[b]Energy security is always among the most topical global issues. Taking into account that it is directly linked to such topics as climate change, environmental pollution and the search for alternative sources of energy, it is a number one priority worldwide — including for Belarus [/b]Like other countries, we are searching for cheap, renewable, clean sources of electricity and heat. The European Union leads in this branch and has outlined a goal: to ensure 20 percent or more of its renewable energy by 2020. The transition to new technologies is not cheap of course; only wealthy states can afford the research and industrial production of such technologies. However, it’s a case where the greedy pay double; we must prepare in advance — otherwise, we’ll be buying oil at the price of gold! Belarus’ plans are similar to those of the EU, hoping to make 25 percent of its energy renewable by 2025. To achieve this, a national programme for 2011-2015 was recently adopted — now being realised. It envisages the development of local and renewable energy sources and, according to forecasts, is to cost about $3.5bn.
Like other countries, we are searching for cheap, renewable, clean sources of electricity and heat. The European Union leads in this branch and has outlined a goal: to ensure 20 percent or more of its renewable energy by 2020. The transition to new technologies is not cheap of course; only wealthy states can afford the research and industrial production of such technologies. However, it’s a case where the greedy pay double; we must prepare in advance — otherwise, we’ll be buying oil at the price of gold! Belarus’ plans are similar to those of the EU, hoping to make 25 percent of its energy renewable by 2025. To achieve this, a national programme for 2011-2015 was recently adopted — now being realised. It envisages the development of local and renewable energy sources and, according to forecasts, is to cost about $3.5bn.
According to the document, Belarus plans to double its use of local and renewable energy sources by 2015 (to reach 5.7m tonnes of oil equivalent). In all, 2.4bn cubic metres of imported natural gas are to be substituted, while ecological matters are to be tackled. As a result of renewable energy sources replacing fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by around 2.7m tonnes by 2015.
Huge melting pot
The theme of local energy use was high on the agenda during the Belarusian President’s recent trips through the regions. In mid-May, he visited Belkotlomash Scientific-Production Enterprise, in Vitebsk Region’s Beshenkovichi District. He noted that the efficient use of small energy sites must be established countrywide, with more labour efficiency. During Mr. Lukashenko’s visit, the production of energy saving domestic heating boilers — using peat, woodchips and other similar materials — was defined as an important component for strengthening the country’s energy independence.
Belkotlomash is among the leading producers of boiler equipment in Belarus. Established in 1990, it specialises in the development and production of water heating and steam boilers using various fuels; its boilers can even burn damp peat and, being economical, suit villages, hospitals, schools and farms.
The President was given a demonstration of a new 3MW boiler which can generate 2.5MW of heat and 250kW of electricity. “We have an example of the new boiler but lack the system of transition to local fuels,” noted Mr. Lukashenko, adding, “This system must be created. We should also train people in how to use it. We sometimes observe that, having a good boiler and good communication lines, we face a stone age when it comes to operating it.”
Warmth of northern region
Vitebsk Region is the leader in mastering local fuels in Belarus. The Chairman of Vitebsk Regional Executive Committee, Alexander Kosinets, tells us that, by 2013, his region is to increase its share of local fuels for housing and communal utilities enterprises from 60 to 75 percent (compared to 40 percent countrywide on average). “Initially, we planned to reach this figure by 2015 but are now setting an ambitious task. We failed earlier, as we lacked the necessary boilers, but are now ready to completely change the structure of our fuel balance,” he explains.
A regional programme is also being implemented to develop small energy sites; 68 such facilities are planned for construction. According to Mr. Kosinets, this will allow natural gas consumption to be halved by 2015. If all comes to pass, Belarus will take another step forward on its path to energy security. Of course, it’s impossible to fully substitute Russian gas and oil but alternative routes of hydrocarbon deliveries, the construction of a nuclear power station and the development of local and renewable sources should help significantly reduce Belarus’ dependence on Russian supplies. The economic feasibility of this policy is undoubtful.
Woodcutting generates chips
Belarus abounds in forests, lakes and marshes. The national programme of local and renewable energy development for 2011-2015 was adopted in May, envisaging the construction and modernisation of 164 Belarusian local fuel facilities — primarily those which use wood chips. To achieve the target, annual wood fuel usage should rise to 10.5mln. cubic metres by 2015, with the production of woodchips rising to 1.5mln. cubic metres. In 2011, these figures stand at 9mln. and 800,000 cubic metres respectively. Forestries are to develop an additional 1,000 hectares of quick growing, hardy species — such as alder — to meet fuel purposes.
Deputy Prime Minister Valery Ivanov notes, “Every year, more forests mature in our country: in 2001, they accounted for 7.9 percent and exceed 10 percent at present. This trend is vital to the long term sustainable development of the branch.” The fuel avenue of the forestry branch is now a priority. Vileika Forestry is already producing wood fuels, having pioneered them in Belarus. In addition, several other forestries have such facilities, of various capacities. By 2015, seventy should be operational, able to produce 1.5mln. cubic metres (stipulated by the state programme). Apart from ensuring the country’s energy security, the development of this branch will, importantly, help create new jobs in villages.
Other ambitious goals are related to peat, which Belarus boasts in great quantities. It is far easier to convert large facilities to peat usage than woodchip usage. Over the next four years, peat is to be used at the Architecture and Construction Ministry’s cement plants and, from 2015, 600,000 tonnes of reference fuel will be supplied.
Philip Peck, an associate professor at Lund University (Sweden), notes that many European states have optimised their energy production systems by de-centralising and using local fuels. He cites a Danish electricity station as an example, which consumes straw supplied from a 50km radius; 40 tonnes of straw can generate electricity to supply 18,000 houses.
Our country lacks enough sun to install solar power but, as Mr. Peck states, European experience of bio-fuel consumption and wind generators could be applied in Belarus. On May 18th, the largest Belarusian wind generating facility was launched near Novogrudok, with a capacity of 1.5MW. It should produce 3.8mln kW/h of electricity annually and is the first industrial wind generator for a future park of 7-8 facilities. These will satisfy the needs of a district centre.
The chief engineer at Lida’s electric network company, Victor Soroko, explains, “It was initially decided to construct a wind energy facility on Novogrudok Hill. According to specialists, it best suits the conditions needed. Last year, we announced a tender and a Chinese firm offered the best value for money. We began to liaise, with our specialists even visiting China to become convinced that we need such a facility.”
The wind generating plant is situated on one of the highest points in the country: 315m above sea level, near the village of Grabniki, several kilometres from Novogrudok. Being 80m tall, it can be seen from a distance. In April, its 40m blades began to rotate and the first megawatts of energy were generated.
Mr. Soroko is convinced that further construction of wind turbines is likely. “Of course, we need to continue building such facilities. This site is suitable for six, which will make it easier to service them. Moreover, we have no doubt that they’ll be efficient. Their blades begin turning when the wind speed reaches 3 metres per second but 4.5 metres is really needed to make them efficient. The usual wind speed here is 5-6 metres per second; only a few days each month register lower speeds. However, to build new wind turbines, we need to see, in practice, how they operate. Only then will Grodnoenergo make a decision.”
The project is to cost Br13bn but it’s hard to say how long it will take for the investment to pay for itself, since electricity prices are ever changing, depending on the market situation. Initially, the payback period was estimated at 15 years but Grodnoenergo’s chief engineer, Yuri Shmakov, thinks the period could be shorter — taking into account the Dollar’s rising value and growing prices for fossil fuels. The facility should save about 65 tonnes of reference fuel per month (worth Br30mln.).
Another three sites have been chosen in Novogrudok District for the construction of wind generating facilities, with a capacity of up to 60MW. They are expected to produce about 215mln. kW/h of electricity annually, saving over 50mln. cubic metres of natural gas. Apart from Novogrudok, Grodno Region is also being studied for its suitability. The districts of Smorgon and Oshmyany could be suitable for wind farms.
In line with the national programme, over 200 wind facilities are to be constructed in Belarus, with a total capacity of 450MW. Additionally, 33 hydro-electric stations are to be built or reconstructed, accumulating up to 100MW of energy.
Instead of epilogue
However attractive alternative energy might seem, oil, gas and nuclear power will remain the major sources of heat and electricity in the future. On being asked why Belarus needs its own nuclear power station, Belarus’ Deputy Energy Minister, Mikhail Mikhadyuk, tells us, “Some play to the gallery, making money and scoring points by questioning whether Belarus really needs its own nuclear power station. They say we should be satisfied with wind generating facilities! Actually, no state is fully satisfied with them.”
According to Mr. Mikhaduyk, over 20 percent of Belarus’ fuel is local but a far larger proportion is required. “We need electricity in the necessary volumes, at a moderate price. At present, we import 80 percent of our energy resources. We must ensure that energy is affordable for economic entities and the public, while allocating money to develop the energy field. A nuclear power station must be the basis, with others built upon it,” he stresses, explaining state priorities.
By Igor Kolchenko