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November 2009
Desperate for Diagnostics

Desperate for Diagnostics

05 November 2009

Alexey Klimov - Managing director, Pergam

There’s a big problem with Russia’s electricity supply infrastructure, says Alexey Klimov, Managing Director of Pergam Engineering, one of that country’s most successful suppliers of services and equipment for electrical and non-destructive testing. And the problem is that almost all of the generating, transmission and distribution plant is decades old, and its present condition is largely unknown.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, history is to blame. In the Soviet era, all of the plant was government owned. Then, in 1987, came the period of perestroika – literally, restructuring – when ownership, by and large, passed to public-private partnerships. A key characteristic of the public-private era was lack of investment. Very little new plant was installed, and existing plant was poorly maintained.

In more recent times, ownership of the electricity supply infrastructure has changed yet again, and most of it – except for Russia’s national grid – is now in the hands of private organisations. These organisations, which include many multinational energy supply companies, are finding that they have little in the way of dependable information about the plant they have inherited, and in particular about its current condition and reliability.

To address this issue, there is a desperate need for diagnostic and testing services          of the type provided by Pergam Engineering. The magnitude and urgency of this need was, unfortunately, emphasised by the accident that occurred on 17th August 2009 at Russia’s largest hydroelectric power plant – the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant in southern Siberia, operated by RusHydro. In essence, an explosion occurred in the room where the turbines are located, which destroyed the walls and ceiling of the room. One of the plant’s ten turbines was totally destroyed, two were partly destroyed and three others were damaged. At least 70 people lost their lives and the total cost of the accident is expected to be around €1 billion.

While detailed investigations into the cause of the explosion are still ongoing, first indications are that poor maintenance was, at the very least, a contributory factor. It also seems likely that the protective relay systems that might have helped to minimise the extent of the problem failed to operate correctly, something which could probably have been avoided had they been tested regularly.

Alexey Klimov notes that, despite uncertain condition of much of Russia’s existing electricity supply infrastructure, there is little to suggest that equipment replacement on a large scale will take place in the foreseeable future. Instead, the emphasis is still firmly on repair and refurbishment.

A notable exception to this is three large nuclear power stations that are currently under construction. In fact, despite the country’s extensive oil, gas and coal resources, Russia’s future energy policy is biased toward the expansion of its nuclear capacity. At present, around 17% of the country’s electrical energy is derived from nuclear sources but the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) has announced targets for increasing this to 23% by 2020 and 25% by 2030.

In contrast, Alexey Klimov reports that there is at present little interest in renewable energy sources such as wind generation or wave power. He suggests that this is due to Russia’s abundant fuel resources and energy prices that remain very low, factors that diminish the attractions and the economic case for green generation. Nevertheless, he notes that there is growing concern over emissions, greenhouse gases and global warming, so it is possible that attitudes may change.

In summary, Alexey Klimov sees the Russian power generation and distribution sector as dynamic and reasonably well funded, even though its emphasis will for a long time, be largely on prolonging the life of existing plant rather than investing in new.

He also notes that Russia is closely aligned with Europe in many ways – its electrical standards are, for example, modelled on those of the IEC rather than those of the American IEEE – but that its energy policy is unique, particular with regard to its emphasis on nuclear expansion rather than investment in renewable energy sources.