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Renewable energy globally and in Russia in 2010: When will Russia commit to green energy possibilities?

Russian Hydroelectric DamST. PETERSBURG - 2010 marked another year in alternative energy's steady advance across the globe: More and more countries seem to grasp the benefits of renewable energy and start making concrete moves toward introducing power and heat producing technologies based on green energy sources . Even though, on balance, the share of renewables in global energy production does not yet exceed three percent, experts note a confident growth in this field.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in January to September 2010, the share of energy production based on renewable energy sources (excluding hydropower) grew from two percent to three percent in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member nations, compared to the same period of 2009 ­ just as the share of nuclear energy dropped one percentage point, sliding from 22 percent to 21 percent in the same period. At the same time, fossil fuels and hydropower retained their positions in the OECD energy market, with shares of 62 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Green energy leaders

Leading the race for power production from renewable sources in 2010 was Iceland (with around 25 percent of total energy derived from alternative energy sources, mainly, geothermal energy); Denmark (20.6 percent, with wind being the principal renewable energy source in use); Portugal (18 percent, most renewable energy derived from wave, solar, and wind energy); Spain (17.7 percent, solar energy being the principal source); and New Zealand (15.1 percent, from, predominantly, geothermal energy and wind power).

Of countries that do not hold membership in the OECD, the Vatican, China, and India were leading in investments into the renewables in 2010. Last year, Vatican City completed construction of Europe's largest solar power station ­ an installation that will allow this tiny state give up completely all other energy sources currently in use. The station will produce 100 megawatts of electricity ­ enough to power nearly of 40,000 homes. Inhabitat reports that the Vatican has invested $660 million into this plant, now ready for launch. The main solar array is located on a 740-acre site near the village of Santa Maria di Galeria, but solar panels that were installed on Paul VI's conference hall were put in two years ago and are estimated to have saved the Vatican 89.84 tonnes in oil, the publication says.

India, too, has plans to invest into solar energy. A 1,000-megawatt solar power plant is expected to be built in the state of Gujarat by end 2011, a project estimated at $1.78 billion.

Similarly, the Chinese government keeps actively financing its growing renewables sector. In 2010, China ranked second in the world, after the US, in total volume of power produced from wind energy, leaving behind one of the previously undisputed global wind power leaders, Germany. New wind park projects are under way in China as well.

Wind energy

As regards wind energy, new wind parks kept springing up in various locations across the globe last year, and improved wind generator technologies were being introduced at existing sites. The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and Greenpeace predict that the share of electric power produced from wind energy will reach 12 percent globally by 2020.

One of the recent milestones in wind power development was the signing on December 3, 2010, of a memorandum that sees ten European Union countries build together a unified-production offshore wind park off the coast of the Northern Sea, to a total capacity of 140 gigawatts. The project will be the result of combined efforts of Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, and will both strengthen the position of alternative energy on the European energy market and help promote the creation of a unified energy system to supply power to the European Union.


Bioenergy and its immense possibilities enjoyed increased attention last year ­ another important trend in the development of renewable energy technologies in 2010. Bioenergy, much like other green energy sources, can help achieve a dual beneficial effect: Power production and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. As such, bioenergy became one of the main topics of discussion during the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, in December 2010. New carbon-negative technologies, based on producing energy from various types of biomass, were widely discussed at the Cancun summit and became a subject of interest for the governments of many participating nations.


The growing international cooperation in the sphere of alternative energy, especially at the level of the UN, was helped immensely in 2010 by the activities of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), created in late 2009. This global agreement to further advance the development and use of renewable energy was then joined by 148 countries, though it is yet to be ratified by most of them. The efficiency of this agency's work is an indicator, of sorts, of how serious world nations are about developing green energy sources on their territories.

But 2010 proved a year of challenges for this organisation. Because some of the member countries failed on their commitments to provide support funds to the agency, its budget ended up $8.4 million short of the financing target set for 2010, with Japan and the US being the two countries most behind on their financial obligations (the US Senate, furthermore, is yet to ratify the agreement). Some analysts believe the debacle may have been one of the consequences of the financial crisis of the past three years, soon to be resolved as global economy recovers.

But financial issues are not the only ones plaguing the new organisation. In October 2010, IRENA director Hélène Pelosse, who was expected to helm the agency until 2014, made a surprise announcement that she was leaving her post, providing no reasons for her decision.

Still, it is too early to assess the agency's success as IRENA is yet at a stage where its structure and operations are starting to take shape. Just as with other international institutions, it will likely take many years before IRENA is firmly on its feet and is recognised as a force of influence on the global renewable energy arena.

The case of Russia

In Russia, renewable energy did not make big strides in 2010. Even though locally, smaller-scale projects started appearing in Russian regions last year, in sum total, the share of alternative energy in Russia's energy market remained, as before, at a level of one percent. The Russian energy strategy aims to increase that share to 4.5 percent by 2020. That means the actual task of promoting alternative energy nationally has been set by the Russian government ­ but does the state provide for necessary mechanisms to support the effort?

Throughout last year, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stressed repeatedly the importance of developing alternative energy sources in statements he made at a range of energy and energy efficiency events, including international appearances. However, statements showing a less than unequivocal endorsement of renewable energy policies could frequently be heard from Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Last September, for instance, he said during the VII annual Valdai Discussion Club ­ a global forum for, mostly, foreign experts on Russia, invited for a sustained dialogue about the country's political, economic, social, and cultural development ­ that nuclear energy was the only viable alternative to fossil fuels available today, while other alternatives were for now nothing but trifling business. Still, in December, speaking at an interregional conference of the majority party, United Russia, in Khabarovsk, Putin underscored the importance of developing alternative energy sources ­ in particular, the use of geothermal energy in the Russian Far Eastern region of Kamchatka. Such inconsistency, as highlighted by remarks made by the Russian ruling elite, would certainly put in doubt the country's ability to reach the targets set by the state's energy strategy.

At the same time, experts have stated for many years that in order that alternative energy be given a clear path to grow and develop in Russia, the country needs to have a robust body of law to support it. Upgrading the Russian law to provide a stable regulatory framework for the development of renewable energy is a slow process beset by many challenges. Yet, 2010 saw a number of successes achieved in this field. In October, the Russian government issued a directive stipulating a list of criteria for claiming federal compensation of costs for sites generating energy from renewable sources, provided their output capacity does not exceed 25 megawatts. This should help encourage construction of small power plants producing energy from renewable sources.

Another step forward was a law, signed into force by President Medvedev last December 28, which introduces amendments into the Federal Law "On Electric Power Generation," allowing companies to enter into long-term sale-and-purchase agreements to buy or sell power produced at renewable energy sites at special, wholesale-market, prices.

Yet, even though such documents would help create some of the infrastructure needed to foster renewable energy prospects in Russia, these efforts are, for the time being, few and far between.

For instance, the Russian parliament, the State Duma, is yet to give its attention to a draft law on measures of state support for renewable energy sources in the Russian Federation ­ a bill prepared jointly by the Russian hydropower giant RusHydro and a number of experts in the field.

State pushes for nuclear development to the detriment of renewables

Global experience shows that in order that renewable energy receives the jumpstart it needs for confident development ­ especially, in countries rich in fossil fuels ­ that initial push has to come from the state. In Russia, however, no tangible practical support is given by the federal authorities to this energy sector. In fact, not only did the federal budget for 2010 make no room for financial support of renewable energy projects, but expenditures were included for the coal industry and the nuclear energy industry (over RUR 400 million in subsidies and RUR 53 billion as an asset contribution to the State Nuclear Corporation Rosatom). Some small funding was only provided to entities engaged in developing renewable energy technologies as part of the national programme for the advancement of nanotechnology in Russia ­ a pet project promoted by President Medvedev, who has made Russia's technological modernisation one of the key items on his presidential agenda. Likewise, no subsidies for renewable energy were included into the federal budget set for 2011, nor are any expected in 2012 or 2013.

RusHydro, which the Russian government charged with the responsibility to develop the country's renewables sector ­ aside from the company's direct area of purview, hydropower ­ is so far coming up short with funds of its own necessary to start implementing alternative energy projects. There are, to date, only four such projects that RusHydro has been working on in cooperation with regional authorities:

* a 2.5-megawatt binary cycle power unit at Pauzhetka Geothermal Power Plant in Kamchatka;

* increasing the installed capacity of Pauzhetka Geothermal Power Plant to 13 megawatts through heat recovery;

* a 12-megawatt tidal power plant in Murmansk Region, on the Kola Peninsula in Russia's European North;

* the Far Eastern Wind Power Station in the Far Eastern region of Primorye, a site with a capacity of 36 megawatts.

Russia: Some encouraging trends

One of the more positive results of 2010 for Russia, and one that may indeed give a push to the development of alternative energy in the country, is undoubtedly the launch of a renewable energy project by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) ­ a programme aiming at realising the huge potential of the as-yet untapped Russian green energy market.

Drawing on the support of its Russian partners ­ RusHydro and the Russian Energy Agency among them ­ the IFC plans to bring to fruition no fewer than 30 pilot projects, to a combined power production capacity of 205 megawatts, within the next five years. The overall amount of investments is to total $366 million ­ of which $150 million is to come from the IFC. The programme looks at wind energy (in Russia's South and Northeast, as well as the Far East) and biomass energy (in Russia's South, predominantly) as its priority development areas.

According to the IFC's assessments, it will take $50 billion in investments for Russia to realise its goal of increasing by 2020 the share of renewable energy to 4.5 percent of the total energy economy, as planned by the government. The organisation, which is a member of the World Bank Group, said it would direct an additional $10 million toward fostering a beneficial investment climate in Russia, both at the federal and regional levels ­ as well as aiding Russian banks in furnishing the necessary finance products ­ to stimulate a steady growth in the sector of renewable energy projects in Russia.

For the time being, the bulk of alternative energy investments in Russia has been skirting the market of green power generation per se, getting channelled, instead, into the production of energy-generating equipment or alternative energy sources such as fuel pellets.

The long way ahead

One of the more difficult challenges facing the development of renewable energy in Russia ­ besides the lack of an advantageous regulatory background or any tangible support from government authorities ­ is the indifference on the part of most of Russia's energy consumers. Living in a country that has enormous reserves of fossil fuels at its disposal, the Russian population has grown accustomed to enjoying a steady and seemingly limitless supply of relatively cheap energy. Alternative energy, by contrast, is based on an entirely different approach altogether ­ one that puts the virtue of saving energy before producing it, with the emphasis on producing it in ways that do not deplete nature's resources. Before Russia is even ready to make the leap to a greener energy economy, the very concept of energy efficiency has to take root in Russian minds ­ and workable energy saving solutions created in their homes.

It should also be noted that alternative energy is said to be of the decentralised kind ­ in that it draws, first and foremost, on the strength of small-capacity, community-scale power-producing sites that generate electricity and heat from local sources. The specific organisation of state governance in Russia, with its authorities of all levels seeking to concentrate all power and resources ­ especially, those related to energy production ­ along the "power vertical" introduced by Premier Putin, is a very significant factor to consider, which also casts doubt on the sincerity of the chief state executives' pledges to develop renewable energy in Russia's many regions.

Russia, indeed, may have a very long way to go before it fully harvests the energy potential of the sun, wind, biomass, and hydroresources so richly available in this vast country.

[originally appeared at: http://www.bellona.org/articles/articles_2011/renewables_russia_global ]

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