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Two-thirds of homes still heating with wood

Wood remains the most economical heating option, and electricity is the most environmentally friendly, local experts say. Considering that the heating season often lasts six months, they explain, at least three require heating that's more intense. Partial heating is enough for the other three.

Skopje, 27 November 2019 (MIA) – Wood remains the most economical heating option, and electricity is the most environmentally friendly, local experts say. Considering that the heating season often lasts six months, they explain, at least three require heating that’s more intense. Partial heating is enough for the other three.

Even though heating with wood is cheapest, experts say that if the country’s gas line system develops further, more people will switch to natural gas, and gas heating will dominate.

Right now, though, gas lines are only available in Kumanovo and Strumica. The remainder of the country is not connected to an appropriate gas network.

According to the “Energy Consumption in Households” publication, 62 percent of homes in North Macedonia use wood as their primary energy source, 29 percent use electricity, and eight percent use central heating.

The average Macedonian household uses 3-10 cubic meters of wood a year, or, most often, around six cubic meters. If we divide the overall tree mass with the number of cubic meters necessary for heating, we’ll arrive at the number of 130,000 people who heat their homes with wood.

According to the 2019 call from the National Forests state-owned company, the price of wood cannot exceed 2,870 denars for one cubic meter of beech or 2,970 denars of oak.

On average, a cubic meter of beech retails from 3,300 to 3,600 denars if bought from private sellers. The price of a cubic meter of oak, on the other hand, is 200-300 denars higher.

Felling, sorting, and transporting the wood also comes at a cost, which should be included in the total.

This reveals that heating with wood costs the average Macedonian household anywhere from 18,000 to 22,000 denars a year.

Experts say that Macedonian homeowners tend to heat up one room.

If more rooms are heated, or the household has its own central wood heating system, wood consumption increases to 20+ cubic meters, at a cost of over 60,000 denars, a year.

No exact number of households using electricity

It’s difficult to estimate how many households use electricity for heating because nobody has to disclose what kind of heating they use.

According to calculations, electrical heating usually costs up to 30,000 denars a year if the winter is average; this price can skyrocket, however, if temperatures fall below normal.

Taking into account that the price of electricity for single-tariff meters is 4.44 denars per kW/h and bearing in mind that heating up a room of around 20 square meters needs 2 kW/h of electricity, it’s easily calculable that a day’s worth of heat will take about 25 kW/h or 111 denars.

Adding 18% VAT brings this number up to 130 denars a day for heating, or 3,900 denars a month, or around 24,000 a year.

You could halve this price by using an inverter AC unit, which works in lower temperatures and uses less electricity than regular AC units. 

Still, most experts don’t recommend this type of heating as a primary heating system, but only as a secondary heating system, because inverters don’t work as well in extremely low temperatures such as -15 degrees Celsius.

If a household has a two-tariff meter, the price of electricity is 5.54 denars for high rates to 2.78 denars for low rates. Keeping in mind that low rates are in place from 10 pm until 7 am when people don’t heat as much, and every day from 2 pm until 4 pm, and all day on Sundays, it’s calculable that two-tariff meters will cost households more money. 

If homeowners heat their entire homes, their electricity bills may run up to 10,000 denars a month.

Government offers 1,000 euro vouchers for inverters

With the help of Power Plants of North Macedonia, the government has provided 10 million euros for the subsidizing of highly efficient inverter AC units for 10,000 families who use inefficient solid and fossil gas heating units, and who also live in the most polluted cities: Bitola, Kichevo, Tetovo, and Skopje. 

The subsidy program prioritizes families whose total income doesn’t exceed 30,000 denars.

“Citizens will receive 1,000 euro vouchers to purchase inverter AC units. Once the inverter has been bought and set up, the household will need to give away its old furnace to the company where they got the inverter. 

“These furnaces will then be taken to legal landfills,” says Jani Makraduli, deputy Minister of Environment and Physical Planning, adding that the citizens who receive the inverter subsidies will need to sign an official document stating they will no longer use non-environmentally-friendly heating.

The subsidy program involves 5,200 Skopje households, 2,500 Bitola households, 1,500 Tetovo households, and 800 Kichevo households. 

The Skopje municipalities of Arachinovo, Sopishte, and Ilinden are eligible to apply for subsidies, as well.

Central heating has been getting cheaper over the years

Skopje is the only city with a central heating system. There is a central heating network in Bitola, but it has fallen out of use due to low profits. The price of central heating in Skopje, too, has been declining over the past couple of years.

Since Aug. 1, 2019, central heating is six percent cheaper for Balkan Energy Group users, 13.5 percent cheaper for Power Plants users, and 12 percent cheaper for users who get their heat from the Skopje Sever heating plant.

The Energy Regulatory Commission calculator shows that the average heating bill for a 60 square meter apartment amounts to around 1,850 denars per month if the bill is paid in 12 equal installments, or 3,700 denars if paid in 6 installments. 

It turns out that heating a 60 square meter apartment costs around 22,200 denars. The advantage of connecting to a central heating system is that it heats up the entire home.

BEG data shows that 36 percent or 55,000 homeowners use central heating in Skopje.

Less than half of the remaining 64 percent use wood and fossil fuels, and the rest use electricity.

Kochani could be using geothermal waters for heating, but instead, they go to greenhouses. 

Some households in Kumanovo and Strumica use natural gas, and some households in Bitola and Kichevo use coal.

City of Skopje requests license from Energy Regulatory Commission

The City of Skopje recently submitted a request for its City Energy Systems to be given an operating license from the Energy Regulatory Commission. The documentation included details on the funding it had secured for operations and equipment, as well as information on filling vacancies, which may take up to 45 days.

Before issuing the license to CES, the ERC will conduct proceedings to revoke BEG’s license, if the conditions are right, according to ERC president Marko Bislimoski.

Bislimoski said he would hold meetings with BEG and the Public Enterprise for Management of Residential and Commercial Property soon.

He also promised maximum transparency during the proceedings so that citizens and institutions have no doubts.

“It’s key to provide Skopje with reliable heating,” Bislimoski said. “We want proceedings to be crystal clear so we can make this happen.

“Along with sub-legal acts concerning licensing, and the Law on Energetics, which defines many things clearly, one thing we’ll insist on would be safe and reliable heating.

“We want Skopje homeowners currently using BEG’s system to feel confident their heating won’t be interrupted in any way,” Bislimoski said.

If everything goes according to plan, he added, licensing proceedings would last anywhere from 45 to 60 days.

The City Energy Systems license would be conditional; to start work, they will have to convince the ERC they have a sufficient number of adequately trained staff.

BEG, he explained, will continue working as long as it has a valid license.

According to the City of Skopje, the City Energy Systems license request to distribute heating energy also included documents showing that CES, on the territory of Skopje, is the only legal entity with the permanent right to use the central system infrastructure owned by the state.

“Submitting this request with the full documentation, City Energy Systems started the proceedings for a license to supply heating, and asked the ERC to act upon the request before the given deadline foreseen by the Law on Energetics and the License Rulebook, based on the principles of energetics founded on transparency, objectivity, efficiency, effectiveness, and non-discrimination,” the City said. 

Skopje Mayor Petre Shilegov, on several occasions, said that once CES gets the license and starts working, citizens will get their heating at a new, lower price.

Pellet heating becoming more popular

Subsidies given by Skopje and some other municipalities towards buying pellet furnaces made some citizens more inclined towards using this energy source for heating.

Subsidies amount to 70% of the overall worth of the pellet furnace, without exceeding 30,000 denars. This program doesn’t apply to households in Skopje that are connected to the city’s central heating.

A pellet furnace uses 10 to 15 kg of pellets a day. The price of pellets, depending on the quality and weight in retail stores, goes from 12 to 16 denars a kilogram, which amounts from 185 to 260 denars for 15 kilograms.

The online price of pellets varies from 12,438 to 14,280 denars a ton. Monthly costs for heating a surface of 60 square meters amount to 5,500 a month or 30,000 denars a year.

Heat pumps – the future of heating

According to Dr. Konstantin Dimitrov, the president of the Macedonian Center for Energy Efficiency, heat pumps are going to be the future of heating. Using any kind of electricity for heating, he points out, is best for the environment because electricity doesn’t pollute its surroundings.

“As one of the very good, environmentally-friendly systems,” Dimitrov says, “electricity allows us to install a so-called heat pump.

“It’s a ventilation convector, a heat pump that uses technical achievements as well as laws of nature to take the heat that comes from the outside, and by using a small amount of energy, increase the heat on the inside.

“Standard, cheaper heat pumps use 1 kW/h of electricity while heating up the inside of a room at least 2 kW/h, with 3 kW/h being normal as well, and sometimes even up to 6 kW/h,” Dimitrov says.

In other words, he explains, you pay for only 1 kW/h of electricity while getting two or more. With average heaters, meanwhile, you get what you pay for.

“It may be a financial burden to install a system like this,” Dimitrov says, “but in the long run, you get a return on your investment.”

Valentin Jankovski

Photos by Frosina Naskovikj

Translated by Dragana Knežević

Edited by Magdalena Reed

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