Power generation is one of the most important spheres of the Russian economy. Moreover, it relates to basic infrastructure sectors, without which economic management is impossible. Because of the size of the country, the Russian Federation has one of the world’s largest energy systems — there are more than 700 power plants with a capacity of more than five MW, and by the end of 2012 total power production amounted to more than 223 MW in all Russian power plants.
In 2012, total electricity generation exceeded $ one trillion kW•h and as much as 110-1050 kW of basic distributive power today travels along more than ten thousand electric power transmission lines. The production and distribution of electricity, as well as the maintenance of power stations employs more than 2.5 million people, which makes electric power engineering one of the major sectors of the Russian economy in terms of percentage of employed people. Due to the nature of the industry and the history of its development, it is controlled by large enterprises, some of which are managed by foreign investors.
Industrial use of electricity began not earlier than the second half of the 19th century, and, accordingly, the history of Russia’s electric power engineering started at about the same time. In 1876, the first power station was built at the Sormovo machine-building plant, and in 1879, for the first time in Russia, electric street lighting was installed on Alexander II Bridge (currently Liteyny Bridge) in St. Petersburg. It was carried out on a pilot basis in order to demonstrate this new technology (twelve electric candles replaced 112 gas lamps). The project operated for only 227 days, but the experiment was considered a success, and from that moment on, electricity gradually appeared on the streets of Russian cities. In particular, electric lighting was installed in Moscow in 1881, while the first stationary Moscow power plant was built only in 1888. Electric power developed gradually and the first power facilities were constructed (by the standards of those years): Raushskaya TPP (Thermal Power Plant) in Moscow and Okhtenskaya TPP in Saint Petersburg, each with a capacity of five MW. Electric transport also appeared on city streets — the first tram line in the Russian Empire was constructed in Kiev, and seven years later tramways started running in Moscow.
In absolute terms, the Russian Empire significantly lagged behind most developed countries, ranking only eighth in the world in terms of total electricity generation (two billion kW•h in 1913), thirty times behind the leader, the United States. However, the growth rate of power production reached 25% capacity per year, which guaranteed Russia’s advance in the conditional ranking of all electrified countries and the possibility of achieving a leading position according to all the indicators. At the beginning of the 20th century, a number of large-scale projects in the electricity sector were launched or planned — Volkhov HPP (Hydro Power Plant) with a capacity of twenty 20 MW, the construction of which began in 1910, Dneproges and, most importantly, general project for the electrification of the whole country, presented by the Academician Vernadsky, proposed and designed for completion by 1920.
The implementation of these plans was halted because of World War I and then the Russian Revolution. And yet, despite military conflicts and economic turmoil (in 1920, electricity production totaled only a quarter of the pre-war amount), an electrification plan was implemented in a somewhat modified form known as GOERLO (Soviet plan for national economic recovery and development). Unlike the original version, GOERLO was not limited to electric power engineering — it was a complex project that implied a growing production of fuel and energy resources, as well as the construction of large users of electric power.
According to the main indicators, the GOERLO plan was executed and partly overfulfilled by the early 1930s. In particular, power generation increased from two billion kW•h in 1913 to 13.5 billion kW•h in 1932. The number of power plants grew from 75 in 1917 to 858 in 1927, including the Volkhov HPP (constructed in 1926) and the unique Shaturskaya Power Plant, which had initially operated on turf. The construction of the famous Dnepr HPP was launched in 1927 and completed five years later (it reached the projected capacity of 560 MW in 1939, after the commissioning of additional units). Electricity produced by Dnepr HPP was the cheapest in the world and allowed Zaporozhye to develop important industrial constructions, primarily in the metallurgical sector.
In subsequent decades, capacity in the power sector continued to increase. Huge HPP facilities were commissioned — Angarsk, with a total capacity of 9 thousand MW, and Yenisei with 12.7 thousand MW, including the largest power station in Russia — Sayano-Shushenskaya HPP. A new component — nuclear energy — was added to the energy system of the USSR in 1954. It was then that the world’s first nuclear power plant was built in Obinsk (with a total capacity of 5 MW, decommissioned only in 2002. By the end of Soviet rule in 1991, 28 power units were operating with a total nominal capacity of 20,242 MW.