A Russian program to build tidal power plants 10 times more powerful than any other in the world has been launched in the Arkhangelsk Region, with an experimental modular unit hitting the water at Sevmash Factory to see if Russia can generate electricity with sea energy. With oil and gas prices rising all the time, and Russia experiencing an increasing power squeeze, the focus on renewable energy is more than justified. The cost of tidal power is lower than any other.
Not only are the capacities of future stations unprecedented, but so are the technologies involved. The unique unit built on the order of GidroOGK, a Unified Energy Systems (UES) subsidiary, incorporates a 1,500 kilowatt turbine developed by Russian engineers and scientists, and unmatched by anything else. There are only about 10 tidal power plants in the world today. Some barriers to the expansion of this technology are high construction costs and relatively low efficiency.
The turbine is housed within a vessel 33 meters long, and will be towed to the Barents Sea and set next to the Kislogubskaya tidal power plant. This station, with a 400 kilowatt capacity, was built in the USSR in 1968 and was second in the world, after the French one at La Rance. Now it has been turned into an experimental site for GidroOGK to test new technologies.
The UES has proposed to make the most of this sector. Despite the progress made by alternative energy sources, coal, oil and gas will remain the foundation of the world economy in the first half of this century, as reflected in the documents of the Group of Eight, where Russia holds the current presidency, and its main priority is energy security. However, Russia's generating capacities are unable to meet growing power requirements, while a modernization program for the energy sector approved by the Russian government, and costing $80 billion, will not yield results for several years.
According to a master script for the Russian economy, until 2020 power consumption in Russia will grow by an average of 3.3 percent a year, or at most 4.1 percent. And even very conservative estimates put the growth in demand at more than 50 percent. This means in 15 years Russia will have to build between 153.6 gigawatts and 189.5 gigawatts in new capacities and bring the installed output at all power-generating plants in the country to 314.1 gigawatts to 350.4 gigawatts, according to the latest estimates. This is nearly 50 percent more than Russia had in 2005.
Faced with this prospect, UES has understandably adopted a proactive stance. "If the effort pays off and tests confirm our predictions, this will mean a whole sector of Russian power industry will get an impulse for development. This experimental unit will become a building brick to an edifice with tens of thousands of megawatts," UES CEO Anatoly Chubais said at the launching ceremony. The particulars of the program are as follows: If the new unit proves its worth, Russia will begin building giant-sized tidal power plants with capacities of 10,000 megawatts. To get a proper perspective, one should bear in mind that the largest plant of this type in the world today has a capacity of 240 megawatts.
"Renewable energy sources are vital for economic development. And tidal power is one that we can use," GidroOGK chief Vyacheslav Sinyugin said as he explained the philosophy behind the new program. Its founding fathers are optimistic about the technological breakthrough at Sevmash. But this optimism goes deeper: The Russian school of tidal power is more than 60 years old. In the USSR, Dr. Lev Bernshtein experimented with tidal energy and was the godfather of the Kislogubskaya plant.
If a decision to begin batch production of such units is taken, this will herald a new phase in tidal power development. The industry plans to build the Tugurskaya Tidal Power Plant on the Sea of Okhotsk and the Mezenskaya TPP on the White Sea. Electricity from the latter will flow to Western Europe through the unified East-West grid.
Other countries have become interested in the new Russian development. Chubais thinks the present and the future belong to tidal power, and Russia may lead the world in this field. Independent experts estimate tides can generate up to 15 percent of all electricity consumed in the world.
Tidal power, harnessed by new technologies, may come to play a key role in using environmentally friendly and renewable energy in the twenty-first century, a trend now much in evidence all over the world. The 33-year experience of operating the world's first TPPs—at La Rance in France and at Kislaya Guba in Russia—has proved that tidal plants, unlike thermal plants, do not pollute the air and, as distinct from hydroelectric plants, do not cause floods. Polar Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography findings show that fish pass through tidal plants practically undeterred: field tests on the Kislogubskaya TPP failed to find killed or damaged specimens.
The Research Institute of Energy Structures has concluded that the effects of natural and manmade disasters (earthquakes, floods, or military operations) on tidal power plants are negligible and do not threaten the population in the surrounding areas. The cost of electricity produced at tidal plants has proved the lowest in the Electricite de France grid in the center of Europe (about 15 percent less than at hydroelectric power plants), giving a serious economic drive behind the development of the industry in Russia and abroad.
By Igor Veletminsky