From Russia With Love… And Hydropower

I was only three years old when former U.S. President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 and famously challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.

I remember vividly, however, watching through the static of a shaky VHF signal as the wall began falling two years later — reuniting democratic West Berlin with communist East Berlin and marking the symbolic collapse of the Iron Curtain.

The Soviet Union would not officially dissolve until Christmas Day in 1991, when, following the resignation of Gorbachev as president, the USSR’s hammer and sickle were lowered over the Kremlin for the last time and replaced with the Russian Federation’s tricolor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin would later call the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”, though in context, it’s clear he was referring more to the population and territory lost by Russia during the USSR’s dissolution than the ideologies lost.

Statistics show Russia lost about a quarter of its land area when the Soviet Union broke apart, though more significantly, Russia’s population was effectively halved when 15 countries announced their independence as part of the ’91 coup.

And though Russia has most definitely experienced its share of pains through the regrowing effort since, the country is primed for an energy market boom over the coming decades as the government works to revitalize its power sector.

It’s been interesting to me in watching much of the current coverage of the Sochi Olympics just how much of an emphasis Russia has put on using the games as an avenue to portray itself as a modern, industrialized country.

While Russia’s proud cultural heritage has also been on prominent display, the overwhelming message seems to be that the country is both an economic and technological equal to many of its more advanced European and Asian neighbors.

As those in any developed nation can attest, however, an availability of power is perhaps the most important component in that equation, and certainly, Russia is working toward securing its energy future.

HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide chief editor David Appleyard wrote a fantastic piece about the comprehensive state of Russia’s power sector earlier this week, and though I very much suggest reading it, allow me to highlight a few key statistics as they pertain to hydroelectric power:

  • The Russian government sees a need to increase its hydropower investments by US$2.7 billion through 2019, with long-term investments in hydropower expected to reach $125 billion by 2030.
  • Russia’s Ministry of Energy says the country needs at least 3.5 GW of short-term hydroelectric capacity (2013-2019), with an additional 12 GW needed through 2030.
  • The Russian Federation says each of the country’s eight territorial regions has the potential to support as much as 22.5 GW of hydroelectric power by 2030.

Determining how hydropower and other renewables will fit into Russia’s future energy mix remains to be seen, however, and though projections indicate the country still favors nuclear and thermal forms of power generation, the government passed legislation supporting green power in May 2013.

The plan covers the period through 2020 and outlines a plan to build 6 GW of renewable generation — 13% of which is expected to come from hydroelectric projects.

In addition to new hydropower projects, I’ve also written recently about several modernization and upgrade programs by Russian utility JSC RusHydro that have already resulted in close to 740 MW of new cumulative output from existing facilities.

RusHydro says the modernization program will continue this year, while work on other significant projects — including the 3,000-MW Boguchanskaya — is also progressing.

In all, it’s a very interesting time to be covering the Russian market, and I would imagine a very interesting time to be a participant in it.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for

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