A gust of wind from Belarus

The Belarusian city of Navahrudak used to be known as Naugardukas, was the first capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the birthplace of Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. Now, numerous wind farms surrounding the city from almost all sides have been added to the list of the local landmarks. Tourists love to take selfies with the windmills, while the local administration notes that the share of wind-generated energy in Navahrudak and surrounding area is over 25% – compared to the 7% European average (even lower in Eastern Europe). The Navahrudak County is one of the few (if not the only) administrative units in Eastern Europe to generate renewable energy on this scale.

Facts and figures

Belarus was never thought of as one of the most promising Eastern European or CIS countries in terms of wind power development. It has a predominantly flat terrain, a rather mild, temperate continental climate and is quite far away from the Baltic winds. The Baltic countries and Poland in fact have a much greater resource with the wind almost constantly blowing from the sea.

Yet, there are several areas in Belarus with a different terrain, where winds are frequent and strong enough to generate more than 5 MW/h; one of such places is Navahrudak. The area actually includes the Grodno County almost entirely, with the city of Grodno, part of the Dzyarzhynsk County, part of the Ashmyany and Smarhon counties with the city of Ashmyany, the almost entire Luninets County, the Mogilev County and the city of Mogilev. As we can see, the areas with frequent winds are mainly located in western Belarus, which is closer to the Baltic Sea than the eastern part. In Navahrudak, the wind energy potential is additionally enhanced by a monticulate-morainic-erosional terrain and significant elevation between the Navahrudak Upland and the upper Neman Lowland.

The Navahrudak wind power industry accounts for a quarter of the local power generation; moreover, it meets 50% of the county’s needs, which is a real achievement. At the same time, 80% of wind farms in the region are private, which is very uncharacteristic of Belarus with its many rudiments inherited from the Soviet economy. The largest wind turbine in the CIS is also located there.

So far, Navahrudak is an exception rather than the rule, but this example shows that Belarus has business niches to invest in, and a good outlook on them.

The fact that Belarus has a potential for developing wind energy is indicated by old windmills that still exist (including in low-wind regions in eastern Belarus – for example, in the Dudutki museum and reserve), some of which, along with watermills, were used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to generate electricity. In those times, the Grodno Governorate alone had 258 windmills.

To a certain extent, moderate winds in Belarus benefit the development of wind energy because stormy winds that could damage wind farms are extremely rare in the country.

Investment situation

Despite the fact that the majority of the wind farms in the Navahrudak County are private, it was the government that initiated the region’s development of the wind power potential. Interestingly, China that considers Belarus a promising partner in Eastern Europe, was included in the development plan from the very beginning.

In 2011, as an experiment, republican unitary enterprise Grodnoenergo installed a wind turbine with a capacity of 1.5 MW bought from HAEG (China) near the village of Grabniki in the Navahrudak County. The experiment turned out a success: the windmill had a capacity use factor of 33% (anything above 25% is considered efficient). Subsequently, a wind farm was built near Grabniki that became the largest in Belarus and one of the largest in the CIS and Eastern Europe. Under a state-run program, Lida Power Grids (Grodnoenergo’s regional subsidiary) received around $13 mio to purchase more windmills from China. The only questionable part in this investment picture is the fact that wind generators have a service life of 25 years while their payback period is 11 years, which means that the Chinese windmills will be able to bring profit for 14 years.

Grabniki was chosen because it is the second highest point in Belarus after the Dzyarzhynskaya Hara mountain. Grabniki is located at 320 m above sea level and it is almost always windy on the hill. The Chinese windmills are triggered by the wind speed of 3 m/s while the average wind speed in the Navahrudak County is 6 m/s. The Grabniki wind farm has no staff; however, maintenance is the responsibility of ten employees from Lida Power Grids.

The efficiency of the wind farm is obvious: its annual capacity is some 22 mio kWh of power, which allows for saving $800K worth of gas that is used in the Navahrudak County per year. Grodnoenergo plans to install several more wind turbines in Grabniki.

Private wind power companies came to the Navahrudak County in 2015 and installed used Danish turbines. The biggest number of them is based in the village of Yanovichi, which is also located on a hill.

Private companies have a shorter payback period than Lida Power Grids – about 7 years –because they use cheaper equipment. According to the calculations by Grodnoenergo and Lida Power Grids, the share of wind power in the local power generation can be increased to 70% in the next few years. The regional administration has prepared 25 sites for the future wind parks.

How to adopt Navahrudak’s experience

Russia has many hilly areas with elevation differences bigger than in Navahrudak. However, both Russian private companies and state corporations prefer to do projects mostly in the south of the European part of Russia, in the windiest places, for instance, in the Don steppes and the Lago-Naki Plateau. At the same time, Belarus’s experience shows that this business scheme can be also used in the central part of the country, including the Moscow Region, where the maximum elevations are a bit lower than in Navahrudak and Dzyarzhynsk. Developing wind energy production in the Kaliningrad and Leningrad regions would also be a good opportunity as both are located by the sea where the environment is in a bad state due to a large number of industrial facilities. In the Moscow Region, Sheremetyevo has wind speeds comparable to those of Western Belarus. As for the minimal speed required for the turbine to work, they are observed at meteorology stations in Nemchinovka, Volokolamsk, Dmitrov, Istra, Kashira, Mozhaisk, Naro-Fominsk, Serpukhov and Shishkin Les. 

By Roman Mamchits

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