Sitemap

Lena Bratić, Chief of Party, USAID Serbia Better Energy Project

Save Energy, Boost the Economy, Protect the Environment

With the support of USAID, Better Energy has identified the barriers that obstruct investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, especially in the residential sector

Here we discuss how to raise people’s awareness of how they can save energy in their buildings, and how much, but also engineering solutions and energy efficient technologies, with USAID’s Lena Bratić, who announces the continuation of regular training for building management professionals and help in the structuring of financial support.

Serbia is struggling with a number of challenges right now – economic, social, and environmental. Is USAID’s Better Energy initiative in any way positioned to help Serbia overcome these challenges?

— The energy sector is a connective tissue that ties economic, social and environmental problems. It also ties into competitiveness, import independence, infrastructure resilience and many other developmental objectives. Serbia’s soaring energy prices, heavy reliance on fossil fuels, and resulting environmental externalities – both local and global pollutants from burning fossil fuels – are all challenges that the country faces. These issues were exacerbated by the pandemic and Ukraine war. Theoretically, if a product is both expensive and damaging at the same time, its use should be very limited, rational and efficient. Yet the efficiency of energy use in Serbia is very low – particularly in buildings – with the average building using roughly twice the thermal energy required for heating according to current construction norms. The Serbia Better Energy project is working to raise the efficiency of energy use in both Serbia’s heating supply and building energy consumption.

When it comes to raising the efficiency of energy use, people normally imply the use of new technologies. Is this what you are proposing?

— No. Engineering solutions and energy efficient technologies have been around for a very long time. The problem is with their market uptake; with people’s awareness and willingness to change and invest in improvements that will benefit them partially, but will also create a major public good.

The Serbia Better Energy project is working to raise the efficiency of energy use in both heating supply and building energy consumption

With USAID support, Better Energy has identified the barriers that hamper investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, especially in the residential buildings sector, and provides direct technical assistance that will help eliminate these barriers and create systemic change: reform policies, raising public awareness of how and how much energy they can save in their buildings, showing them technical solutions, building the capacities of the various stakeholders, helping banks offer appropriate financing solutions, and supporting integrated pilot projects that demonstrate the viability of the model for the most underserved sector – multi-apartment residential buildings.

Can you break down for the average Serbian citizen what technical solutions you’re recommending?

— The average Serbian citizen can save 40% on their energy bills if thermal insulation is applied to their building’s roof, facade and basement, if heat metering is introduced, and if windows and lighting fixtures are replaced with more efficient alternatives in common spaces. If the project is combined with a rooftop solar PV system, the benefits will be even greater. This means that the investment quickly pays for itself.

This sounds promising, but for a multi-apartment building with many families that don’t know which insulation is necessary, or where to find the money, how can they organize implementation?

— This is what we call a “lack of institutional capacities” – which is essentially one of the biggest barriers. Homeowners and homeowner associations often know little about the technicalities of construction, financing or implementation. They don’t have the facts or figures required to convince them that it is worth investing in saving energy in their building.

That is normal. To help them with this, the Serbia Better Energy Initiative has developed tools and offers technical assistance that helps make it all much easier to understand. For example, Better Energy created a user-friendly phone app that allows any citizen to assess their building’s energy possibilities and select possible measures that would lead to the greatest financial savings.

Assuming they use the app and decide that insulating walls and roofs would be good for their building, what to do next remains a major mystery to them. What should they do?

— Indeed, the road isn’t straightforward. As the next step, if households think they could benefit from implementing whole-building renovations, we recommend starting to talk to their neighbors, hold an assembly of homeowners, engage the building manager and provide instructions on what the building owners want. Better Energy has a number of capacity building platforms through which the chairpersons of homeowners’ associations and private building managers are being trained to understand every element of a building energy renovation project, from decision-making, identification, organization and energy audits, to the development of a project feasibility study, attracting financing, hiring the construction contractor, etc.

With Better Energy support, financially solid project proposals become loan applications that have the potential to generate the financial savings required to help repay the loans

For example, Better Energy has trained the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia to offer a comprehensive training program to professional building managers, which provides every graduating trainee with the full range of skills and reference materials needed to support homeowners on this pathway.

It’s good to know that building managers are well prepared. However, most building managers have a background in business or the legal sector, and rarely in engineering. How can a building manager initiate what is ultimately an engineering project that leads to energy savings?

— Indeed. While there is a common mix of measures that is generally applicable to nearly every residential building in Serbia built more than 25 years ago, it is advised to conduct a detailed energy audit to ensure that investments pay for themselves. The Better Energy project prepares detailed energy audits for interested multi-apartment residential buildings, including detailed financial analysis that ensures a reasonable return on the investments.

Furthermore, the Better Energy team will ensure that proper designs are developed on the basis of the energy audit, and that the procurement will be competitively organized for the lowest cost bidder for the best services offered. Technical assistance helps oversee projects from initiation to commissioning, making sure that the right technical solutions are properly executed to deliver the estimated energy savings and ensure the costs are offset by those savings. To simplify this work, Better Energy has developed the “BEST Energis” software, which building managers are being trained to use to screen and select energy efficiency interventions without substantial external support.

It is reassuring to know that all the right players will have the right technical skills to ensure that projects are implemented properly, but we are avoiding the “elephant in the room”: how do households pay for all of this?

— The repair and maintenance of privatized multi- apartment housing is the legal responsibility of homeowners. Nonetheless, both the state and municipalities often budget funds that can help homeowner associations invest in building renovations. The Better Energy project has partnered with the Ministry of Mining and Energy, Ministry of Finance, and many municipalities to help structure the financial support towards high-quality projects with proper technical solutions. Better Energy has also exerted significant efforts to help banks recognize and understand the potential of lending for building renovation – this is a 20-billion-euro investment market.

Both the state and municipalities often budget funds that can help homeowner associations invest in building renovations

With the support of Better Energy, financially solid project proposals become loan applications that have the potential to generate the financial savings that will help repay the loans. So far, three banks – Postal Bank, Procredit and Erste Bank – have designed their own loan products that are open to homeowner associations to undertake common space, capital investments. This closes the project value chain, from decision-making to project identification, development, financing and execution.

This is an impressive process in which Better Energy seems to have addressed every phase of the project. However, with all this effort and thousands of buildings in Serbia that need such renovation, is the system developed by Better Energy ready for scaling up?

— This is ’the’ big challenge! We work daily to develop broader elements that will enable systemic change. Since the formula is in place and is working, we need to ensure that the policies, capacities and financing can achieve scaling up. Our team is working with the government to promote the digitalization of building energy data documentation and analytics, as well as the development of de-risking mechanisms for financial institutions so that banks can expand their lending operations. In the meantime, Better Energy continues to implement public awareness measures and the regular training of building management professionals, and to showcase the success stories, so that more buildings embark on this journey, while the state, municipal and private partners are there to facilitate the implementation of building renovation projects.

CorD Recommends

More...

Prof. Dr. Ioanna Batsialou, Director and Owner of Ioanna Regen Polyclinic

Sun YES, Ageing NO

Despite the common belief that medical aesthetic treatments are only performed in winter, our need for care is much greater during the summer, says...

Peter Novak, Managing Director at Kolektor Etra

Transformers for the Most Demanding Consumers

Ljubljana-based Kolektor Etra has a tradition of producing power transformers that dates back over 90 years. It is present with its products in more...

Danijela Bojović, Project and Real Estate Manager, Napred

Napred: Synonymous with Progress

Over the past 75 years, Belgrade-based company Napred has established a formidable presence in 10 countries across three continents. This company has consistently emerged...

Djordje Djokic, Senior Partner, Djokic + Partners

Building a Brand Through Quality

Djokic + Partners is considered one of the top law firms in the banking and financial sectors due to its profound understanding of business...

News

Serbian Women’s Volleyball Team Awarded Diplomatic Passports

Members of the Serbian women's volleyball team were awarded diplomatic passports as goodwill ambassadors, announced the Serbian government.  Addressing the...

EU Council Lifts Visa Restrictions for Serbian Passport Holders from Kosovo*

The Council of the European Union has adopted a regulation ensuring that the entire Western Balkans region is subject...

Fiat Grande Panda Production Kicks Off in Kragujevac

In a landmark event for Serbia's automotive industry, Stellantis has commenced trial production of the electric Fiat Grande Panda...

EU and Serbia Sign Memorandum on Strategic Partnership for Sustainable Raw Materials

In a significant step towards enhancing cooperation in sustainable raw materials, battery production, and electric vehicles, the European Union...

Biden Ends Re-Election Bid, Backs Harris as Democratic Nominee

President Joe Biden has ended his re-election campaign, endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris to succeed him, after many Democrats...

EU and Serbia Sign Memorandum on Strategic Partnership for Sustainable Raw Materials

In a significant step towards enhancing cooperation in sustainable raw materials, battery production, and electric vehicles, the European Union...

Biden Ends Re-Election Bid, Backs Harris as Democratic Nominee

President Joe Biden has ended his re-election campaign, endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris to succeed him, after many Democrats...

Andrej Plenković Re-Elected as HDZ Leader with Overwhelming Majority

Andrej Plenković has secured another term as the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), winning 84,786 votes in...

Serbia and Egypt Sign Landmark Free Trade Agreement

In a significant move to bolster economic ties, Serbia and Egypt have signed a Free Trade Agreement along with...

United States Adds $18 Million In New Funds To Development Partnership With Serbia

Today, the United States Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), announced an additional $18 million...

EU and Serbia Sign Memorandum on Strategic Partnership for Sustainable Raw Materials

In a significant step towards enhancing cooperation in sustainable raw materials, battery production, and electric vehicles, the European Union...

Biden Ends Re-Election Bid, Backs Harris as Democratic Nominee

President Joe Biden has ended his re-election campaign, endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris to succeed him, after many Democrats...

Andrej Plenković Re-Elected as HDZ Leader with Overwhelming Majority

Andrej Plenković has secured another term as the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), winning 84,786 votes in...

Serbia and Egypt Sign Landmark Free Trade Agreement

In a significant move to bolster economic ties, Serbia and Egypt have signed a Free Trade Agreement along with...

United States Adds $18 Million In New Funds To Development Partnership With Serbia

Today, the United States Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), announced an additional $18 million...