Russia can become one of the most energy-competitive areas based on renewables

A fully renewable energy system is achievable and economically viable in Russia and Central Asia by 2030. Researchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) have modelled a renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia. Results show that renewable energy is the least costly option for the continent and can make Russia a very energy-competitive region in the future.

According to the research, a 100 per cent renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia would cost roughly 50 per cent less than a system based on the latest European nuclear technology or carbon capture and storage. Renewable energy covers the electricity and industrial natural gas demand; not, for example, transport or heating.

"We think that this is the first time a 100 per cent renewable energy system has been modelled for Russia and Central Asia. It demonstrates that Russia can become one of the most energy-competitive regions in the world," emphasises Professor Christian Breyer, co-author of the study.

Transitioning to a renewable energy system is possible due to the abundance of renewable energy resources in the area. This enables building a super grid, which connects different energy resources in the area.

A renewable energy system represents a dramatic change to the current situation. The modelled energy system is based on hydropower, and wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy. Wind accounts for about 60 per cent of the production, whereas solar energy, biomass and hydropower are distributed evenly. The total installed capacity of renewable energy in the system is approximately 550 gigawatts. Slightly more than half of this is wind energy, and 20 per cent is solar. The rest is composed of hydropower and biomass supported with power-to-gas, pumped hydro storage and batteries. In the present situation, the total capacity is 388 gigawatts of which wind and solar energy only account for 1.5 gigawatts. Moreover, the current system has neither power-to-gas capacity nor batteries.

The geographical area of the research covers much of the northern hemisphere. Many of the countries in the area are currently reliant on the production and use of fossil fuels and nuclear power. In addition to Russia, the researched area includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, as well as the Caucasus and Pamir regions, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kirgizstan, and Tajikistan.

One of the key insights of the research is that the integration of energy sectors lowers the cost of electricity by 20 per cent for Russia and Central Asia. When transitioning to a renewable energy system, for example, natural gas is replaced with power-to-gas, i.e. converting electricity into gases, such as hydrogen and synthetic natural gas.

This increases the overall need for renewable energy. The more renewable capacity is built, the more it can be used for different sectors: heating, transportation and industry. This flexibility of the system decreases the need for storage and lowers the cost of energy.

The research was carried out as a part of the Neo-Carbon Energy research project, which has previously shown that a renewable energy system is also economically sensible in North-East Asia, South-East Asia, South America and Finland.

Further information:

Christian Breyer, Professor, christian.breyer@lut.fi, +358 50 443 1929

Pasi Vainikka, Docent, LUT, and Principal Scientist, VTT, pasi.vainikka@vtt.fi, +358 40 5825 987