Energy Crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Fedja Kadribasic
October 24, 2010

Submitted as coursework for Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2010

The world energy crisis usually conjures up an image of a world with no fossil fuels and the whole array of possible problems associated with it. People might also think of the environmental consequences associated with depleting and using all fossil fuels, such as the global warming or increasingly polluted air and environment. For some places, though, the energy crisis has a much different connotation, and its reasons are very much contradictory to the usual ones. There is a country that is not even close to depleting its energy resources because of a very widespread use of renewable energy sources; in addition, it produces only one twentieth of the per capita carbon dioxide emission of some more developed countries. Not only that, but the country also makes more energy than can go around, yet people have, to this day, intermittent power loss, which I know from personal experience. All of this sounds quite improbable, yet there is a country where it is still a part of everyday reality.

It is taking place right now in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small country in the Balkan Peninsula that is bordered by Serbia to the east and Croatia to the west. Over the past two decades, it has changed from a part of the federation of the former Yugoslavia to an independent state to a war-torn nation with every third person becoming a war refugee and every tenth of those who stayed killed to one of the poorest countries in Europe. Nonetheless, it is actually producing much more electrical energy than it consumes. To use an example for comparison, in 2008, according to the International Energy Agency, the United States produced 1.57 × 1019 joules (4369.1 terawatt-hours) of energy and consumed 1.37 × 1010 joules (3813.5 terawatt-hours) of energy. [1] The ratio of production to consumption is around 1.15, which means that there was a surplus of bit more than one-eighth of the electricity produced. On the other hand, in 2008 Bosnia and Herzegovina produced 1.92 × 107 joules (4.34 megaton oil equivalent) of energy and consumed 1.30 × 1017 joules (2.96 megaton oil equivalent) of energy. [2] The ratio of these two quantities is around 1.5, which means that there was a surplus of about one-half of the electricity produced. Yet, in the United States, very rarely does someone lose power because some power company could not supply it. In Bosnia, however, it is relatively commonplace. Given these numbers, the reason cannot be that the country is not making enough energy; in fact, it is making much more than it needs, at least by U.S. standards.

This excess energy is also quite environmentally friendly, at least in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. The United States, in 2008, emitted 19.9 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita, whereas Bosnia only emitted 1.3 thousand metric tons per capita, which is more than 15 times less. [3, 4] The reason for this is that a very large part of Bosnia's electricity production is from hydroelectric plants that were developed while it was still a part of Yugoslavia. The other large source of power is from coal and peat plants, which were also mostly from the pre-war era. [2] Although many of them were damaged or rendered useless during the war, they were repaired afterwards and are currently in use.

If Bosnia is generating all the electricity it needs and more with a large percentage of it coming from renewable resources (hydroelectric power), it seems as though there should not be any energy crisis in the country. However, having intermittent power has a very real effect on the people, especially in the many poor rural areas around the country. The only possible explanation is that there is something wrong with the power grid. Even though the power grid was damaged during the war, projects to repair them went underway afterwards. [5] This explains the slow but steady increase in power production after the dip that occurred during the war. Nevertheless, even if the power plants themselves were repaired, it does not mean that the electricity grid itself has been completely restored. The power plants are mostly located in accessible locations near cities, which mostly happen to be in dales. [6] On the other hand, much of the electricity goes to rural areas far from the cities that are very inaccessible because of the mountainous terrain.

Another explanation is the fact that before the war, the power grid was highly centralized. When the war ended, the original territory that Bosnia seceded with became divided into three parts: one controlled by Bosnia proper, another by Serbia, and the third by Croatia. Because each of the regions now has its own main power company, the originally centralized system had to be decentralized in a very short amount of time. It is very questionable whether or not this has been done successfully. [6]

It is out of the scope of this paper to consider what the solution is to the Bosnian energy problem. The problem itself is so complicated that there simply exists no easy solution to it. Nonetheless, solving the energy crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina might contribute to answering some questions in reference to the world-wide crisis since there surely are more places with excess of energy but problems with its distribution.

© Fedja Kadribasic. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] International Energy Agency, Electricity Information 2010, (OECD Press, 2010), sections III.8 and IV.635.

[2] International Energy Agency, Energy Balances of Non-OECD Countries 2010 (OECD Press, 2010), sections II.84, II.326 and II.386.

[3] "Climate and Atmosphere - United States," EarthTrends Country Profiles.

[4] "Climate and Atmosphere - Bosnia and Herzegovina," EarthTrends Country Profiles.

[5] H. Zerriffi, H. Dowlatabadi and N. Strachan, "Electricity and Conflict: Advantages of a Distributed System," The Electricity Journal 15, 55 (2002).

[6] M. Kušljugić, "Electro-Energetic Sector of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Forum Bosnae 43, 222 (2008).