Not every large-scale project reaches the implementation stage

Written by The Frontier Post

Sergey Savchuk

No sooner had the discussion on the construction of a new railway line to the coast of the Barents Sea died down than a new instruction from the President arrived. The government, no later than March 1 of the current year, should consider the possibility, validity and prospects of building centers for the production of hydrogen and ammonia based on tidal power plants (TPPs). We are talking about the construction of innovative facilities of unprecedented capacity in the Penzhinskaya Bay in Kamchatka, namely, in the northeastern part of the Shelikhov Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Last year, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and the government of the Kamc-hatka Territory within the framework of the Eastern Economic Forum signed an agreement with the H2 Clean Energy company, w-hich involves the design a-nd subsequent construction of a tidal power plant with a capacity of one hundred gigawatts in the Penzhina Bay. The place, of course, was not chosen by chance. Long-term observations made it possible to establish that the height of tidal waves here reaches a record 13 meters, which allows using the energy of water with maximum efficiency.
Studying the preliminary information on the project, it is difficult to refrain from using superlative adjectiv-es, but we will still try, mo-reover, we will even allow ourselves substantive criticism. Let’s start with the fact that the very idea of building a tidal station in Penzhina Bay is not new. In the 70s of the last century, Soviet hydropower engineers considered the option of building two sections he-re, each of which meant the placement of hydroelectric units. It was from that time that the estimate of the cost of construction of TPP-1 (Northern alignment with a capacity of 21 gigawatts) at 60 billion and TPP-2 (South alignment with 87 gigawatts) at 200 billion dollars has come down to us. Given the inflation rate over the past decades, the final cost bar can be safely raised even higher.
Here we will stop and explain to our readers, who are far from the topic of hydropower, the basic concepts. Mankind learned to use the energy of incoming or outgoing water at the end of the 19th century, but the idea received its first technical implementation only in 1967, when the La Rance tidal station with a capacity of 240 megawatts was built in France. A year later, the Soviet Union launched its own TPP in Kislaya Bay near the village of Ura-Guba, Murmansk Oblast. The station was originally conceived as an experimental one, and therefore its power was very modest: only 1.7 megawatts. It is noteworthy that the USSR at that time did not know how to create suitable turbines, so the hydroelectric unit for the Kislogubskaya TPP was purchased in the same France, and only later at the Sevmash enterprise”The production of hydroelectric units was launched, suitable generators began to be made at the Ruselprom plant.
And then things stalled. Over the past half century since the launch of the first tidal stations, only single objects of this kind have been built in the world. Great Britain and Canada each built one TPP (by 1.2 and 20 megawatts, respectively), as well as South Korea – its Sihwa TPP has an installed capacity of 250 megawatts and is currently the largest station of this type.
The mass introduction of PES did not happen, even despite a number of undeniable advantages. Tidal stations do not emit emissions into the atmosphere, do not pollute adjacent areas with coal dust, do not leave nuclear waste as waste products, do not require the construction of dams, and therefore do not disturb the river ecosystem. Moreover, they are not afraid of natural disasters like earthquakes or landslides, and if they occur, the inhabitants of the surrounding lands have nothing to fear from floods or radiation contamination. PES, in comparison with classical hydroelectric power plants, which have long been included in the lists of renewable and environmentally friendly sources, destroy only ten percent of plankton, preserving the local biosphere. Tidal stations protect the shores from destructive sea waves and, according to environmentalists, soften the climate. It would seem that there are only solid pluses – but everything again spoils the stubborn laws of physics.
TPP gates are in fact huge dams that cover the selected bay or bay with “wings”. Hydro turbines are installed in them, which rotate with the incoming or outgoing water, thereby generating electricity. The problem is that any PES operates in eight cycles, when the station is waiting for high and low tide for four cycles, and the other four are working. This type of station cannot ensure an uninterrupted supply of energy, and therefore engineers have long been proposing to build complex facilities where a PES is combined either with a hydroelectric power plant, which provides generation during idle periods, or with a pumped storage power plant (PSPP), capable of accumulating the generated electricity and delivering it as needed, especially during peak periods. French “La Rance”
And here the unique tides of the Penzhina Bay gradually turn from an advantage into a problem. Hydrologists have long calculated that 13-meter high tides move 500 cubic kilometers of water every day through the gates of the bay. For comparison: the deepest river on the planet, the Amazon, carries so much liquid in a month, and our Volga – in two years. The movement of water is indeed sufficient to generate an incredible hundred gigawatts, which is comparable to the operation of 30 modern nuclear power plants with two power units each, or 80 hydroelectric power plants the size of Kolyma. But for this, an unprecedented number of turbines must be installed in the alignments. It has been preliminary calculated that for the construction of the Southern alignment alone, it will be necessary to manufacture and install more than a thousand hydroelectric units. It is noteworthy, but the physical possibility of implementing such a project is not in doubt, although the Penzhinskaya TPP will then be five times more powerful than, say, the Chinese Three Gorges gravity hydroelectric power station on the Yangtze River, which today has no analogues in the world. This fact is indicated by the fact that the developers consider China and South Korea as sales markets, where it will be possible to potentially throw an energy bridge. At a distance of two thousand kilometers, there is also an eternally energy-deficient Japan.
But one hundred gigaw-atts is still a lot. This is 40 percent of the electricity th-at the entire energy comp-lex of Russia generates tod-ay. That is why H2 Clean Energy, which is a member of the Consortium of Hyd-rogen Technologies, proposed a seemingly optimal solution: to produce environmentally friendly hydr-ogen from sea water right on the spot. This would eliminate the need to build huge battery stations and thousands of kilometers of power lines, and its own capacity would be more than enough to ensure the operation of industrial electrolysis plants. This fully fits into the concept for the development of hydrogen energy approved by the government in August 2021. According to its provisions, by 2050 Russia should produce and export from 15 to 50 million tons of hydrogen per year.
But even here there are more questions than answ-ers. If we open another systemic document, namely the Energy Strategy of the Russian Federation for the period up to 2035, we will find out that there is simply no world market for hydrogen. This type of fuel is considered as a possible breakthrough technology, and all options for its mass application are plans, and not already implemented concepts. Let’s pay tribute to our legislators, they are absolutely right: the world is full of technologies for using hydrogen as the main fuel, but all of them are concepts – none of them has found really wide and mass application. The reasons for this are many. Hydrogen is expensive to produce: just one kilogram of it today costs about twelve dollars. It is extremely flammable and explosive and requires special pressurized tanks to store it. Liquefaction does not solve the problem either; special installations and a temperature of the order of minus 250 degrees are required to transfer the fuel to a liquid state. For comparison: the usual methane is liquefied at a temperature of minus 160 degrees.
And probably the most important thing. Hydrogen burns at a temperature of three thousand degrees, which makes it possible to use such burners for cutting metals. Therefore, in order to use hydrogen for good, it is mixed with methane, that is, hydrocarbons cannot be dispensed with. But even in this case, the mixture burns in the temperature range of one and a half to two thousand degrees, that is, at the limit of the strength capabilities of modern materials. In order for hydrogen to become a mass fuel, physicists and chemists have yet to make many scientific discoveries in the field of creating super-strong heat-resistant alloys.
In general, there are still many more questions than answers, but if we take into account that the project also considers the construction of similar power plants in the Khabarovsk Territory (Tugurskaya TPP) and the Arkhangelsk Region (Mezenskaya TPP), then there is a large-scale project, the installation data for which are not known to the general public.
Summing up, we note that, of course, not every large-scale project reaches the implementation stage, many are recognized as unpromising or unreasonably expensive. On the other hand, when a hundred years ago the young Soviet government adopted the plan for the state electrification of Russia (GOELRO), contemporaries twisted their fingers to their temples and called it a pipe fantasy, and today it is just a chapter in the history textbook.

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