Yuri Petrenya: Logical to develop renewables in Russia as a niche – not mass – energy segment
What future awaits nuclear power? What lies behind the monopoly situation on world markets for gas turbines? Is there a niche in Russia for renewable energy sources? Yuri Petrenya, a specialist in energy machine building, speaks about all these matters in an interview with Global Energy.

© Photo: Power Machines press service

Petrenya is now head of the Energy Institute of the Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnical University, but was previously the general director of Power Machines, one of the largest energy power engineering companies. He was also head of the Polzunov Scientific and Development Association on Research and Design of Power Equipment.  

Q: A trend in recent years has been the gradual reduction in nuclear power generation. In 2000, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, its share in OECD countries stood at 22.8 % — by 2010, this had shrunk to 20.9 % and by 2019 to 17.9 %, This is reflected in the number of orders for Rosatom, now confined mainly to developing countries. What do you believe are the chances of nuclear power expanding its presence in the developed world?

 A: The share of nuclear generation has indeed shrunk, though in absolute terms, the world-wide volume of generating capacity continues to rise – including as a result of new stations in China (where Rosatom is leading construction of reactors at the Xudapu and Tianwan nuclear power stations) and startups in the use the use of small modular reactors in the United States.

 As for the geographical layout of Rosatom’s projects, these are linked not only to technological competitivity, but also to commercial and political factors. In those countries where these factors come together, new projects have been undertaken, as in Turkey (Akkuyu nuclear power station), India (Kundankulam nuclear power station), Hungary (Paks nuclear power station), Egypt (El Dabaa nuclear power station), Bangladesh (Ruppur nuclear power station). 

And nuclear power is not the sole example of this. The growth in alternative energy would hardly be so rapid if not for the political and budget support from developed countries. And, quite the opposite, the reduction in coal-fired generation is linked to no small extent to tougher conditions under which commercial banks finance plant construction.

Q: As regards alternative generation, BP has some interesting figures. In 2019, the share of renewable energy sources in Russia stood at only 0.05 % of primary energy consumption – in the European Union, that figure stood at 11 %. Do you believe that Russian regulators should undertake additional measures to stimulate the development of renewables? Or, in view of the availability of traditional energy sources,  will they remain a niche development?

A: The fact that Russia is primarily a northerly country with cold, snowy winters naturally places limits on the development of renewable sources of energy as a mass energy sector. But this does not mean that we should not deal with decisions in this sector, focusing on concrete niches. Like the Arctic, for instance, where combined diesel-wind installations reduced fuel shipments to the north, or (without reference to specific geography) the private housing sector where, as in California, small solar panels have become very widespread. Rather than keeping their efforts focused on a global agenda, as is now the case, regulators should concentrate their efforts on those niches where such measures could be feasible and technologically possible.

Q: What do you think the outlook of the regulators should be for thermal power stations, given that in 2019 a programme was adopted for the next 10 years to renew a quarter of the capacity of Russian stations?

A: If you take a look at that programme, you will see that its aim is not to replace old and inefficient stations with new ones, which would allow for tariffs to be lowered and for a rapid return on investment. Rather, it provides for a renewal of only specific parts of generating equipment. This programme lacks the goals inherent in similar programmes adopted in other countries. 

In the United States, for instance, where in the 1980s regulators took on the task of reducing the share of fuel oil in the generating structure (which, at the same time, reduced dependence on oil imports from Middle Eastern countries) and achieved it by stimulating renewable (including hydro) and gas energy. In 1989, fuel oil and diesel stations in the United States accounted for 5.6 % of production and in 2019 that figure stood at only 0.5 %.

Another example is Japan, where there was great dependence on imports, the regulators sought to “sharpen” efficiency. There are no such aims in this modernisation programme.

Q: Another point for the regulators. Russia’s first high-capacity gas turbine is the GTD-110, which the firm UEC Saturn is to start mass producing this year – one of the few firms within the Rostec advanced technology group to receive a loan for this purpose from the Industrial Development Fund. What do you think its market potential might be over the next 10 years? And over what period of time could it become competitive without government assistance?

A: Let me start my reply with the notion that in the structure of Russian generating capacity, there is a prevalence of steam turbine blocks whose efficiency can be improved through gas turbine installations – by integrating gas turbines in a power station’s steam turbine equipment. When market players will find themselves having to reduce fuel costs because of a rise in the price of that fuel – those costs account for about 50 % of the tariff structure – such a technological solution will truly become necessary. And this applies in particular to capacities from 100 to 200 MW – for which the GTD-110 is meant.

The fact that Russia has this development is important for the simple reason that the world market for high-capacity gas turbines is monopoly-like – by virtue of their technology complexity (basically, with all technical issues considered, this is the most complex equipment ever produced by humankind). And that means producers (Siemens, GE, Mitsubishi) can dictate high prices – and that includes services. There is nothing good about this and the entire world is trying to get away from it.

Q: Let’s return to world trends. What will happen to demand for gas turbines in Europe given that in 2020, the level of gas-fired generation in the 27 countries of the EU was the same as in 2010 (20 % according to Ember)?

A: There is no way you can make a long-term forecast. As with fuzzy set theory, producers have to take decisions while having an incomplete range of parameters. I can only say that even with a 20 % share, the European market for gas turbines remains colossal, especially in view of manufacturers’ income from customer support.

Q: Can you give us an idea which sectors of energy machine building will in the next few years be in the vanguard of technological innovation?

A: In theory, manufacturers of gas turbines could achieve a rise in temperature in the combustion chamber to 1,700 degrees Celsius (that’s higher that the melting point of metal). But that would require not only considerable capital investment, but also time. Our current experience shows It took decades to raise the temperature of steam for steam turbines from 560 to 600 degrees.  

There is room for innovation in hydro power (upgrading of flow parts for hydro turbines, participation in power regulation) and in the production of high-capacity electric energy storage devices. But the answer to your question is not limited to technological considerations.

Q: But in terms of commercial and political considerations, what about nuclear power?

A: I am absolutely certain — as competitivity in energy and energy machine building is very much a multi-dimensional process.


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