Transitioning to renewables

September 15, 2021

Milorad Jovičić

At two o'clock in the morning, in minus 23 degrees Celsius, a car stops in front of the Desanka Maksimović Primary School. Milorad Jovičić doesn't turn off his car. When it's cold like this, he's afraid he won't be able to turn it on again. For the next two hours, which is how long it takes him to finish his work, the motor will be running.

Milorad works in the school as a stoker. If he hadn't come this evening to feed the firewood and start the boiler running, the pipes in the building could have frozen. And subsequently cracked. Then the school would be forced to close.

This isn't the first time that everyone's asleep while Milorad does his round in school checking the radiators. It's not the last time, either; this routine will be repeated countless times. Every day, every winter, he checks the thermometer at his house and notes the outside temperature. Be it a working day or the weekend, he's always at the ready to go to the school to make sure the heating system works properly.

Winter after winter, he chopped firewood with his own two hands, feeding it to the boiler with his own two hands. The piping never cracked, and the pupils never had to walk into a freezing cold classroom. Nothing could stop him. Neither the power shortages, nor the boiler and the generators breaking down. Winter after winter, he did his job diligently. Until he didn't. Last year, everything changed. No more chopping wood. Firewood has been replaced with pellets.

Principal Svjetlana Kovačević was skeptical at first.

Ribnik is in a mountain area, and wood is our resource. Many public institutions continue to use it. We are familiar with it and it's available. When they told us we would be switching to pellets, I thought we would have a hard time and a lot of material expenditure as well.

Moving to pellets is part of energy efficiency measures financed by the Green Climate Fund through the UNDP project and the World Bank, and implemented by the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Construction and Ecology of Republika Srpska.

In addition to replacing the solid fuel-powered boiler with a pellet-powered one, the obsolete radiator bars were replaced with steel tile radiators. Installed was a device for automatic pressure maintenance and refilling, as well as a 3,000-liter heated water tank.

Today, it is so much easier for Milorad to do his job, while the cost of heating has dropped significantly.

Mud and reed

Svjetlana Kovačević has been the principal of the school in Ribnik since 2020. She remembers the times when Milorad was turning on the heat in school late in the evenings because she had completed her primary and secondary education here.

I remember him working really hard. In winter, not a day would pass without him going into the classrooms and checking all the radiators. Despite all the really hard conditions, the wind and the bad joinery, the radiators were always hot.

The school building was built back in 1964. The recent strong earthquake that struck the region compelled the building inspectors to drill a hole in the ceiling and check for damages. Fortunately, there were none. The opening they made gives us insight to how the building was constructed. As is the case with many other buildings from that period, the bricks were plastered with mud and reed, not cement. Milorad praises it: It's solid. He is particularly grateful for 40 centimeters of sound and heat insulation.

Insulation was not enough by itself, however. The building had not seen adequate maintenance, adaptation, or renovation. The roof was leaking. Large yellow stains from humidity to date continue to resist overpainting, fading away, and vanishing. The old wooden joinery had become rotten a long time ago, and gusts of wind regularly penetrated the classrooms. In wintertime, when this mountain area is extremely cold, the pupils and teachers did not take off their coats in the classroom.

Milorad remembers the frequent power shortages and problems with water and humidity; how it had taken years for humidity to leave the building. He recalls the school consuming 120 cubic meters of wood, and working day and night to achieve the minimally required room temperature to hold classes. His own children went to school here. No matter how hard it was, work simply had to be done.


Nowadays, as Milorad himself puts it, his working days are boring. The principal describes for us the work that was done:

First the roof was done through the project. Then the joinery, followed by the facade, and finally, heating. That was done last fall, so the pupils attended winter classes in the renovated building, with new radiators and boilers. Completely new heating.

Now Milorad checks the temperature on his phone app. The system turns on automatically when the temperature drops to 22 degrees, and turns off when it reaches 24 degrees Celsius. Milorad smiles: Perfect; it's just perfect.

The principal was most impressed by the cost-effective use of pellets.

What changed my mind and fascinated me is the fact that compared to the previous school years, we've had significantly bigger savings. We spent around four or five thousand convertible marks less on pellets than on firewood. Not to mention how warm we were and how heat was more evenly distributed throughout the building.

New school year

The changes caught the pupils by surprise, too. Svjetlana recounts what happened:

There were many classes that whined, 'Ouch, it's cold!' The question is if this might have something to do with their subconscious, with their resisting change. What happened next was Mićo installing thermometers all along the hallway, and then he asked them: 'You see what the temperature is? 24 degrees. There you have it.'

The children, most of whom live in the vicinity of the school, had observed all the works on a daily basis. Nevertheless, the first day of school was special for every single one of them. Svjetlana remembers one child saying, This is the first time we're able to draw a beautiful school building. Previously, when they had been given the task of drawing the building on the first day of school, what they were looking at was an old and decrepit structure.

Simply, it's much more beautiful. Now we say with pride, 'We have the most beautiful school building in our municipality. The others were fixed, too, but ours is the fairest.'

The land  

This is the final year of Milorad's service in the Desanka Maksimović Primary School. He is retiring next year. When asked what he will be taking with him, he replies:

All children of the world are good children. Whatever their faith, ethnicity, or skin color. They need to be provided with basic conditions to live and work. And all of you adults, what you need is less politics. Eliminate it from schools, from children.

MIlorad will be replaced by someone new, and he's happy to hand over the school in good condition. He says: Whoever comes, it'll be easy. Then Milorad becomes serious, noting that this job isn't always hard, but it comes with a lot of responsibility.

Svjetlana Kovačević remembers what he has done for the school. She knows that the new generations, the same as her generation, remember it, too.

Milorad finishes his story on a contemplative note:

God provides today and tomorrow. New people create their own families. I have fulfilled my mission as a parent. As a grandfather, too, as I have grandchildren. The land creates us, feeds us, and takes us in the end. That's the point of living.

International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer

Energy efficiency implies using smaller quantities of energy for heating or cooling of spaces, lighting, powering, or production. Along with cost-effective consumption of energy, energy efficiency reduces CO2 emissions into the environment and prevents the rise of global temperature.

It halts changes in precipitation quantities and other climate elements caused by the greenhouse effect and the overall rise in air temperature on Earth.

The activities under the UNDP project entitled "Scaling-Up Investment in Low-Carbon Public Buildings in Bosnia and Herzegovina," which are financed by the Green Climate Fund, provide support to the efforts of BiH to respond to the climate change challenges and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Statistical data suggests that 70 percent of public buildings in BiH were designed and built more than 30 years ago. Currently, in most of the buildings the heating situation is bad, with an average temperature of 15 degrees Celsius.

There is an urgent need for retrofitting of public buildings, with the goal of improving energy efficiency and moving from fossil-fueled heating to renewable energy sources.

Pellets are CO2-neutral. They fall under the category of renewable energy sources, and do not emit greenhouse gases when burning. It is seen as one of the rare fuels that is absolutely natural, safe, and healthy.