Russia's Sakha region set to benefit from summer's high solar irradiation

While Russia is preparing to invest $4.2 billion in solar sector by 2020, Sakha, an autonomous region in the country’s Far East, has already embraced solar and, lately, wind power as energy alternatives to cut the high prices for expensive fossil fuels.

Yet hardly any other region encounters more severe weather conditions for solar installations than Sakha, where the temperatures last winter dropped to 50 to 60 degrees below zero Celsius (58 to 74 degrees below zero Fahrenheit).

Although the Sakha plants, which have a total combined capacity of 90 kW, generated an unimpressive 9,826 kilowatt hours during the wintriest months, their operator, JSC Saxaenergo, praises the facilities’ technological abilities to resist the unusual cold and, significantly, the saving.

"By employing the solar plants the region saved over 3,300 tons of the expensive diesel fuel last winter. The technologically advanced, the extreme weather-adapted equipment at the installations has proved to be very efficient and cold-proof," Saxaenergo said in a statement.

Saxaenergo is an affiliate company of JSC Jakutskenergo, which is part of Far Eastern Russia’s major power holding PAO Energeticheskije Sistemy Vostoka.

The company built its first solar power plant in Sakha’s settlement of Batamaij in 2011 and upgraded it in 2012. It launched the second in the village of Juchugeij and, last year, added another two new photovoltaic installations in the settlements of Dulgalax and Kudu-Kiuelj.

In some of them, the temperature plummeted below minus 60 degrees Celsius last winter. But as the sunshine in Sakha is becoming longer and brighter, the region that boasts impressive solar irradiation during the warm seasons — approximately 810 kW per square meter a year — is looking forward to churning out 44,000 kilowatt hours of electricity during June and August.

Saxaenergo put the plants’ total generation at 100,000 kilowatt hours last year, but the operator expects to surpass the mark.

To the solar generation Sakha last year added generation from a 40 kW wind farm in the settlement of Bykov and from a 250 kW single wind park in Tiksi.

As the region estimated saving from solar and wind installations between 9.3 and 16.2 tons of diesel fuel in 2012, the respective figure in the entire Kamchatka Region was thought to be 300,000 tons over the last years.

To decrease its dependency on conventional fuels, the Russian autonomous region has drawn up a program aimed to significanrly ramp up renewables development and expansion.

PAO Energeticheskije Sistemy Vostoka is in charge of the implementation of the program, which foresees putting wind power development on par with solar.

The company also pursues RES development in the neighboring regions of Kamchatka, Primorsky and Khabarovsk.

At an international conference on developing renewables in the Russian Far East to be held in Sakha June 19-21, not only local and federal RES decision-makers are invited to participate, but also some of the industry’s big names from around the world are expected to attend and eventually take on solar or wind power projects.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Saratov region is to start building three to four $30 million solar plants with capacities of between 10 and 15 MW each in the districts of Ozinsk, Novouzensk, Rovensk and Pugacevsk. The latter site is still in question as other options are being considered.

JSC Avelar Solar Technology, part of state energy conglomerate Renova, will oversee construction of the plants, which are expected to begin operation between 2016 and 2019.