Serbia + 1 more

Update on the energy situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

1.1. Introduction
November and early December has seen significant import of electricity to cover shortages in domestic production in order to cope with large levels of demand. Before this import, there had been rotating power cuts to cope with production shortages, and there continues to be a number of unscheduled power outages, particularly in regional areas. Problems in production and transmission of electricity remain, with the prospect of major technical failures in the power plants and sub-stations leading to large power outages. In addition, heating oil and gas levels are not sufficient to meet certain basic needs.

1.2. Key concerns

As FRY enters the cold months of the winter (December to March), key issues include:

  • The instability of the electricity grid;
  • The need for import levels to remain high through the winter;
  • Gas and heating fuel levels which are not covering all demand, leading to low heating levels from district and central heating plants and interrupting the operation of certain institutions.

The gravity and impact of energy shortages will depend upon:

  • The severity of the winter - very low temperatures for a significant period of time will both slow coal production and lead to a surge in demand, threatening significant energy shortages and major technical failures in the electricity supply system;
  • Political developments - particularly, the degree of Government commitment to the humanitarian dimensions of the energy problem;
  • Level and speed of import - of electricity, oil, gas, and essential spare parts.

1.3. OCHA strategy

In this environment, OCHA's humanitarian strategy in the energy sector this winter comprises:

  • Advocacy and facilitation of direct provision of bilateral donations of essential spare parts to the most sensitive sub-stations of the FRY electricity grid, with UN verification that needs are genuine and parts are properly used;
    Continued monitoring of the energy supply situation;
  • Advocacy to the Government of importance of energy conservation, prioritization of humanitarian energy needs, and acceptance of international interventions in the energy sector;
  • Support of winterization efforts of donors and the humanitarian community in FRY through coordination efforts.


2.1. Natural gas

Despite the flow of natural gas from Russia through Hungary, there have been shortages of gas for domestic use and district heating. Recent shortages of natural gas in areas of Belgrade saw apartment heating levels lowered to 16-18 degrees. Significant quantities of gas (both imported and domestic) is used for electricity generation in Novi Sad and Zrenjanin.

2.2 Heating fuel

Despite certain domestic production of heating fuel and humanitarian fuel provision to certain sensitive institutions, there have already been heating fuel shortages. This has seen significant heating shortages in many areas, particularly in southern parts of the country. Not only have district and central heating plants been affected - OCHA has confirmed reports of serious heating fuel shortages in prisons and schools. However, uncertainties about the level of import of crude oil, of priorities for the delivery of domestic stocks, and of the future of the EU's "Energy for Democracy" programme, make predictions about heating fuel levels difficult.

2.3. Oil

OCHA estimates that domestic sources of oil are supplying about 2,000 tonnes per day for processing in FRY's refineries. At the same time, refined oil products are being imported. According to media reports, 124,340 tonnes of oil products were imported in November. Further reports of negotiations to purchase crude oil from international sources have been received. Shortages of oil products at coal mines and power plants remains a concern. Prioritization of oil delivery to these facilities is important.

2.4. Lignite (coal)

OCHA has recently visited the two large lignite mines in FRY - Kolubara and Kostolac, as well as the major power plants Nikola Tesla "A" and "B". Lignite production levels at the mines are low, as OCHA predicted in its 20 September assessment report. For example, Kolubara, which in normal operation should produce about 100,000 tonnes of coal per day, is producing 70,000 to 74,000 tonnes per day. Key problems at the mines are:

  • equipment shortages - due to lack of spare parts, equipment has been and continues to be "cannibalized" to maintain other equipment in operation
  • diesel and petrol shortages
  • financial shortages
  • low coal quality leads to demand for larger quantities of coal

OCHA believes that coal production levels will not be sufficient and sustainable to ensure continued operation of FRY's thermal power plants at appropriate levels. OCHA has already observed that FRY's power plants are operating below normal levels for this time of year. This situation is likely to worsen over the winter, and if temperatures approach -10 degrees the operation of conveyor belts in the mines will be interrupted, further reducing coal supply.


3.1. inter demand levels

Despite relatively mild weather, daily consumption over November was high. Demand has averaged around 115 GWh per day, rising at coldest times to 128 GWh per day including various losses. This is higher than OCHA assumed in its earlier calculations - and suggests that demand levels later in the winter will be very high. The threat this poses to the system is considerable.

Power restrictions and electricity import

Given the problems of supply outlined above, and high levels of demand, how is the situation being managed? For a period in November, the Electrical Power System of Serbia (EPS) imposed rotating power restrictions according to a division of the country into zones. However, these restrictions were not applied evenly, and in some villages power was cut for a number of days. OCHA has received reports that power cuts have interrupted the activities of institutions, schools and hospitals.

However, rotating restrictions were recently discontinued - largely because of improved output from hydro-power plants and a jump in the level of imported electricity. This is the most important development in November. Electricity import is being used to augment serious shortages of domestic supply. Import is coming from a number of sources, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia (in exchange for copper from the Bor copper mine), Hungary and Montenegro.

It is now clear that imports of one kind or another amount to about 20 to 30 GWh per day. This is larger than OCHA's earlier analysis expected, and is having the effect of reducing the level of energy shortages. Nevertheless, the concern remains that, when demand levels rise further, the combined effect of import and domestic production will not be able to match it.

3.3. Thermal Power Stations

In addition to problems of coal supply, OCHA observed reduced active power output at the power stations due to:
high reactive power (due to missing regulating capabilities in the grid)
steam leakage (requiring additional quantities of demineralized water, which is problematic due to shortages of chemicals)
problems in coal mills (which are missing raw materials for regular maintenance) - if not all coal mills are available, power output of the unit is reduced.

lack of spare parts

OCHA's engineers believe that the major contributing factor to these problems is the lack of preventive maintenance, resulting in many outages and threatening significant technical failures.

3.4. Hydro Power Stations

Hydro Power Stations are generally in better condition than Thermal Power Stations. However, water reservoirs remain depleted to low levels, reducing output and peak power capacity.

3.5. Electricity Transmission system

The area of highest priority concern from a humanitarian perspective is the fact that the electricity transmission system is working without any real back-up capacity or reserve spare parts. The main concern is the 400kV and 220kV network that provides the integrity of the system and carries imported electricity.

OCHA has visited a number of sub-stations that are crucial to the stability of the grid are operating without back-up capacity or spare parts. These include:

  • Belgrade 8
  • Belgrade 3
  • Belgrade 5
  • Nis 2
  • Novi Sad 3
  • Mladost (Obrenovac)

OCHA's energy unit has identified the highest priority spare parts needs of these stations. Assistance in the form of spare parts will reduce the likelihood and number of technical failures, which have the potential to cause large power outages.

Parts which cover some of these needs are being donated by the Government of Switzerland, with the first package of parts scheduled to arrive soon. Parts are delivered direct to the point of installation or end use by Swiss Disaster Relief (SDR). OCHA has agreed with EPS on the precise place of installation or use of these parts, and via regular onsite inspections will verify that parts are used as agreed.

Discussions with other potential donors are continuing. None of this assistance will provide any spare capacity or reconstruction of the network - it is intended only to reduce the probability of failures in the existing equipment, and thereby to reduce the prospect of random massive stoppages of electricity.


OCHA therefore continues to solicit donor support for the urgent winter emergency needs in the energy sector as a humanitarian priority.

It is impossible to predict with certainty the extent of energy shortages in FRY this winter. Despite improvements in the energy sector that OCHA has previously reported upon2 (many of which follow along the lines of the recommendations in OCHA's energy assessment in September3), the prospect of very large electricity outages remains very real. In urban areas where heating, water supply, lifts, medical services, and many important institutions are all dependent upon electricity, large outages would have serious humanitarian consequences in harsh winter conditions. At the same time, the needs of institutions, including many schools and hospitals, not currently covered by international assistance, and the supply of gas and heating fuel for district and central heating plants, must be continually monitored.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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