Niš included citizens and associations in the planning for its energy transition and it intends to enable the establishment of energy cooperatives that would build solar power plants, the Serbian city’s Energy Manager Bojan Gajić says.
The City of Niš is planning to establish the first one-stop shop for energy efficiency in Serbia to allow citizens and building managers to get to information and advice on energy savings and the refurbishment of residential structures. The concept is one of many that the local authority is considering within the implementation of an international project called mPower. It is funded through the European Union’s innovation program Horizon 2020.
The said service center would also offer detailed energy audits for buildings so that owners would get insight into options for efficiency upgrades. The service would help to introduce a subsidy program that the local administration is rapidly developing, with possible participation by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the city’s Energy Manager Bojan Gajić told Balkan Green Energy News.
Partnership with Burgas
Niš and the Bulgarian city of Burgas joined forces through mPower to examine the possibility of collective ownership over photovoltaic systems through the establishment of energy cooperatives, also called energy communities, which are in early stages of development both in Serbia and Bulgaria. They are looking into models for citizens to be able to build solar power plants on public or private land or property.
The city could also help the establishment of a local citizen energy organization and facilitate training and to match investment with EU funds, Gajić asserted.
MPower enabled the representatives of local authorities to learn from examples from other European municipalities and share experiences. Of note, Križevci and Zenica are the two other cities from Southeastern Europe that participate in the project.
Fight against energy poverty
“The city administration is determined to fight energy poverty. Enabling citizens to reduce energy expenses by refurbishing buildings and supporting them to produce electricity are the policy’s two main pillars,” Gajić said and pointed out that the local authority is cooperating with citizens and associations in shaping the energy transition.
Niš is subsidizing heating bills by capping them at 20% above the average
After Niš started to charge district heating by consumption instead of by how much space is heated, many tenants began to struggle with covering the bills as old buildings are in bad shape. Gradska toplana, the city’s district heating utility, faced numerous complaints and disputes.
The city then introduced subsidies. It is covering all heating costs that are more than 20% above average. The benefit is envisaged to be abolished after a building is refurbished. More accurately, in that case there won’t be a need anymore for a subsidy. Gajić stressed Gradska toplana is making up for the loss with efficiency and reorganization.
Niš to abolish heating oil, fuel oil
Serbia’s third-largest city switched almost the entire heating network to gas and it has the ambition to finish the task within four years. The last reconstruction was conducted in 2019, when the Somborska heating unit, with a capacity of 10.7 MW, stopped using heavy fuel oil.
The share of boilers that use liquid fossil fuels in the production of energy for heating shrank to 4%
Seven gas-fired units make up 90% of total capacity, but their share in output is 96%. There are still eight systems on heavy fuel oil and one that uses heating oil. The switch of the 10.9 MW Čair facility to gas is under preparation.
One of the plans is to introduce biomass into the district heating system, Gajić said and revealed that one unit of 1 MW or 2 MW would be turned to biomass from forest residues. A third of households in Niš is connected to the heating network.
Introduction of geothermal, solar thermal technology
Water with a temperature of 20.3 degrees Celsius is being extracted from a 303-meter deep test well at the site of the Krivi vir heating plant at a rate of five liters per second. It passes chemical treatment and gets pumped into the system. As the endeavor from several years ago was successful, there is a plan to tap a geothermal source located 1,200 meters under the ground. It requires state funds, and the EBRD is interested, the energy manager of the City of Niš pointed out.
There is another pioneering project for Serbia’s south in the same sector. Solar thermal collectors of 85 kW provide hot water for a kitchen that prepares meals for kindergartens and schools. The rooftop system covers 120 square meters and it replaced a fuel oil unit. It was installed one year ago, cofinanced by the national Energy Efficiency Fund.