Heating in Russia

My buddy, Fred, was over for a visit and the talk turned to steam. Fred works for Consolidated Edison in New York City. Con Ed provides the electricity and steam for about a billion buildings. “A lot of people say that Con Ed has the largest district heating system in the world,” Fred said, “but I hear there’s a bigger one in Russia.” “I’m pretty sure that’s a district hot water system over there,” I said.

“You sure?”

“One way to find out,” I said. I walked into my office here at home (I spend most of my days staring at a birdfeeder), and asked the question on The Wall at HeatingHelp.com. I asked the question at 11:33 AM and got an answer from Jim Sokolovic at 11:37. Jim said that he had co-workers in Russia and that he would ask them. What specifically did I want to know? I told him that I wanted to know if it was steam, hot water or a combination of both. He got back to me at 11:55 with this:

“Dan, The heating plant is a single boiler, usually oil-fired, and they keep it in a garage-type structure. It supplies hot water through a continuous circulation system underground. Cast-iron radiators are in the buildings, which the government owns. There are no thermostats in the buildings, but the rooms never get warm enough, anyway. It’s chilly over there!”

Christian Egli then posted a terrific article that had appeared in the Moscow Times on August 7, 2003. Here’s a bit of that:

– It’s summer, and your hot water is turned off again.

– But the shutoff that often bewilders foreigners unfamiliar with the peculiarities of Moscow life might not always be an annual tradition: Engineers say a solution is in sight.

– However, it might take 200 years before your neighborhood has hot water all year round.

– Moscow Heating Network, the subsidiary of Mosenergo in charge of the main pipes that ship steamy-hot water from electric power plants to neighborhood heat-exchange points, sees the city’s savior in a new pipe that is resistant to rust — the main culprit that forces it to turn off hot water for repairs every summer.

– The pipes are protected by a special water- and heat-proof coating that is several centimeters thick and filled with rust-fighting polyurethane foam, said Viktor Tarasov, deputy chief engineer at Moscow Heating Network, or Teploseti. The pipes also are equipped with detectors that alert engineers about the need for small repairs before any major damage occurs. �All this means that the new pipes can remain in service for 25 to 30 years without any major repairs, thus allowing hot water to be kept on all the time, Tarasov said.

– Just about every neighborhood takes its turn without hot water for three weeks every summer as engineers repair a vast and aging pipeline system that stretches for thousands of kilometers under — and sometimes over — the ground.

“The problem is that Moscow’s heating and hot-water supply systems have a level of technology dating back to somewhere in the 1930s,” Tarasov said in a recent interview.

– In most cases, city dwellers get their heating and hot water through a complicated system in which extra-hot water — heated up to 130 degrees Celsius in the peak of the winter — is pumped through the main pipes to the neighborhood heat-exchange points. There, through special heat-exchange equipment, household water is warmed up — but not mixed with — the water from the power plants and the cooled-off steam is returned to the plants. Some of the longest main pipes stretch 20 kilometers from the power plants to the neighborhood heat-exchange points, or nearly halfway across the city, Tarasov said.

“This relatively unique heating and hot-water system was adopted primarily due to the city’s vast size and the area’s cold climate,” Tarasov said. “And since electricity is produced anyway, the hot steam is effectively a byproduct that is a free source of heat,” he said. “It would have been silly to waste it.”

So Fred had his answer, but the “Wallies” weren’t through yet. Cliff Heeney added this:

“Dan, I live in Tallinn, Estonia. Estonia was formerly a part of the USSR, so I believe that the heating systems that we have here are probably basically the same system as in Russia today. We have district heating serving probably half the city, which has 435,000 people. As far as I know the boilers are all fired with oil and only make hot water, which is then piped into the district that that particular plant serves. There is a power-generating plant on the outskirts of the city, which of course utilizes steam to fire the generator. I believe that they then use the steam through a heat exchanger to make hot water for the district heating in that particular area of Tallinn.”

“Each building has a meter and pays for the amount of hot water that is used. Some of the apartment buildings that have been renovated have also placed individual meters in each apartment so that the bill can be divided evenly. Without the individual meters, then the apartment owners pay a percentage based upon the size in square meters of their apartment. �The temperature of the hot water produced by the district heating plants is based upon the outside air temperature. So just imagine a giant sized outdoor reset!

“Sorry that I can’t answer your question about Russia right now, though. My wife’s favorite aunt lives in Moscow; we’ll send her an email tomorrow and see what she can find out for you.”

Isn’t the World Wide Web wonderful? While I waited for Cliff to get back to me, other Wallies chatted away about district heating around the world. Two days later we heard again from Cliff

“My wife Tuuli, called her favorite aunt, Evi, in Moscow today. Evi and her husband, Sergei, believe that almost all, if not all, of the district heating in Moscow is with water. They have heard of a few older buildings, and some of the new ones being heated with steam, but they don’t think that is being done with a district heating system. More than likely the individual building has it’s own steam boiler dedicated for the use of that building. They weren’t able to verify that though.”

“They also believe that most, if not all, district heating in Russia would be with water, not steam. They have traveled somewhat and they have only seen hot water being utilized in district heating set-ups.”

“We asked them if they knew of anyone who works in that utility and unfortunately they don’t. They are going to ask around, though, and try to find someone who either works in one of the district heating plants, or who has a friend who does. I’ll let you know what they find out.”

“I was born and raised in Vernal, Utah. I have lived in Estonia for about six years and have been married to my wife, who is an Estonian, for 5-1/2 years. We have two children, our daughter, Nancy, who turned two years old today, and David, who is eight months old.”

Small world isn’t it? Later that day, Eric Petersen wrote, “Central heating is a feature of some housing developments in Finland. A friend of mine bought a new house in the Helsinki area and the whole development is heated by a central system which provides hot water. I remember walking to his house from the bus stop and seeing where they were laying the heating distribution pipes deep in the ground for a different set of houses. The control mechanism was TRVs but I don’t know how they charged for usage. I do know that these types of houses are very well made, insulated, and comfortable all through the winter. Actually winters near Helsinki are not that much colder than Chicago. One other thing, my friend views American housing developments (especially apartment complexes with hot air heating) as somewhat barbaric in that it seems wasteful for everyone have to have a separate heating appliance in their unit. Wasteful and noisy (hot air that is).”

A few hours later, Cliff Heeney was back to say. “Just got off the telephone with our Finnish friends who live in Vantaa, a suburb of Helsinki. Their apartment building is heated by district heating, as most are in Helsinki. They are not charged by how much hot heating water that they use, but rather a flat rate based upon the square meters of their flat. It is built into their monthly maintenance fee. Each apartment or flat is owned by an individual and they all pay a monthly maintenance fee, I think it’s similar to what a condo owner would pay in the USA. No steam is used in their systems.”

So, if you looking to learn about heating, or just about life in general, stop by The Wall at HeatingHelp.com and ask. I’m not the only one who’s staring at a birdfeeder.

Dan Holohan

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