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Quacks are becoming a threat to the Russian power generation industry

Quacks are becoming a threat to the Russian power generation industry

25.12.2012 — Analysis

Ural electric companies are raising the alarm. The RAO UES reform has resulted in mismatched actions of generating and grid companies. The investment programs offered by electric power producers and transporters lack consistency and agreement, thus increasing risk of accidents on lines. Experts say that the further boosting of power generation will cripple the Russian economy and suggest that older power plants should be decommissioned in a mandatory manner. However, as the RusBusinessNews columnist has found it out, the Ural region faces the main threat not from the excessive commissioning of new generation plants, but from rapidly aging engineering staff and degrading qualification of recent graduates starting their professional life; the situation has already led to tragic consequences.

Andrei Taranenko, the deputy general director of the Ural Power Transmission Lines (Ural MES) Branch of the UES Federal Grid Company (FSK UES), stated, when addressing safety issues at the industry conference, that the electric power sector of the Sverdlovsk Region was growing too fast, thus implying problems that may soon be encountered by consumers. Due to 4,900 megawatt of new capacities scheduled by 2020, the grid company has to revise its investment plans and focus on construction of additional transmission lines, and it means that the reconstruction of the older lines will have to be put on the back burner for an indefinite period. If the equipment wear and tear reaches the critical level, it will inevitably result in customer curtailment.

In the meantime, the Sverdlovsk Region does not need any additionally generated electric power: The experts note that there is a considerable gap between the plans of the generating companies and energy consumption forecasts. Some data show that by 2020 the power generated in the region will exceed two times the actual demand. However, these data are very approximate: According to Oleg Yefimov, the director of the UES System Operator of the Sverdlovsk Regional Dispatching Office, there are no rigorous methods of obtaining reliable information. Besides, the economic crises should not be disregarded. For example, in 2009 the energy consumption in the Middle Urals dropped by 5 billion kilowatt-hours.

Alexei Sokolov, head of the fuel and energy sector department at the Ministry of Energy, Housing and Utilities of the Sverdlovsk Region, thinks that the construction of new generating facilities will result in the decreased loading of the existing electric power plants and, consequently, in the increased rates. The electricity prices have already reached the peak: Their further increase in the metallurgical region means extremely high risks for all the participants of the market. The official says that it is high time to think over the mandatory decommissioning of the older facilities, taking into account that their operation and maintenance cost a bundle.

Yuri Brodov, the director of the Energy Institute of the Ural Federal University, states that 70% of the equipment at the utilities companies of the Sverdlovsk Region is overage. However, his main concern is that 15% of the engineering personnel have reached the retirement age and another 10% are going to retire in a few years. It is quite a dangerous trend for the knowledge intensive industry, taking into account that employers do not rate high the qualification of their newly hired young professionals.

The transition to the Bologna System of Education resulted in the situation when the number of engineering fields of specialization totaling 384 was cut down to 37 in the Russian institutions of higher education. Electrical power engineering was not included in the list of qualifications. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree leave universities half-educated. The Russian higher school is in a desperate situation. According to the data from Pyotr Bartolomey, a professor of the Ural Federal University, the salary of university teachers is thrice as low as the salary received by those working in the manufacturing sector; therefore, young people are not interested in scientific careers. Ageing lecturers of universities hardly do any research: Trying to make both ends meet, they look for freelancing jobs outside the university, which not only has an adverse impact on the quality of scientific research, but also damages the level of education of future professionals.

For example, in today’s education process there is no time for studying of the group active power control of hydropower plants – the so-called GAPC subsystem intended for unit control based on the specified criteria and taking into account the operating load range limits. P. Bartolomey says that the above mentioned field-related incompetence of the employees of the Sayano–Shushenskaya hydroelectric power plant caused the massive accident at the largest power plant in Russia.

The professor believes that the electric power industry and, consequently, the economy are facing the largest threat from the negative processes taking place in education. And he is not alone in his conclusion: German experts are also displeased with the Bologna system. At some point, the Germans realized that the transition to the bachelor’s and master’s degree can destroy the famous German engineering and, unlike the Russians, skillfully avoided the Bologna «embrace». For example, the Technical University of Berlin split formally the previous programs into two parts: The graduates who studied for three years are awarded a bachelor’s degree, while those who completed the entire course are awarded a master’s degree. The diploma of the latter included the certificate that states that the holder of a master’s degree is, in fact, an engineer.

In Germany, the student will not be admitted to the next course, until he or she passes all the examinations required during the previous course. Therefore, future engineers usually study for eight years. On the other hand, qualified engineers are the most valuable professionals in the country. Students know what they pay for and teachers know what they are paid for. This system leaves no chance for unprofessional graduates.

Russia still does not know how to turn off the disastrous path on time, keeping on plunging into imported ideas and carrying them to the point of absurdity. Consequently, the adoption of fee-paying education at universities turned into absurdity. Students paying a vast deal of money for their education have somehow decided that it is enough for their diploma and they do not need any knowledge. Russian mass media time and again publish stories told by teachers who tell frankly how they "draw" grades and credits to ignorant students for money.

The government passes the problem of student incompetence to employers: If you do not like the system of education, invest your own money in education of your employees. Yuri Brodov states that there are not many contracts with companies for training of their personnel, while without such contracts the energy institute will not be able to survive. Who is going to look after the Russian electric power plants tomorrow is highly questionable. The experts are sure that it is a much more serious challenge to the country’s economy than excessive capacities and rising tariffs for electric energy. They believe that the way out is in following the German strategy of solving the similar problems.

Vladimir Terletsky 

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