By Alexander Nebukin
Belarusian power engineers have long pondered how to use wind, solar, geothermal and hydro power to maximum benefit, with alternative energy technologies piloted countrywide. However, these are yet to become widespread, with many only existing as single projects. Traditional gas, oil and oil products still dominate the domestic energy sphere and will continue to do so until alternatives are embraced on a more ambitious scale.
Over 80 percent of Belarusian energy resources are imported, with our country consuming almost 40m tonnes of conventional fuel annually. The figure has been falling (down from 63m tonnes in 1990) but we are still far from energy independence.
Experts calculate that wind turbines account for just 0.008 percent in the country’s energy balance. Because of the absence of special programmes to stimulate wind power, it will take at least 10 years, by some estimates, for turbines to pay for themselves. However, specialists note that the country boasts powerful wind potential, so large and small wind farms could work efficiently.
Recently, one such unit began operations at Grodnoenergo while the CIS’ most powerful (and tallest) wind turbine was launched near Novogrudok. In a short period of time, it has become evident that wind power really can bring dividends. Already, German investor Enertrag is helping implement a wind park project, with turbines located on the country’s highest hills, in the Minsk Region’s Dzerzhinsk District.
In fact, the payback period for wind power in Belarus is considerably lower than that in a number of European states. Investors hope that Dzerzhinsk’s wind park will pay for itself within a decade. Anatoly Smirnov, a candidate of technical sciences, tells us, “Unfortunately, projects constructed on a small scale take longer to pay for themselves. However, the growing price of electricity speeds up the payback period of investment projects. Just five years ago, wind farms were taking 20 years to recoup their costs.”
Constant drips wear away a stone
Belarus’ flat landscape is an undeniable fact, so how can hydroelectric stations really come into play, except on a very small scale? Several significant hydroelectric power stations are being constructed however, designed in our Republic.
Unlike wind power, water energy has long been used in the Belarusian power system, dating from the late 1950s, when over 150 small hydroelectric power stations were located by rivers and ponds. However, only four survived the USSR’s collapse. Today, Grodno is building a hydroelectric power station on the Nieman River while Polotsk’s hydroelectric power station is being built on the Zapadnaya Dvina River. Specialists believe that around 800m kW/h of electricity will be produced by these two new stations, replacing 226m cubic metres of imported natural gas annually.
Rules of saving
Alternative energy is part of the 2011-2015 Strategy for the Development of Energy Potential, with the state pinning great hopes on renewable energy sources. These could become the basis of the country’s energy security once technical barriers are overcome. By 2020, Belarus should have reduced its power consumption by up to 210-220kg of oil equivalent per $1,000 of GDP, matching the level of developed European states. It’s expected that, by 2015, GDP power consumption should be reduced by at least 50 percent.