The capacity of each of the two hydroelectric power stations is 24.9 MW, RusHydro said in a statement. For the sake of comparison, at the beginning of 2019, the total installed capacity of hydro stations in Karachay-Cherkessia stood at 329 MW, according to figures from the region’s Trade and Industry Ministry – of which 300 MW was linked to the Zelenchuk pumped storage hydro plant, whose hydraulic units were brought on stream in 1999, 2002 and 2016. In 2017, a small hydro power station, known as Big Zelenchuk, was built on to the dam of its water intake structure with a capacity of 1.26 MW. Both that facility and the Zelenchuk hydrostation and pumped storage hydro plant belong to RusHydro.
“Small hydroelectric plants can be a highly effective decision on the road to a low-carbon future,” said Eugene Rusu, a professor at the Universith of Galati in Romania. “They require a capital investment no greater than a large wind turbine installation and small hydropower stations leave behind a smaller environmental and visual footprint.” Nadia Eshra, a researcher at the National Water Research Center (Egypt), agrees with him: in her view, due to the relatively low capital costs, small hydropower plants could be the optimal solution given the downturn in the global economy.
And that is one of the reasons for the gradual rise in popularity of small hydropower stations. According to UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, their global installed capacity in 2013 stood at 71 GW. By 2016, that figure had risen to 75 GW and by 2019 to 78 GW. In terms of the world-wide structure of hydropower capacity, small stations account for 7.5 %, according to UNIDO, while all types of renewable energy sources account for 4.5 %.
The installed capacity of small hydropower plants is also gradually increasing in Karachay-Cherkessia. In 2020, RusHydro brought on stream another small hydropower station in this region —the Ust-Jegutinsky SHPP (capacity 5.6 MW) and in 2021-2022, it will be the turn of the two Krasnogorsk stations. In addition to generating electricity, they will also be used to level out fluctuations in the water level that occurred when the Zelenchuk hydropower and pumped stations altered their operations. And that will eliminate seasonal limits in capacity – about 70 MW, according to RusHydro.
RusHydro has similar plans in other regions of the North Caucasus. These include the Barsuchkovskaya SHPP (with a capacity of 5.25 MW), located in Staropolye, and the Verkhnebalkarskaya SHPP (with a capacity of 10 MW), launched in Kabardino-Balkaria in 2020. By 2024, the company intends to build a 19.1 MW PSygansu SHPP in Kabardino-Balkaria and a 10 MW Bashennaya SHPP in Chechnya. In 2020, both of these projects were selected under the government’s programme for the construction of generating facilities based on renewable energy sources.