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Russia’s oldest power plant on Raushskaya Embankment and its operation

Russia’s oldest power plant on Raushskaya Embankment and its operation
Russia’s oldest operational thermal power plant will mark its 120th anniversary in November 2017. Read this story to find out how this landmark of industrial architecture works, how many flats it can heat and what once stopped the plant, which operated even during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945.

A wooden door under a crescent cornice at 10 Raushskaya Embankment leads almost into a museum. But it’s not so easy to enter. A heavy lacquered door conceals a transparent cabin that cannot be opened by anyone. This cabin, resembling a portal to another dimension, is a real time machine transporting visitors into the 19th century. Here we can see a stone staircase from 1897, with twisted railings, high ceilings and one-metre thick brick walls that are no longer made today.

This place is called Smidovich State Electric Power Plant No. 1, a subsidiary of Mosenergo, currently the largest territorial generating company in Russia. This landmark of industrial architecture will mark its 120th anniversary in 2017. Modern equipment has been installed long ago, and its capacity has soared many times over. “The power plant’s current capacity is 76 megawatts, and the facility generates almost 700-giga-calories of heat per hour. The power plant provides Moscow’s Central Administrative Area with heat and electricity,” said the facility’s Chief Engineer Alexei Shuvalov. The facility heats over 4,000 buildings, including about 1,000 blocks of flats, about 100 outpatient clinics and hospitals, over 80 schools and kindergartens as well as state agencies.

Control switchboard

The worn steps of a 19th century staircase guide you towards the power plant’s main control switchboard, containing instruments and keys for controlling all of the facility’s distribution systems. Employees responsible for the power plant’s reliable operation work in shifts here 24 hours a day, including the facility’s shift chief, jokingly called the Night Director.

The instruments show the network’s frequency, voltage and transformer loads, the parametres of turbine generators and those of water entering city-level heat-supply systems.

Switchboard personnel are supposed to monitor the state of the main electric circuit and to see whether all equipment is operating reliably. Lamps showing the location of defective equipment will light up in case of a malfunction.

Art Deco, old gates and turbines from Kaluga

The power plant has two engine rooms that have been overhauled on several occasions, the last time being in 2007. “The engine room was built using modern materials but in line with the power plant’s historical image,” Mr Shuvalov noted. But the old riveted folding gates between the engine room and the boiler room date to the days of the Russian Empire.

A green Art Deco balcony stretches along one wall. Another wall features a clock with twisted coils, and stylised vintage lamps can be seen on the third wall. These lamps have now been switched off because of sunlight flooding through the glass ceiling and huge arch-shaped windows that overlook Raushskaya Embankment. From here, we can watch the construction of Zaryadye Park: the bridge overhanging the Moskva River is nearing completion, the Philharmonic is being covered with a glass dome that resembles a greenhouse, and new trees are being planted.

The place is also bustling with activity. A turbine being overhauled inside the engine room has already been dismantled, its components strewn about, and a crane is gliding along the ceiling tracks. It is stifling hot and very noisy here. One even envies the workers a bit, because they use special ear plugs to reduce noise levels. A sticker notes that repairs will be completed in 13 days.

In all, the station boasts six turbines from the Kaluga Turbine Plant. The oldest turbine was installed 23 years ago. And the boiler room contains even older equipment.

Titanic-style boilers

Although the boiler room does not look very attractive, it has a unique historical feature: one of the newest boilers, from 2012, and two of the oldest. “We also have two British boilers manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox Co. that also provided the same boilers for the RMS Titanic,” Mr Shuvalov said. Of course, they have been repaired since 1931 and continue to function smoothly and reliably. But they are to be replaced in the near future, together with all other obsolete equipment.

The boiler room also has its own control switchboard showing the parametres of the energy boilers’ operation. This switchboard is used to monitor the performance of the old boilers, and the operators of new boilers monitor them online.

Steam circulation

“After sucking in and cleaning water, we pump it inside the boiler, generate steam and feed the steam inside the turbine. The turbine activates the generator, which turns out electricity. Spent steam enters another boiler and heats up water. That’s about it,” Mr Shuvalov explained.

For a bit more detail: air and natural gas enter the boilers; the gas burns up and emits heat. This heat travels along pipes and raises the temperature of water. All water is pumped from the Moskva River inside the station on the embankment. The water, an essential element of the production process, is subjected to chemical treatment. Harmful admixtures are removed to prevent the corrosion of metals.

When heated, the water turns into steam which is fed into the turbine. Its energy causes the rotor to spin and to create electromagnetic fields on the stator’s windings. This is how power is generated.

The water is heated inside a special system and is later pumped into heating systems elsewhere via pipelines. After giving off heat, the water flows back to the power plant in a classic closed-loop production cycle.

Improved equipment reduces toxic emissions

Smoke fumes are recirculated to reduce toxic emissions. “We continue to reduce toxic emissions each year by streamlining heat modes and by upgrading equipment,” Mr Shuvalov explained. “For example, we have replaced two boilers and cut emissions five times over. At the same time, the capacity of new boilers exceeds that of old ones by 50 percent,” he added. Employees are trying to use more advanced equipment more intensively and to streamline the heat-generation mode. Therefore the power plant’s toxic emissions are much lower than the maximum permissible levels. And the natural gas that keeps the power plant going is the most eco-friendly fuel variety.

“We obtain water from the Moskva River, using it to cool our condensers. We remove mechanical admixtures from the water, clean and process it accordingly, and we pour it out downstream,” Mr Shuvalov said. A special screen on the shore water-pumping station prevents fish from being sucked inside the water treatment unit.

Moscow Power Grid Museum

The cornerstone of the power plant between Raushskaya Embankment and Sadovnicheskaya Street was laid in June 1896. According to one story, the facility was designed by architect Nikolai Basin and engineer A. I. Kolosov. Another story has it that the power plant was designed by Siemens & Halske in Charlottenburg, with Mr Basin providing the façade’s design.

Authorities collected future subscribers’ requests by 1 November 1896. The intention was to plug in 23,435 lamps. The Raushskaya Power Plant went on stream 28 November 1897. Its water supply system was huge, pumping up to 30,000 tonnes of water per hour or 100 percent more than all of the city’s water conduits.

In 1907, the power plant received a new engine room and boiler room. Its territory expanded, and the facility’s cable network encompassed the city’s outlying areas and factory districts. In 1908, the power plant survived one of the most notorious floods in the city’s history. All technical rooms were flooded, the winding of all generators was soaked with water, a floor exploded inside the storage battery compartment and the pumps were unable to cope with the torrent of water. A blackout hit the city on Easter Day. However, lamps on Tverskaya Street and three theatres started shining once again on the second day, and the entire station was reactivated in a week. A new pump station was built after the flood, and a plaque on a wall near the entrance to the power plant shows the water level in the spring of 1908.

The major flood hampered the power plant’s operation, but the facility continued to function during the entire Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945. Metal shields were installed over its equipment, and the pipes were covered with plywood and camouflaged as trees. The nearby Otvodnoi (Water Offtake) Canal turned into a street.

In all, 278 of the facility’s employees joined the Red Army, with 16 more joining the People’s Volunteer Corps. Two more became partisans. Of this number, 48 were killed in action, and their names are listed on a memorial plaque at the power plant’s courtyard, which also features a profile of Vladimir Lenin with his famous slogan, “We will achieve the victory of Communist labour.”

The names of the above-mentioned employees can also be seen at an improvised exhibition narrating the power plant’s history. “Our station is to mark its 120th anniversary this year. Here, our employees have set up a small exhibition showing various items and documents dug up from archives,” Mr Shuvalov said. The small room houses photos, recollections and documents, including invitations to attend the power plant’s opening ceremony, the celebratory lunch menu, decorative elements of the roof’s butt-end, lamps, an AC current potentiometre from the 1960s and other exhibits.

First in all respects

This power plant outpaced other similar facilities in many respects. In 1899, a cable line for the city’s first tram line was laid from here. In 1926, the first Soviet-era central dispatch control office was established at the power plant. In 1933, the first Soviet-made 12-megawatt power-and-heating pipe was commissioned here. In 1946, the power plant started using gas as fuel for the first time in Russian and Soviet history. In 2001, the facility received the first completely automated water-treatment unit, which increases the main equipment’s service life.

But this Power Plant No. l was not the first in the city’s history. In 1888, the Georgiyevskaya Central DC Power Plant started operating on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street. This facility now houses the New Manezh Exhibition Hall. The former State Power Plant No. 2 will also be converted into a modern art centre.

Mosenergo, which operates State Power Plant No. 1, is set to open another museum exhibition this year. In 2017, Mosenergo and the entire city power grid will mark their 130th anniversary. There are plans to open the Mosenergo and Moscow Power Industry Museum at Thermal Power Plant No. 20 in southwestern Moscow in the run-up to this memorable date. The new Museum will house archive documents, old and new interactive power plant models, as well as heat and power generating equipment.

Archive photos courtesy of the Mosenergo History Museum