toplane, there is an upward trend of previously disconnected consumers re-connecting to the heating network and individual residential buildings that have not been using the service of the district heating system so far expressing interest in getting a connection.
The next step is to automate the distribution network
The next activity of the Eko Toplane district heating company is the expansion and reconstruction of the distribution network, in order to provide as much of Banja Luka as possible with heat from the district heating system, which would result in a thorough reduction of air pollution, more stable operation, and automation of all business segments to reduce network losses to a minimum.
Also, one of the next activities is to re-connect as many consumers which were previously disconnected, as the company now provides high quality heat distribution and services to consumers.
The construction and launching of a new biomass heating plant is only the first step in the modernization of the heating system in Banja Luka, bearing in mind that the implementation of this project provides a stable source of energy. Eko Toplane plans to focus on the distribution network and optimize it, in order to make the district heating network fully automated in the next few seasons, and to establish full control of the quality of energy services.