Small-scale Power Engineering in Russia

My objective is to create technology under conditions of financial deficit and lack of developed technical solutions, so that it can operate in Siberian frosts, and can be run by non-qualified workers Since the 1970s, small-scale power engineering was hardly used in Russia. It was generally believed that energy produced at a large hydroelectric power stations was much cheaper than energy generated at smaller stations. At the same time, it was highly unreasonable not to use the renewable energy of small rivers. This problem was clearly outlined in the 1980s.

The program “Development of small-scale power engineering” was created. Leading research institutes and enterprises were financed by the Soviet government for realization of the program. The enterprises and institutes in their turn altered the design and production technologies in accordance with their own interests, which certainly was the wrong way. That is the reason why the project failed. There were some other domestically designed programs for small-scale energy development. They suggested a range of activities in Russia’s Far North aimed at the development of renewable energy sources, including small-scale energy, within the period of 1996-2001. The program was suggested by the RF Ministry of Energy and the governmental Committee for Northern Problems. When the government faced more reforms, the committee was abolished, and the program was attached to another program, “Fuel and Energy.” Although the program remained fixed on paper, it was financially destroyed.

Today, the development of small-scale power engineering faces many problems in Russia. The legislative support required for the development is insufficient, and local regional authorities won’t agree to work on the program. Financing is another great problem. We decided to discuss the problems of small-scale energy in Russia with Director General of the Inset company, Candidate of Technical Sciences, and member of the International Energy Agency, Yakov Blyashko.

The government stated in September that budgetary financing would be provided only to those companies constructing energy plants that successfully undergo an examination of the State Construction Committee. What are the reasons to expect that problems may arise with projects of small-scale hydroelectric power stations?

- The stages of small-scale hydroelectric power stations disagree with the stages of the building code, as there are no standards for small-scale hydroelectric power stations in Russia. To construct a large hydroelectric power station, special research is held in the area designated for construction and the details are studied for several years. When the construction of smaller hydroelectric power stations is considered, it’s perfectly clear that no large-scale research conducted on the rivers where the stations are to be built (unlike construction of larger stations). It’s also a problem to get the necessary documents observing the conduct of a small river within 15-20 years.

These observations are necessary to design and build a small hydroelectric power station. A small hydroelectric power plant is not simply a smaller variant of a large station. It must satisfy quite different requirements; we have been working on these requirements for several years. That is why we are so afraid that the expertise of the State Construction Committee will make the same demands to small hydroelectric stations as to large ones. If this happens, our projects won’t pass the examination successfully, of course. We have recently completed the development of two hydroelectric power plants in Altay, and continue work on one more project there. Two business plans for the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the republic of Buryatia have been completed as well. I am afraid that we’ll have to suspend our work for some time. We are going to establish a dialogue with the governmental department in charge overseeing our projects. We hope that they will treat our projects with understanding.

Do you mean you are promoting an innovative sphere?

- We are developing micro- and mini hydroelectric power plants. The very idea of small-scale power engineering originates from the old times. In fact, large-scale power engineering appeared from the small-scale power engineering. It was steadily developing, but later, it was decided that small-scale hydroelectric power stations were in no demand at all.

How did you start working on your projects?

- We began with analytical processing of the historically developed approaches to designing the equipment necessary for small-scale power engineering. We reviewed several technologies used for the construction of important components. I spent eight years in negotiations with design institutes. We wanted to explain our ideology of small-scale power engineering to experienced specialists working in the sphere of large-scale power engineering. It was really very important to explain that the designing and construction small-scale energy objects should be done in a special way, different from the approaches used in the construction of large-scale energy objects. Moreover, they must be operated in a different way. However, my remarks and suggestions were often ignored. People couldn’t understand that we suggested using a non-regulated turbine system, a system which contradicted the norms used for the past 60 years.

Is the turbine itself your know-how?

- The turbine is definitely our product. There are many nuances that are maintained by our specialists; they take part in the assembly, acceptance, and control of every component part delivered for assembly. This means that without the participation of our specialists in the production line, the turbine won’t meet the technical documents and technical requirements that we fixed in the documents. This is what concerns the turbine. As a rule, an aggregate consists of three basic components: turbine, generator, and controlling system. The performance attributes of the whole of the aggregate mostly depend upon the controlling system. Our design bureau not only currently designs and develops the controlling system, the system is also assembled and tuned by our specialists. It is a really important problem, as the controlling system is the brain of the whole of the aggregate; it guarantees unmanned exploitation, trouble-free running, switching on and off, and the regulation of the aggregate’s work.

It should be mentioned that our aggregates don’t operate at large-scale hydroelectric power plants, where the maintenance staff is traditionally large. Our machines operate in the regions where there are just a few people with a technical education, which certainly poses serious problems. That is why, the smarter the machine itself is, the easier it is to operate it. The controlling system is made on the basis of an industrial controller programmed here. It’s important that we don’t supply turbines to our clients; we supply an aggregate to the client. A turbine, a generator, and a controlling system are joined into a hydro-aggregate right on the spot. It is assembled, tuned, and adjusted by our specialists.

Why do you fail to come to agreements on small-scale hydroelectric power plants with the RF regions? Don’t they need electricity?

- We had and currently have problems for the reason that Russians don’t have an ecologically oriented way of thinking; they have quite different approaches to the problem. People in Russia are so used to being supplied with everything. Fuel was even supplied with helicopters. It was done three times a week in a remote village with a population of 600 people. Who financed the supplies? Where did the money come from? The supplies were financed from the state budget, which is why nobody in Russia’s regions took interest in the problem of the financing the supply of fuel. Today, one flight of a helicopter with fuel costs hundreds of thousands rubles. That is why when fuel is delivered to clients, its price increases dozens of times. You understand that nobody is ready to pay such great sums for fuel today.

However, those people who live in remote places and who are used to receiving fuel without problems just a few years ago don’t understand the obvious reality. There are lots of settlements and villages in the remote parts of Russia, where energy is generated at diesel electric power stations; diesel fuel is supplied there in the network of the northern supply program. None of the villagers living there pay for the electric energy generated at those diesel stations. This is considered to be quite normal. We have recently built a hydro-electric power station there; the construction was financed from the federal and local budgets, and we got loans from a bank. The RF Ministry of Energy asks a reasonable question: when will the station be repaid for. However, the villagers don’t understand the question: they say they have no money to pay for the electric energy generated at the station. There is no solution yet to this serious problem.

What can be done in this situation?

- It is a very serious problem to find a way-out in this situation. For instance, it is possible to set up a new production of agricultural products. My objective is to create technology under conditions of financial deficit and lack of developed technical solutions, so that it can operate in Siberian frosts, and can be run by non-qualified workers. This is my objective, and I am working on it. When I apply to the RF Ministry of Energy with my projects, I am often asked who will cover the construction of small-scale power engineering objects. This is the problem that is to be settled by the local authorities. I am sure that they will be able to settle the problem; it will take them a lot of time, but they will be a success with it.

What do you think is the biggest problem of your industry development?

- The biggest problem of small-scale power engineering in Russia is lack of a legislative support for development of renewable sources of energy. Some time ago, a law was adopted for this sphere, but for several reasons, it wasn’t approved by the president, although it had been previously passed by the State Duma. A new law is currently being developed. What does it mean to pass a law? It means to appropriate money from the federal budget. This must be real money meant to supply people living under extreme weather conditions with electric energy.

It’s impossible to develop the energy industry without the assistance of the state. This is an obvious fact for the people in all countries of the world. It is funny, but we recently started up a hydroelectric power station in Panama; it is constructed is in accordance with the program developed for electric energy supplies to the Russian remote regions. However, although the program was developed and approved in Russia, we failed to launch it in the Russian northern districts. We failed to find enough financing for the realization of the program. That is the answer to the question of how we develop the hydroelectric energy system in a Russian manner.

Are there any positive tendencies in development of the sphere? Are you optimistic about you work?

- Certainly. The Russian president is currently paying special attention to the small-scale power engineering. Constructors of hydroelectric energy stations are highly qualified workers; they can construct everything, as, traditionally, the construction of a hydroelectric power station includes bridges, dams, and different kinds of buildings. This means that we manage to cope with strategic problems.

The interview was prepared by Marina Mayakova PRAVDA.Ru

Photo: Inset Director General Yakov Blyashko

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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