The USSR has gained world fame for its original design projects and its solid science research base. The projects in the electrical engineering area and in the area of electro physics launched by one of the country's science centers, Russian Electrotechnical Institute (VEI), which has nowadays the status of the state science center, have been introduced throughout Russian and the former Soviet states territories and are successfully operating there at the moment. We had a talk about the current state of the institute with Nikolay Krupenin, deputy general director, head of the Sci-Tech Centre of Power Equipment at VEI.
– Nikolay Vladimirovich, would you like to tell us what the most promising development trends for your institute are?
These days, the Institute is launching a great number of programs. We've mapped out a few lines of development we consider to be in demand. One of these is the modernization of the power units in thermal power plants, including the diagnostics of its technical state as an essential part. We've gained considerable experience in this area, but, in spite of that, we work closely and share it with one of the most prominent world companies in this field, “Alstom”. Starting from the end of the 1990s and onwards it has been based on modernizing the Soviet equipment (first of all, the equipment produced by the plant “Electrosila”), the latter one operating within the territories of the German Democratic Republic and Poland. Now we're completing the modernization of the 165 MW turbine-generator set which is needed to expand its capacity up to 180 MW after its reconstruction. We are dealing with the turbine, the boiler, all the peripherals (the transformers, the electronics) – in short, the whole unit needs further modernizing as well. Such types of services, in our view, are proven to be in demand.
The plant “Electrosila” wouldn’t like us to work on turbine-generators with them. Providing domestically produced equipment is regarded by the plant as a more challenging task than modernizing the one used at an electric power station. We addressed the company “IED-Holding” putting forward a proposal to put the idea of power unit complex modernization into production. In order to make the project a successful one, we have to bring it to the science world’s attention, i.e. our colleague’s (those working at Moscow Power Engineering Institute) have to provide us with a solid theoretical basis and some necessary calculations. To take up such wide-ranging challenges we should also strengthen and expand our Design Bureau.
This time we’ve designed a number of structural and electrical insulating materials, we have worked out the engineering solutions for modernizing turbine-generators. However, we place strong emphasis upon developing the technology of manufacturing rods for turbine-generators. These days it can only be produced by plants-monopolists like “Electrosila” and “Electrotyazhmash”. Following this line, we’ve come up with an idea to separate our lands into a special plot to turn it into a factory in the course of time. Now we are looking for a production area. The first stage is testing the technology; it will take place at our Institute. We shall see what comes next; perhaps we’ll set up our own factory. As I see it, such a factory will prove cost-effective and viable.
I’d like to outline briefly the history of our institute. By the end of 1980s it had achieved impressive results. A large-scale grid transmission line 1150 kV had been built, the designs for building a direct current line 760 kV were afoot, and the project of the 1500 kV lines was theoretically grounded. We were twenty-five years ahead of the whole century. Unfortunately, a lot had been lost forever after the collapse of USSR…On the other hand, our ideas, designs and some basic elements were adopted in China and India. In the 1990s one could buy it for a farthing, and that was the thing one did.
During the time of perestroika, we lost our full-scale research centre in Istra. It should have covered all the USSR’s needs, but not a trace is left. The designers had miscalculated something, and the cupola fell to pieces because of a heavy snowfall. Not a trace is left of a test bench in Tolyatti – it turned into a pile of scrap and was pulled to pieces.
A test bench comprises not only its technical capability, but it involves research methods and the gained experience which we certainly possess. I shall add that our former employees, those who worked out the ideological basis of the large test benches some years ago, have recently joined our company. Exploring this issue further seems to be a very interesting experience, but it would be rather tough for us without adequate funding.
The situation is still worse with the problem of certification centers as there are none of them left. For example, we have practically no device for testing transformers’ transient stability. The only one who struggles to change the situation is the “FGC UES” (Federal Grid Company of Unified Energy System) company. We’ve been cooperating with them since the very beginning. The following question immediately arises: where will we be certified? One of the possible variants is bringing the test bench back to life in collaboration with “IED-Holding”. We have people ready to sort all this stuff out. Apart from that, we have to seek new sources of funding and collaborate closely with “FGC UES”, for it will be their company that will be the major customer.
There are a few other lines of development which are of interest to us, such as developing special equipment and working on benefits of micropower (dealing with the range of 10 to 100 MW). For example, now we are in the process of developing a small hydro-electric generator, a number of electric motors for the nuclear power industry and a MHD-pump. One of the most promising directions of our work is the building of a gas-insulated line 500 kV which will help to tackle the problem of lead-in capacity in mega cities.
The plans devised for the next three years involve taking part in the innovative projects supported by “RusHydro”, “FGC UES” and “JSC Russian Grids”. The initiatives for joint projects with our foreign colleagues will receive a warm welcome as they will bring us a wealth of experience to share with our Russian partners.
Therefore, given the potential we have and the projects we’re running at the moment, we are more than sure that we’ll make headway.
– What’s your opinion on the project of building the power bridge between Russia and Japan, China, Kazakhstan and Europe? In August 2012 the president of China’s power grid company put forward a proposal concerning this project before the International Council on Large Electric Systems – CIGRE. The project received wide coverage in Europe, but in Russia this wasn’t really the case. What are the prospects for it?
Yes, I’ve been there. I agree that the proposal is still very much up in the air.
In the Soviet Union we didn’t push forward the idea of a power bridge. We had our own vision of the grid development for the next millennium. Our colleague, Igor Fotin, who has unfortunately passed away, was working on such global circuits. There’s a strong possibility that half of the documents leaked in to China. The Chinese provided our employees with funding for 8 years. They were visiting all the Chinese factories to choose where we can produce the equipment with voltage type up to 1150 kW.
Even now it would be a fantastic and tempting opportunity for Russia. It proves to be economically advantageous. Following the course of the line we would be able to accumulate a vast amount of energy. We have enough oil, coal, gas and water to supply Europe with electricity as there’s not much of electric power produced in some regions (for example, Greece, Italy, etc.). Furthermore, we need a credible alternative to nuclear power plants. The wind power plants can’t cover the power deficit either.
Carrying out this project is technically possible and it should be discussed on the higher level – with the Minister of Energy and the President Administration.
The project will prove to be effective for Kazakhstan, for it will help to develop the Ekibastuz region.
– Suppose the project is being launched, and Russia is ready to take part in it. What will be the role for AREI?
First of all, scientific maintenance of the project. Moreover, this project may involve using domestically produced goods.
– Will the significance of the testing centre in this case be subject to diminish or increase?
The project will give our country a fresh impetus to the intensive development. Even if we are going to buy the equipment, we should have a testing centre. Second, at the present moment we lack expertise on long-term operation of high-voltage lines of more than 1150 kV. We should undertake independent research, separate from our Chinese colleagues, but it appears to be impossible without having a test bench at our disposal.
– In one of your maintenance workshops the faces of the workers drew our attention. Their faces appeared to be honest, open and sympathetic. Was it a kind of a dress-code mask or was it shaped by the atmosphere that dominates the place?
Today one has to remember some important points in order to make headway. First, it’s about looking for an ambitious and challenging enterprise. Second, it’s about forming a close team. As far as I’m concerned, age doesn’t matter as there are those who look like old men at the age of 18. We won’t keep that sort of person long. Our testing ground deals with pilot production. The process of evolving the new technologies can be roughly divided into several stages. The first stage boils down to hours of tedious physical work making for the development of the production technology.
Unfortunately, we’re faced with the situation of high stuff turnover arising from the age gap between our specialists. Those of my age are leaving the floor, whereas the young generation hasn’t got much experience.