THE OVERALL CHALLENGE
So how to speed up the ongoing modernization of Russian district heating? First of all, it is hard to upgrade in a single step the district heating systems of a country as vast as Russia, from St Petersburg in the west to Habarovsk in the east. So far many good initiatives have been taken especially in the big cities, but in the rural areas, where district heating is also widespread, everyone expects modernization to take a little longer before it will have a real impact.
Now, almost 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union’s economy, the most apparent and greatest challenge for the Russian district heating network still is the creation of a transparent market where there is a clear distribution of responsibilities, clear ownership of network and installations, and clear incentives for seeking the most energy-efficient heating applications at any given time.
The road to overcoming this challenge is still covered with technical, legislative and cultural obstacles. But things are certainly moving in the right direction.
Russia’s district heating systems normally distribute heated water at around 140º–150ºC at high pressure into distribution stations, which in turn supply the heated water at a design temperature of 120ºC directly into the buildings where the heat is to be used. The tools for controlling the pressure and flow of the network are often very limited or may not even exist. This is significantly different from most district heating networks in western Europe, where the distribution temperature is often a lot lower, the pressure and flow are under strict control, and there is normally a primary network for heat distribution to the buildings and secondary network for heat distribution within the building.
Direct distribution makes it difficult to optimize the heating system for the individual needs of each building
There are many disadvantages to the Russian distribution model. Firstly, direct distribution makes it difficult to optimize the heating system for the individual needs of each building. Pressure, flow and temperature will be more or less the same regardless of the conditions in individual buildings. There is also a considerable risk regarding the distribution of district heating water directly into the heating systems of buildings – in case of leaks, the damage can be considerable. Another inexpedient and yet widespread consequence of the Russian distribution model is that end-users often feel tempted to draw hot water for household purposes directly from the radiators instead of from the water tap, because this is the fastest and cheapest access to boiling water. The lack of focus on controlling system pressure and flow is energy-inefficient and, from the end-user’s point of view, is inconvenient and makes the heat supply unstable.
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