International Business Times
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October 8, 2010 2:50 PM GMT

MOSCOW (Commodity Online) : World's largest country, Russia needs a lot of energy to stay warmed during its harsh winter days.

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The country has been considered as a northern country for a long time and opinion surrounds it suggest it's better to use solar energy in countries where there's a lot of sun.

The country is associated more with long, dark winters than sun-drenched days. But that is not stopping private companies from tapping into a growing market for solar energy.

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The jury is still out as to whether the sun can compete long term with traditional energy sources, but some industry players say solar energy has good potential, even though the government largely ignores renewable energy sources and Russia's economy is firmly based on the petrodollar.

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Then there's the issue of a lack of sun. However supporters of solar energy said there's a lot of sun in Russia as well. Germany is the world's No. 1 solar energy consumer. But is Germany a sunny country? They asked.

Solar Wind produces panels mostly for export but wants to see the domestic market grow.

A number of Russian private companies are creating joint ventures with Rusnano, the state technology corporation, to address local needs.

Solar Wind is starting a 4.8 billion ruble ($160 million) project, with Rusnano as a partner, in which it will make double-sided solar panels for domestic use.

These are panels that collect solar energy from both sides. There are only a few companies in the world making such panels.

The plant, which may start working at the end of this year or in the first quarter of 2011, will have an annual manufacturing capacity of 30 megawatts at the start, and will eventually ramp up to 120 megawatts per year.

Industry insiders said solar energy could become a real alternative for traditional energy sources in a number of the country's regions.

Electricity and Energy Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States said the Krasnodar region and most parts of Siberia have insolation levels [average exposure to the sun's rays] comparable to the south of France and central Italy, where solar energy is currently booming, while the Zabaikalsky region gets more solar energy than Spain.

Russia is, however, behind Japan, the United States and Europe in promoting renewable energy. Many governments have support and incentive programs. Several states and countries have mandated that their power companies reach specific thresholds for share of power from renewable sources.

UNESCO's Sustainable Energy Development Center, said construction of solar power stations in Russia's midland would make no sense because of the lack of sunshine.

The Krasnodar region started paying attention to solar energy after it launched an energy-efficiency target program in 2006.

A total of 7,000 square meters of solar panels have been deployed in Krasnodar since then. The region is using solar panels not only for electricity production, but also for heating water.

The roof of the central hospital in Ust-Labinsk, a town 60 kilometers northeast of Krasnodar, is being covered by 300 solar panels. The installation, whose total area is 600 square meters, will heat water for the hospital's daily needs year-round.

The amount of electricity produced by solar power stations worldwide, which now stands at just 2 giga watts a year, may reach 150 giga watts a year by 2030.

The overall capacity of solar electric power stations that Russia plans to set up by 2020 is 150 megawatts.

Solar energy use has a future in Russia, but this kind of energy should be used only in combination with other renewable energy sources. Solar energy has not become popular in Russia because of its focus on oil exports, experts said.

The construction cost of a solar power station ranges from $10,000 to $17,000 per one kilowatt of installed capacity,. In comparison, a kilowatt of installed capacity at a nuclear power station costs up to $3,000 while the figure for a hydroelectric power station is just $1,000.

That makes building solar power stations less effective for Russia's economy than construction of traditional power stations.

Critics said hydroelectric and biofuel energy generation is the best options for the country. Building solar electric power stations around Russia is unlikely to be economically viable over the coming 30 years, they added.

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