Russia Turns to Sun, Wind to Improve Electricity Supply for Country’s Far East

Russian company RAO ES East will construct 178 renewable energy facilities with a total capacity of 146 MW within the coming five to seven years at the country’s Far East and close to the Artic Circle, according to a statement of the company’s management. Implementation of the program will require about RUB 20 billion ($350 million), but the investments will shortly pay itself as the project will save up to RUB 2.06 billion ($30 million) per year on the supplies of fuel to the remote cities and villages in the country. The target plan is to bring the level of alternative sources in the total structure of energy supply of the Far East to 40 percent.

Projects Will Speed Up

Russian state-owned company RAO ES East is responsible for the power supply of the Far East regions with low population density and weak network connections. It manages the power systems of hundreds of villages surrounded by tundra and taiga only, most of which are isolated from the general power supply system of the East. According to official information, they get power from 500 diesel power plants with a total capacity of 670 MW.

Cost of energy production there can reach up to RUB 100 ($1.5) per kWh. Annually, that requires 140,000 tonnes of diesel fuel worth RUB 6.3 billion ($ 90 million). The cost of imported fuel is RUB 45,000 ($800) per tonne, and it is gradually growing together with the tariffs on railway transportation. According to the management of RAO ES East, the company already made the first moves towards the development of renewable energy sources in the region. The current economical crisis in Russia will speed up the process.

“In 2012-2015, RAO ES East has commissioned eight solar plants and three wind power generation facility,” RAO ES East Deputy Director General Alexei Kaplun said. “In general, the implementation of the program will let us to save up to RUB 2.06 billion ($30 million). These funds will be used for the return on investment in renewable energy facilities, while after that become an effective tool constraining the rise of tariffs on renewable energy.”

Kaplun added that the approach to renewables will not only reduce the amount spent on fuel purchasing, but also will cut the amount spent on subsidies for transportation of fuel to the remote areas.

According to RAO ES East, to ensure payback and attract investors, it is necessary to fix the current tariff of diesel generation by 10-15 years, while in some cases for only seven to 10 years. RAO ES East is already in negotiations with a number of Asian and European suppliers of equipment for projects. However, so far the company has to discuss the issue of tariffs separately with the regulators of each region of the Russian Far East.

First Projects Already Implemented

RAO ES East already launched several projects in the area of renewable energy. The first solar power station has been launched near the Batagai village in the Verkhoyansk area of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). The station, the first stage of which was built this summer, has become the most powerful solar plant in the world above the Arctic Circle. So far, its capacity reached only 1 MW, but the project involves increasing the installed capacity up to 4 MW.

“In general we are planning to build other small sun power plants in Yakutia in a bunch-forming way: constructing the same facilities with the same capacity, thus reducing the costs of equipment and logistics, as well as reducing the time of construction through the effective use of technology and human resources,” Kaplun said. “When the plants will be running, uniformity and proximity of the projects within the bunch will let us save on maintenance and equipment stocks.”

The most active introduction of wind-diesel systems is already underway in Kamchatka, where many communities are also isolated from the major energy sources.

“Today, on the Kamchatka Peninsula, we have some of the highest electricity tariffs in the Far East,” Vladimir Ilyuhin, governor of Kamchatka Krai, said. “Firstly [the tariffs are] affected with the high cost of diesel fuel, which has to be brought to the region and, of course, the cost of delivery itself.”

The total capacity of the wind power plants should amount to 16 MW, with the first one already launched on the Bering Island. The plant can save up to 50 percent of fuel for power generation of the island. The same project will be implemented in eight remote territories of the region, according to officials. The details of other projects are still developing, RAO ES East said.

Lead image: Rural road in siberian taiga, Sakha, Russia. Credit: Shutterstock.

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