Little less than a decade ago, nuclear shills could get away by scoffing at renewables, given the promise at that time of a nascent ‘nuclear renaissance’. In the intervening years, while the script has changed overwhelmingly in favour of green energy, the nuclear-versus-renewables debate too has progressively veered off from an ‘either-or’ debate to a more overlapping narrative.
Russia’s state atomic energy corporation Rosatom figures among a handful of nuclear utilities to have bucked the broader downturn in the atomic power business, with eight reactor units in Russia and 34 nuclear reactors in various stages of planning and construction across more than a dozen countries — the largest shelf of projects globally. Creditable, considering the fate of some of its peers — Toshiba has recently pulled its
US nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse out of the nuclear construction business while French utility Areva’s continues to struggle with accumulated losses of Euro 10 billion on its books. Despite the relatively robust position in its mainstay nuclear business, Rosatom is now pushing the envelope by revving up renewable projects in sectors such as wind energy and small hydro. Experts suggest that even for other major utilities invested entirely in the nuclear value chain, a move to diversify some of the sectoral risks could make sense.
The Russian nuclear major has started by rolling out wind farm projects in its home market of Russia, with plans to take wind projects to the international market in the due course “after accumulating enough experience on the domestic market”, First Deputy Director of Rosatom Corp, Kirill Komarov told reporters on the sidelines of the Atomexpo 2017 conference in Moscow last week. “We plan to develop renewable energy sources in all parts of the world and not only in Russia, but we’ll start doing it after we accumulate enough expertise here,” he said.
A licensing agreement with the Dutch company Lagerwey for the transfer of technology involved in manufacturing component parts of the windfarms is a step in that direction, with Saudi Arabia likely to be one of Rosatom’s first international markets for wind. The group has also initiated preliminary talks with the Indian government and private companies to expand its presence in India beyond the nuclear sector to the new area of mini hydro power projects, with units ranging from 0.5 to 2 megawatts, an official said. The discussions are being done through Ganz Engineering and Energetics Machinery, a 100 per cent Hungarian subsidiary of Rosatom’s engineering division Atomenergomash.
Areva too has tried its hand at renewables, with a portfolio of four energies: wind energy, bioenergy, solar power and hydrogen power. The French company offers turnkey solutions to meet both short — and long — term requirements for clients to bridge the energy demand in standard and peak consumption periods.
Rosatom’s Komarov has exuded confidence that Russian utility is in a good position for bagging contracts for construction renewable energy facilities abroad. “On the whole, we think our chances for working abroad are fair enough because whatever country we come to, we settle firmly there,” he said at the three-day expo held in the Russian capital last week. At a series of bidding rounds held during the last two years, Rosatom has bagged bids for construction of wind farms in Russia with the overall output capacity of almost 1,000 MWs.
Rosatom considers wind energy projects to be one of the most promising of their non-nuclear growth projects, with estimates suggesting that the it expects the wind energy market in Russia to reach a turnover of about 200 billion Rubles a year ($3.3 billion) by 2024. In July 2016, Rosatom announced that the company plans to build three wind farms in Russia with a total capacity of 610 MW. This amounts to about 17 per cent of the total wind power capacity planned to be commissioned in Russia until 2024.
Among the pacts signed at the expo, Rosatom’s international branch initialled an agreement to cooperate with Saudi Al-Yamama Group on potential projects in the construction of wind farms in Saudi Arabia.In markets such as India, where Rosatom is already involved in building the Kudankulam nuclear power project, the Corporation is betting on a specialised technology for mini hydro projects. Rosatom is already in preliminary talks with the Indian government and private companies to expand its presence in India beyond the nuclear sector to the new area of mini hydro power projects, with units ranging from 0.5 to 2 MW.
The discussions are being done through Ganz Engineering and Energetics Machinery, a 100 per cent Hungarian subsidiary of the Rosatom’s engineering division Atomenergomash. “We consider this as another opportunity for cooperation between Rosatom and India, and our office in India is working in this direction. We are discussing, the issues both with the government, and private bodies,” Rusatom International Network president Alexander Merten told journalists on the sidelines of the Atomexpo.
Rusatom International Network is involved in marketing and business development of a number of Rosatom projects abroad. The small hydro-power plants are pre-fabricated, and assembled in the factory and then supplied to the customer, with the cost of these projects pegged at approximately 1 million euro per megawatt (around Rs 7.1 crore per MW, varying with topography). A pilot installation of the mini hydel plants is currently on in Georgia, with discussions also underway with Turkey and the Middle East countries.
(The writer’s trip to Atomexpo was sponsored by Rosatom)