Russian solar thermal energy industry on verge of big changes

Solar systems in Sibiria
Solar systems in Sibiria

The Russian solar thermal industry is on the verge of big changes. Despite the massive protests of local oil and gas lobbyists, the national government has approved a set of measures aimed at supporting it.

The adopted measures involve selecting projects in the area of renewables on a cost-competitive basis. The operators of these projects will be eligible to sign a contract on power supply, which will provide a guaranteed return on investments. Preference will be given to projects that have a high level of localisation of production equipment. The first selections are expected to take place this fall.

According to Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, who is the person responsible for the initiative, the winner of the selection process will receive payments for power during a period of 15 years after the launch of the facility, with a guaranteed rate of return on investments of 14 %.

Support meassures in danger

The support measures already in place for the national solar power industry were in danger of being dismantled until now, due to a recent joint letter to Russia's Prime-Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The letter was sent by the Russian "Community of  Energy Consumers," a union that unites the largest consumers of electricity, and the "Council of Power", which is comprised of the largest players in Russia's conventional power supply market.

Most Russian analysts in the field of solar thermal energy and other renewables have welcomed the government's decision to provide support to the domestic solar thermal energy industry and ignore the arguments of opponents. They hope this will improve the situation in the industry, which is still difficult.

The total area of solar power plants in Russia is still small, not exceeding 30,000 m². So far, one of the greatest obstacles to the development of solar thermal energy has been the lack of a federal law and clear state policy in this area. The industry is also still suffering from an acute shortage of affordable equipment.

Despite the existing problems, the situation in the industry has improved significantly over the last several years. In addition, the Russian parliament recently approved a draft of a bill on the development and use of renewable energy.Several months ago, a special Research Council in the field of renewables and in particular solar thermal energy was established at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Experts at the Russian Ministry of Energy have also completed the development of a solar radiation map, which is specially designed for the use of designers of solar systems.

Most imports from Germany

NPO Machinostroyniy, which is based in Reutovo (Moscow region) and is one of Russia's leading machine-building companies, is also currently Russia's largest manufacturer of solar power plants. Another large-scale production facility for solar collectors is located in Ulan-Ude (Buryatia), where mostly Chinese parts are used.

The largest exporters of solar collectors to the Russian market are currently German companies such as Buderus, Viessmann, Wolf, Vaillant and Schüco, Ariston from Italy and the Slovak company Thermosolar.

Most Russian solar power plants are installed in the southern regions of the country, which have the highest levels of solar irradiation. The main areas are Krasnodar, Stavropol Krai and the Astrakhan region. In addition to the southern regions, Buryatia is expected to remain another centre of the Russian solar thermal industry. At present, the total number of installations in the region is more than 90 (more than 4,000 m²).

According to Vitaly Butuzov, professor and Director of Krasnodar Power Technologies, one of Russia's leading designers of solar collectors, solar thermal energy has mainly been developed on the initiative of local authorities and private investors up till now. However, there is a chance that this is set to change significantly in the near future if a sound legislative basis for the industry is adopted and subsidies are ensured.

Eugene Gerden



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