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Expert Salutes Opening of Verkhnebalkarskaya Small Hydro Power Plant

Verkhnebalkarskaya Small Hydro Power Plant (HPP) starting to operate is an energy landmark, said Oleg Popel, Doctor of Technical Science, Physical and Technical Energy Issues Advisor to Director of JIHT RAS, to the Global Energy Association.

According to Thursday’s report by RusHydro, the company put 10 MW Verkhnebalkarskaya Small Hydro Power Plant in service. The station is the first complete investment project of constructing power generation facility based on renewable energy sources with a capacity supply agreement for the wholesale market. A ceremonial launch in a videoconferencing format was attended by Nikolay Shulginov, CEO of RusHydro and Kazbek Kokov, head of Kabardino-Balkaria.

In Popel’s opinion, the HPP will help diminish region’s power hunger, which is now over 1 billion kWh and currently being recovered by supplies from other federal subjects.

"The choice of a derivative scheme for the construction of the station with two tunnels and water lines with a total length of about 4 km is required to bypass the section of the river, which recorded frequent mud flows", - said Popel.

The scientist noted that the interest in small hydropower renewed at the beginning of the new century due to the need to develop distributed generation and wider use of renewable energy sources. "Construction of small HPPs was included in the Program of RES development in Russia," Popel reminded.

He stressed that the problems with the development of small hydropower in Russia are explained by the fact that this sector was unable to attract investors. "Investors have announced projects for only 160 MW for the period until 2024 out of more than 750 MW originally planned under the program to support small hydropower," Popel said.

The main constraint in this area is the high cost of pre-project development at the pre-investment stage. At the same time, the largest share of capital costs is spent on construction work rather than equipment, Popel said.

The scientist noted that Russia has a fairly large number of small rivers, primarily in the North Caucasus, Karelia, and the Far East, while the energy potential of those is still poorly used. At the same time, previously in the USSR, small HPPs were considered one of the most important sources of energy supply. By the mid-1950s, about 7000 small hydropower plants were built in various regions of the country. However, the course was then taken towards centralisation of energy supply, construction of large thermal power plants with laying power transmission lines in populated areas. By 1980, almost all small HPPs were decommissioned as "less economical" and having "higher staff factor" per unit of installed capacity.

At the same time, the "extremely modest", according to Popel's estimates, plans to commission small HPPs with a total capacity of about 80 MW by 2020, envisioned by the Program of RES development, have not been fulfilled. Nevertheless, according to the NP Market Council, construction of a 79 MW HPP in Karachay-Cherkessia, a 58 MW one in Karelia, and a 21 MW one in Stavropol Krai is still in the plans until 2024.

At the same time, by the end of the first quarter of 2020, Russia had introduced more than 1,500 MW of mainly solar and wind power, while the total annual electricity production of these power plants reached 2 billion kWh.

"The rate of commissioning solar and wind power generation in Russia in 2019 has doubled compared to 2018, with 300 MW commissioned in the first quarter of 2020, with expected commissioning of over 1,000 MW in 2020," - said Popel.

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