Wind power in Russia spin idly

The defense industries in the Urals have decided to develop wind farms to generate electricity. The industry managers are hoping for steady demand from the public, as well as subsidies from the government. But experts claim that only the largest wind farms have any hope of succeeding. As columnists for RusBusinessNews have explained, as long as Russia has natural gas, government officials are not going to pay any attention to wind energy.

The public corporation known as the V. P. Makeev State Rocket Center (SRC) in the Chelyabinsk region and the Federal State Unitary Enterprise known as the N. A. Semikhatov Research and Manufacturing Association for Automation in Yekaterinburg have decided to take part in a program to improve Russia’s economic efficiency.

The two companies are proposing to reduce energy consumption and help the environment, by relying on wind power plants of varying capacities. These rocket scientists have started to build small-capacity installations that have a ready market among rural homeowners in the US, Thailand, and South Korea. In Yekaterinburg, they are still working out the design and other characteristics of the wind farm, trying to figure out how to make it affordable for the Russian market.

According to one designer of the wind power plant, Vladimir Krivositsky, the SRC has received about 1,000 orders to build one of these facilities, the cost of each of which would range from 500,000 to 5 million rubles. He claims that their company will be able to build as many as 1,000 wind farms a year, once they begin large-scale production.

Vladimir Timofeev, the laboratory director at the Research and Manufacturing Association for Automation, is counting on government subsidies, but those will only materialize if the company can produce the wind turbines installations, while meeting the technical criteria and simultaneously keeping costs under control.

Government officials, however, have been slow to embrace wind power as a new source of energy. Vladimir Surnin, the administrative head of the military-industrial complex of the Chelyabinsk region Department of Industry, said that his department was not involved in wind farms.
"Our department did nothing more than assist the SRC in finding audiences for their project, including one at the Russian Department of Energy. But they were unable to find anyone who wanted to set up a facility like this in the Southern Urals. There were attempts to negotiate with different regional Departments of Agriculture to help villages acquire wind turbines. But the Department did not evince much enthusiasm – there is no money in the budget."

Victor Rotar, the head of the municipal energy sector of the Chelyabinsk region department of construction, infrastructure, and roads, explained to RusBusinessNews that there is nothing about wind farms in the regional development plans for renewable energy sources.

He recalled that a few years ago some investors from Moscow arrived in the Southern Urals and were looking for suitable sites to set up wind farms. However, in most cases, the available wind speed was insufficient to make setting up a facility worthwhile. In the end, only one place was chosen, Mt. Taganai in the area of Zlatoust.

But when they added up the numbers, they realized that it would be too expensive to put a wind turbine there. Later, the SRC developed more powerful wind farms, designed to be able to utilize slower wind speeds, but Victor Rotar is not certain that they are appropriate for all locations. "We need to see if it makes sense to use wind energy to replace the existing, traditional energy sources. It might be a good idea to include wind turbines in new housing developments. But we haven’t crunched the numbers yet."

Aleksandr Popov, the director of the Center for Renewable Energy, agrees that wind turbines are most practical when used in a private home. Other advantages of wind power installations are that they are durable and easy to maintain.

Drawbacks include the fact that it is almost impossible to use wind turbines in the Urals without backup diesel generators, because the wind speed is insufficient. Even on Mt. Kachkanar, where gusts can reach 5 to 7 meters per second (enough to power a 100 kW installation), the wind dies down during very cold weather. Thus, an installation there would entail additional costs for diesel and fuel.

According to the calculations, a wind-diesel hybrid system consumes only two-thirds the fuel of a diesel-only plant. But still – it takes a long time to recoup the original investment to build the entire facility. On Mt. Kachkanar, where a wind power generator is used by local monks who must bring in their fuel in canisters, an installation can pay for itself in 3 to 4 years, but it can take between 10 to 12 years in other places.

A.Popov believes that it doesn’t make economic sense to set up a wind turbine for a single cottage. Of course it could be used to charge batteries, enabling one to listen to the radio or watch television, but the cost would be prohibitive. Installed costs run $2 per watt of installed capacity.

Thus, for a rural home requiring 4 kW, a wind turbine would cost 240,000 rubles. But, as he points out, a Japanese gasoline-powered generator can be purchased for only 48,000 rubles. Clearly, at an average wind speed of just 2 to 3 meters a second, a wind turbine would never be able to make up the difference in cost, even over the course of its entire life.

Sergey Shcheklein, the chair of the department of atomic energy at Ural State Technical University, believes that Russia should take its cue from the US, which is building more power plants in places with high wind speeds, and then transmitting the energy to places with more people.

The resulting energy is cheaper than that produced by hydroelectric plants. He thinks that in Russia it would be best to place industrial wind farms along the shoreline, meaning in Kamchatka, the Kolsky Peninsula, and all along the coastline of European Russia.

At one time the USSR tried to develop wind energy, but then decided instead to build gigantic hydroelectric plants. As it turned out, this was not the best decision. Experts are convinced that powerful wind turbines could help to safely balance the nation’s energy supplies and provide a unified network of plentiful, cheap electricity.

S.Shcheklein claims that at present, crude hydrocarbons are interfering with the development of wind energy, and it would be wonderful if Russian engineers could use the lull in the oil market to work on technologies for producing renewable energy, "We’re still going to end up going back to what we left behind."

Russian specialists are using the lull in the petroleum market in very specific ways. Petr Pivnik, the chief engineer at the public corporation Urals Engineering Center for Power Energy, told RusBusinessNews that several years ago, at the direction of the Russian joint stock company Unified Energy Systems of Russia, a project was developed for Yakutia and an electronic model was prepared of a wind-diesel hybrid system that had the ability to store energy.

They disbursed the money, but the installation never got off the ground because they could not establish a monopoly in the energy market. As P.Pivnik believes, the fact that Russia has no shortage of energy had a negative effect on the fate of the project.

Experts agree that for non-traditional sources of energy to expand and develop, the necessary resources must be available, as well as someone willing to lead the way technologically. The current situation in the traditional energy industry also has a strong effect on how non-traditional sources of energy develop.

Since energy consumption is not growing in Russia, using wind turbines to produce electricity remains expensive and irrelevant. From time to time a promoter of wind power will arrive on the scene, and sometimes even money materializes, but in the end it all comes to naught.

By Marina Sirina and Vladimir Terletsky, RusBusinessNews,