Continuing with this piece from VZGLIAD, written by Olga Samofalova. Yesterday we discussed issues of Megawattage and comparing robust German gas turbines to puny Russian ones. The people and economy of Crimea needs mega mega watts to survive, the Ukrainian nationalists sabotaged the pylons and cut Crimean people off from the mainland electrical grid, several times plunging the peninsula into darkness; meanwhile,, the native Russian turbines are too small and weak to get the job done; so Russia had to buy German turbines to install. While cleverly eluding Western sanctions that are desgined to punish Russia and starve Crimea.
Got all that? Next we starting going more “root-cause” and talked about the decline of Russian heavy-machinery industry starting in the 1990’s, and possibly even earlier, in Soviet times. In the 2000’s Russia became energy dependent, in this regard, on her old foe Germany. In this next segment, Olga chats with a man named Maxim Muratshin, who is the General Director of a Russian engineering company called Powerz:
“In the 2000’s we built a whole bunch of gas-turbine electricity stations using turbines produced by GE and Siemens. In this manner they were able to place our energy system, impoverished as it was already, on the needle of Western companies. Currently we pay out enormous sums of money to service foreign turbines. One hour of labor of a Siemens service engineer costs the same as an entire month’s salary for a mechanic working at that same electrostation. What we should have done in the 2000’s was not build gas-turbine electrostations, but rather modernize our own self-generating resources.”
Muratshin makes a good point, and we all know that game. You can’t just walk into a store and buy a major appliance like a Siemens gas turbine, without also purchasing the service contract, and I’m pretty sure it’s specified in the contract that you can only use their certified engineers to perform any installations or repairs. Not only do the Germans and other Western companies make money hand over fist, but they also get to hold Russia’s nuts in a vise of their own devising.
Muratshin continues his plaint: “I work in the field of production, and I always found it offensive when upper management would declaim that we have to buy from abroad, because our people don’t know how to do anything. Now we all feel like so much time was wasted. We don’t have enough consumer demand right now to create our own turbine replacing the Siemens one. But (during those years) we could have built our own high-capacity turbine and sold it to 30 gas-turbine electrical stations. That’s what the Germans would have done. And (we) Russians simply bought these 30 turbines from the foreigners.” Muratshin goes on: “Our electrostations don’t have money for wide-ranging modernization, in these conditions of the strict tariff policies regulated by the government. Electrostations are unable to sell electricity at the (higher) price needed to support rapid modernization. In our country we have very cheap electricity, as compared to Western countries.”
In other words, Russian domestic politics requires that ordinary people continue to pay reasonably cheap rates for electricity and other communal services. In the Russian literature, these fees are often referred to as “tariffs”. After decades of socialism, Russians have come to expect reasonably low utility bills. But Muratshin believes that the power companies would need to jack up their prices in order to raise additional cash for modernization of the infrastructure.
The Boilermaker’s Plaint
Next Muratshin goes on to talk about the Boiler situation in Russia, using it as just one example of the decline of heavy industry.
The Russian word for “boiler” is котёл (kat-YOL) which simply means “pot”, it could be any kind of pot, ranging from a clay pot dug up by an archaeologist, to a small kitchen pot, to a giant industrial boiler. During the recent Ukrainian civil war, blog readers learned another usage of the word котёл, namely the military usage. A “pot” also known as a “kettle”, is a military formation in which the Ukrainian “Anti-Terrorist” militias are surrounded and “kettled up” by said “terrorists”, prime examples being the Battles of Ilovaisk and Debaltsevo.
But returning to the original meaning, in which a pot is an actual pot, and a kettle is a pot with a whistile on it, and neither one is allowed to call the other black….
In turn, a котельщик (“katelshchik”) is a man who makes boilers, in other words, a boilermaker. In America, a boilermaker is also a drink, or rather a combination of drinks: a glass of beer mixed with a shot of whiskey. The whiskey can either be imbibed on the side, or poured right into the beer.
In either case, Muratshin is not talking about alcoholic beverages, he is talking about giant red boilers used in factories. In Soviet times the largest boiler-making factory in the country was the “Red Boilermaker”. At its peak, this factory produced 40 heavy-duty boilers per year. Nowdays, the factory is still in operation, but only produces one or two boilers per year. “There is no demand for these,” according to Muratshin, “and we have lost the capacity that we once had, in Soviet times. However, the fundamental technology remains, the fact is that in the course of two or three years our factories could once again [if needed] produce 40-50 boilers per year. It’s just a question of time and money…”
[to be continued]