For the past couple of years, regardless of the geographic location in Serbia, regardless of the season and weather conditions, we've been breathing the most polluted air in the world. Measurement networks register high concentrations of the two fractions of the particulate matter, PM10 i PM2,5, in ambiental air in almost every city in Serbia. Where does this amount of pollution come to the air from? Energetic (thermal power-plants and heating plants) and industrial energetic (in heavy industry, like in steelworks, foundries, cement manufacturers…) are dominant sources of the emission of the wide spectrum of polluting substances into the air. On such good ground for the pollution, one should add the negligence of the state to reduce it.
Particulate matter is used just as a rough indicator of the pollution of the atmosphere. Heavy and chemical industry emit countless amount of toxic gasses to the wide spectrum of the particles of different sizes, starting from a few nano metres up to couple of dozen of micro metres, carrying many harmful and dangerous matters.
Regular monitoring does not apply to many toxic factors in gaseous (VOCs) or semi-gaseous state (PAHs, PCB, dioxins and furans, different solvents...). Based on the principle: What we don't see - it doesn't exist. State institutions responsible for the health of the population and clean environment, like Public Health Institutes, Ministry of Environmental Protection, Serbian Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), act dumb and seem to be covering up the real picture, although they have technical possibilities to establish a monitoring mechanism which would supervise the polluters and use the collected data to identify the dominant sources of emission. Half of the work is done just by quantifying the contribution of the key sources of the emissions; the other half is on the organs of the state to impose the polluters to reduce their emissions to the reasonable amount. Or maybe, covering up the truth is more important, in favor of protection of some other interests? However, we all breathe the polluted air - even the ones who deny this fact.
Science has proven the unfavorable impact of the polluting substances from the environment on human health. This impact reflects in the direct exposure, or through the food chain. Many chemical components found in the atmosphere, be it from primary sources of formed as secondary pollutants from primary emitted components through the complex mechanisms of the atmosphere chemistry, have toxic, mutagen, teratogen and carcinogenic properties. Intensive research during past years has shown that harmful matter from the air reaches the blood stream through the respiratory organs, spread and get deposited all over the body. Some of them are metabolized and as the time goes, get eliminated from the body, without leaving severe consequences on the human health, but some of them get permanently deposited in the body, causing permanent oxidative stress to the cells, which makes them activation centers to trigger cancers, autoimmune diseases but also sudden deaths due to the cardiac arrest, which are directly linked to the polluted air. Latest research also bring polluted air in the connection with the decrease of the IQ of the exposed population.
Serbia is rich in energetic resources, but we don't seem to be noticing them, which can be a consequence of the long-term exposure to the polluted air, which apparently severely affected our intelligence.
Solar potential of Serbia is approximately 30% higher than of Austria, Germany or Switzerland, yet we use it minimally comparing to these countries. It is easier to us to dig lignite, drive it around, wash it, dry it, grind it, burn it, suffocate in it and finally squander it (17% of the produced electricity gets lost in transport). We build entire infrastructures to transport ashes to landfills, from which it pollutes the fertile soil, surface and underground waters.
It is easier for us to allow foreign factories to burn waste tires and waste toxic oils, than to demand from them to follow the rules and laws of this country.
The only ones making profits from this are the polluters themselves, because they don't have expenses for fuels (like clean natural gas), or for the environment protection. And why would they? They're not here to protect our environment and our health, but to make profits. The ones who allow this probably also benefit from it. It turns out that it's easier to put the last clean rivers to the pipes to supply small hydro power-plants, demolish mountain villages, destroy livestock and the life of the local population, leaving them without water, for lousy 3% of the electricity they would contribute with to the total energy balance and at zero benefit to the state, but in favor of some investors who are close to the regime (and causing big damage to the nature and to the local population), than to deal with reducing losses in the transport grid. Losses can be reduced to under 5%, which would save 4 times more electricity than all planned SHPP would produce.
Oh, right, solar energy is used to produce electricity even in Iceland, which is at the border of the polar circle. On top, this type of energy is now much cheaper than before, so it is available to every household. Maybe we don't want to spend our Sun too fast?
Serbia lies on geothermal waters with its entire territory, and it still doesn't cross our mind that we can use them for heating or directly use them, instead of using the water we previously heated up using electricity produced as previously described. Germany, Hungary, Romania, and especially Iceland, largely use these waters for energy, while here they freely flow away to the rivers (Vranjska Spa, Sijarinska Spa, Jošanička Spa, Bogatić...) without using them for heating and returning them to the nature cooled down and clean. They use it in Bogatić, though, to scald pigs, while local authorities in Sijarinska Spa has explicitly forbidden using this water for heating the households. In Vranjska Spa, thermal waters are diluted with water from the public water supply network to be forwarded to the rehabilitation center, instead of using them for heating the entire settlement, and even the town of Vranje first, before letting them into the rehabilitation center. Maybe then they would have better effect on the health. In Iceland, all households use only this water for heating in a very simple way: Wherever there is a thermal spring, there's also a heat exchanger, which transports the heat to the houses using some other fluid, like on the above picture. Also, geothermal waters in Iceland are used directly in houses, so every house is a natural spa at the same time.
Imagine that, wherever it is possible in Serbia, water heaters are removed from houses and public institutions and thermal waters from the nature are introduced.What a saving in electricity use would that be, taking into account that heaters are one of the biggest electricity consumers. State is not capable of finding an investor for something like this, or it doesn't pay to do so, because the solutions are simple, clean, don't endanger the environment, and they're cheap, which doesn't leave too much space to fill the pockets of everybody in the corruption chain.
Biomass Power Plants
Agriculture and livestock breeding are another inexhaustible resources. Cattle farms in Germany are largely used for electricity production from methane/bio-gas. Leftovers in agriculture are also a valuable resource of bio-gas, which could be used for electricity production or heating. Our farmers instead simply burn these leftovers on their fields at the end of the harvest season, and so Serbia, with its 70% of territory under agriculture, burns from fall until spring,thus contributing to the already over-congested air. Therefore it's not a surprise that average lifespan in Serbia is 7 years shorter than in Italy, because it is in reverse correlation with the degree of the air pollution. Countries with the cleanest air have the longest lifespan, primarily Japan and Scandinavian countries. It looks like that not only that we don't like to live long and prosper, but we tend to make this short portion of life low quality. It is possible that we're not even in condition to understand this due to the long-term exposure to the polluted air.
And for the end, the most important part is energy efficiency, which is a key of energetic solutions. Using energy efficient home appliances, electricity consumption can be reduced 4-5 times (from the personal experience with A++ class devices, and A+++ ones are already on the market). Introduction of thermal-insulation materials in construction prevents thermal energy from dissipation. Including co-generation in industry can help in reduction or avoidance of using fossil fuels. And when energy consumption is reduced that way, i.e. when it's taken down to the minimum, we will not need large production of the electric energy. If we accept such good husband principle, we won't be needing any lignite thermal power plant. Existing hydro-potential of the large plants (Đerdap, Bajina Bašta, Vrla,...) with the addition of some renewable energy resource, which Serbia has plenty of, will settle all the electricity needs. And, of course, bring all the polluters inside the framework of our existing regulations. This way we will become the country with the cleanest air; not only in Europe, but in the world.
Author: Dragana Đorđević,
Research Fellow, RI Institute of Chemistry, Technology and Metallurgy, University of Belgrade