The modeling results show that renewable energy is the cheapest option for the continent and can make Russia an energy competitive region in the future. According to the research, a 100% renewable energy system for Russia and Central Asia would be roughly 50% lower in cost than a system based on latest European nuclear technology or carbon capture and storage. Renewable energy covers electricity and industrial natural gas demand, not, for example, transport or heating.
"We think that this is the first ever 100% renewable energy system modelling for Russia and Central Asia. It demonstrates that Russia can become one of the most energy-competitive regions in the world," says professor Christian Breyer, co-author of the study.
Moving to a renewable energy system is possible due to the small population density and abundance of various types of renewable energy resources in the area, and would enable the building of a Super Grid that connects different energy resources of the researched area.
The modeled energy system is based on wind, hydropower, solar, biomass, and some geothermal energy. Wind amounts to about 60% of the production while solar, biomass and hydropower are distributed evenly.
The total installed capacity of renewable energy in the system is about 550 gigawatts. Slightly more than half of this is wind energy and 20% is solar. The rest is composed of hydro and biomass supported with power-to-gas, pumped hydro storage, and batteries. In the present situation, the total capacity is 388 gigawatts, of which wind and solar only accounts for 1.5 gigawatts. The current system also has neither power-to-gas capacity nor batteries.
The geographical area of the research covers much of the northern hemisphere. Many of the countries in the area are currently reliant on the production and use of fossil fuels and nuclear power. In addition to Russia, the researched area includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, as well as Caucasus and Pamir regions including Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and Kirgizstan and Tajikistan.
One of the key insights of the research is that energy sectors' integration lowers the cost of electricity by 20% for Russia and Central Asia. When moving to a renewable energy system, for example, natural gas is replaced with power-to-gas, i.e., converting electricity into gases such as hydrogen and synthetic natural gas.
This increases the overall need for renewable energy. The more renewable capacity is built the more it can be used for different sectors: heating, transportation, and industry. This flexibility of the system decreases the need for storage and lowers the cost of energy.