Renewables in Russia shall become inalienable part of energy production

Olga Podosenova

Russia aims to more than quadruple renewable power generation by 2020 and has formidable resources to do so, but its hydrocarbon lobby is stonewalling progress and is unlikely to back down in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, representatives of environmental NGOs consider the target of 4,5% as impermissibly low one. Green energy experts say Russia's expansive coastline, forest cover, favourable topography and abundance of wastes that can be recycled should mean that meeting this goal would not be a problem. Russia can become a world leader in renewables and strive to 20% share of renewables in its energy production.

Participants of the Economic Forum that recently took place in St.Petersburg noted changes in targets for development of nuclear power and oil industry. They paid attention to the remark that "the reasonable price for oil between 120 and 180 US$ per barrel ... allows to take over renewables and make good money''.
The current share of renewables in the power production (without hydro power) is about 1%. In its official energy strategy, Russia stakes at the "big five" - oil, gas, big hydro, coal and 'peaceful atom'. The greatest expectations are laid upon coal and nuclear.

The planned 4,5% of renewables in the energy balance cannot be called ambitious. For comparison, the 'energy conservative' USA have already reached this level. The European reality is 7% and the plans are to reach 20% in the next 10 years.
While global oil majors such as BP and Exxon Mobil boast of innovation in renewable projects, Russian oil companies tend to ignore it entirely.

"Oil and gas majors don't want to give up a piece of the pie, but everyone forgets that we are only talking about 4.5 percent of electricity (from renewables) by 2020, not 20 percent like in Europe," said Alexei Zhikarev, who heads the Russia renewable energy programme for the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, in his interview to Reuters.

The absence of political will is the main barrier for development of renewables in Russia. "I will tell you very simply why there hasn't been progress on renewables in Russia: there aren't any lobbyists close to the top authorities," said Valery Borovyk, chairman of Alliance, a Ukrainian renewable energy company.

However, even being ignored by the federal authorities, renewables lowly but steadily advance in the regions. Altay, Primorskiy Kray and Chelyabinsk region are examples of areas, where alternative energy sources get support from regional authorities. For example, the Ministry of Economic Development in the Chelyabinsk region funds renewables from the Regional programme for innovation activities for several years in a row already.

Andrei Kulakov, a partner in Russian wind project planning company Aktiviti, says: "The Ministry of Energy regularly calls renewables being noncompetitive and requiring subsidies. This is true, but Russia spends more than any country in the world to produce energy with non-renewable sources. Where is the logic?".

Actually, 20% of renewables is more than real for Russia. Not much is needed to reach it: priority for development of renewables in national and regional energy strategies, possibility of integration in the energy grid, legislative incentives, "green tariffs" and support to research. Ideally, the consumer shall have the possibility to choose by himself the energy source. Then the renewables would considerably contribute in the Russia's energy balance.