Geothermal Power Plant „Mutnovskaya“ (Kamchatka)
Русская версия Kamchatka is a unique region, famous for its wildlife. Volcanoes, hot natural springs, bears, ocean, fishing – all this fascinates and attracts tourists. One of our aims was also to visit geothermal power plant “Mutnovskaya”, which operates by volcanic activity. This time, Victor, as a power engineer, will tell how to get the permission for the visit and what you can see there.
Despite the fact that geothermal power plant is located in 116 km from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, most likely you will be in this area during your trip to Kamchatka on a different occasion too. From this point located at 780 meters above sea level, many travellers start their ascent to Mutnovsky volcano, camping near the power plant. Here, it less likely that curious bear will glace to you. If you prefer comfort, you can use a hotel located here as overnight accommodation. Also, for those who do not want to pay 37 thousand Russian roubles for a helicopter ride to the Valley of Geysers, you can visit the Little Valley and springs here, observe steam and gas jets, and boiling mud volcanoes. Here visitors can also take a dip in the small pool with thermal water and blue clay. In general, a visit to the unique geothermal plant can easily be included in the travel plan. And we were planning to do all of these things ourselves planning our route in April. That’s how it was supposed to look like:
Photo taken from: http://greenevolution.ru/
But! We have already mentioned that our little trip to Kamchatka was outstanding due to the fact that nature made a surprise for us: the summer was delayed, and in early July, people still did not see the sun, and it was extremely snowy. That’s how it looked when we arrived.
So, we abandoned the idea of climbing the Mutnovsky volcano on our own and hitchhiking to power plant. As a result, we decided to make an application to visit JSC “Geoterm”. This company is the owner of the power plant, and offers a tour of the facility. On the official website, you can find contact information. The bizarre office building is located at: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Ak. Koroleva st, 60.
Photo taken from: http://google.com/
We made some calls to Petropavlovsk in the middle of the night (do not forget about the time difference) and faced some problems. To get a permission, it was necessary to write an application, as well as to send a copy of the passport to verify our identity in the security service. The price has not been specified too. Everybody told us not to worry and promised it will be cheap. Finally, we knew that application can be written in plain-text, the official rate is equal to 2700 roubles (45 EUR, 1 EUR = 60 RUR) per group, but found out another unexpected nuance.Since we could not get to the power plant on our own, we had to adjust to vahtovka (vehicle, which carries the staff to the facility and back, vahta is duty in English). Vahtovka goes to the plant once a week or two, which was ruining our plans. To get the permission, one must come in person to the Geoterm office. The problem is that all tourist trips from Petropavlovsk start early morning, which means that visiting the office, we lose one day. Somehow we managed to persuade our the group we were supposed to go to Mutnovsky with to wait for us till 9 am. The next surprise was an hourly meeting on Monday, from 8 am… When the big bosses were finally ready to sign our papers, the procedure was even more surprising. We were just given a piece of paper, which was not even checked properly the next day at the power plant. All bureaucracy and time consumed was useless for actual security. But finally we did it and could go to Muntovsky on the same day.
The next day, at 8 am we were near the Geoterm office. We took one of two vahtovkas and were waiting for departure. People did not greet us very friendly. Someone was staring, and the head of the transport department said sternly that we will not have more than half an hour at the station (with 9 hours spent on the trip there and back). In general, the tour should last an hour, but as I told, we have had a unique experience.
Only later, due the conversation with a worker, we calmed down. Vahtovka was going to “Mutnovskaya” first and then to another geothermal power plant “Upper Mutnovskaya”. Therefore, the time we would have had more than an hour. He also told that often the personnel stays at the power plant for one or several months, and during the winter they use cross-country vehicles. Sometimes they had to use helicopter to transport people.
The road was almost the same path we had done the day before . We had heard many good things about the people in Kamchatka, about their mutual assistance, but today we had the opportunity to look at the life of workers from the inside. We were unpleasantly surprised by their attitude to tourists. One the way we saw the 4RW stuck, and they were very happy about it. The driver did not even think of helping the tourists in pulling the car out. Many told that the road should be closed for stupid tourists. It is clear that all people are different, sometimes the tourists pollute the local nature, but still their malicious joy was too negative. Apart from that, there was too much of obscene language and talks about Europe, Ukraine, and other current political issues.
The road to the geothermal power station took about 4.5 hours. After the crossroads to Mutnovsky-Gorely volcano the road became a little better. That’s how it is, when there are no tourists! In a normal summer, the road is driveable.
On the arrival, we were met by the security, waiting for us. They asked whether we had permission, and made sure that somebody showed us where to go. The engineer Konstantin was a very friendly guy, who showed the key points to us.
As I mentioned, the power plant is operated by the activity of the earth. Scientifically, the source of energy is called “the geothermal fluid produced from production wells of Mutnovsky deposit steam hydrotherms” The power plant has combined geothermal binary cycle power units installed with reverse-cycle injection of waste energy source. But do not worry, I’ll try to avoid theory.
The process starts with the wells (maximum depth of 2200 meters), which get a mixture. This power plant has 28 wells now. Some of them are no longer in operation – there is no enough steam. While this area had been explored, about 90 wells were drilled.
Through the piping system the mixture goes to the separator, where the impurities are removed and water is separating from the steam. The separated water is also involved in the process later.
The steam is passed down the corridor and goes towards another filter and evaporator.
Only after this, the steam enters the turbine. A distinctive feature of this power plant is the low temperature of steam supplied to the blade – less than 300 degrees Celsius. To solve this problem the developers of the Kaluga turbine plant used the experience of manufacturing turbines for nuclear submarines.
After that, the process of generating is the same as at the regular conventional thermal power plants. The turbine rotates the generator, the energy goes into the dispenser with modern gas-insulated switches, and exhausted steam is condensed in cooling towers. Water purified from various impurities is pumped back into the ground deeply.
From the top of cooling tower a great view of the Mutnovsky volcano opens.
Then we wandered around the territory of the power plant, which was generally cleared from snow. By the way, Konstantin told us about a smart decision to melt the snow with the help of the steam pipe.
You can only guess about the possible height of the snow cover, if you do not do this.
He advised us not to go to Dachny springs because of the snow. In such conditions, you can fall somewhere, so we went back to the control room. I felt nostalgic about dispatching profession, I used to work at.
There we talked to the day shift supervisor about history and nowadays.
The first experimental power plant of 12 MW capacity was built in 1999; it is located a few kilometres away. The power plant, where we were, is launched in 2002. It consists of two units with an installed capacity of 25 MW each. To make things clear, in sum these two power plants can provide electricity to 30% of the Kamchatka region. One problem is the difficult terrain, so the only one 220 kV high-voltage line is build with total length of 70 km. Seismic active and climatic conditions add difficulties too.
Before leaving, we walked to have a look on the hotel, with incredible prices: up to 3000 roubles per person in the new building and 900 roubles for a place in a dormitory. The food in the dining room, too, is not cheap. For example, lunch at the time was worth 600 roubles. So again, in normal weather conditions use condensed milk, canned meat and sleep in tents.
Soon we went back to Petropavlovsk with other KAMAZ. This one was more comfortable, if it is possible to say so. Some women who work at hotel and kitchen were there too. There was an atmosphere of flirting and vulgar hints – perhaps, due to the shift method. However, it was much nicer and more pleasant compared to the trip in the morning. Maybe because, the people were going back home, not to work? We returned to the base around 6 PM, and the next day went to ESSO settlement.