All around the world, the greenhouse industry grows at high speed because of the huge and growing demand for fresh vegetables, fruits, and berries, especially in wintertime. "Russia follows this trend as well, additionally motivated by self-sanctions and the national supporting program of the government," the team with Gruppo AB says. Considering the cold climate, geographical location (mostly in the North), and being the biggest country on Earth, the main challenges for a greenhouse in Russia are heat, electricity for artificial lighting, and logistics. "Even if one can solve the issues with heat and electricity via the installation of boilers and/or generators and/or obtaining electrical grid connection, the issue with logistics remains."
To mitigate the logistic issue, the team with AB sees that an investor searches for a land plot closer to the consumers (which are usually Moscow and St. Petersburg, or sometimes the capital of the region or another big city). "The most common vegetable greenhouse size in Russia varies from 10 to 50 hectares, and it is not always easy to find a proper land plot with all necessary ingredients: proximity to the consumers, electrical grid connection, and road infrastructure."
Usually, at least one of the abovementioned ingredients is missing, and investors are forced to choose a land plot without an electrical grid connection with infrastructure close to the consumers. In this case, there is still a possibility to feed artificial lights with electricity generated by Cogeneration Heat and Power (CHP) running on natural gas.
"Fortunately, modern CHP technologies are very developed and already proven worldwide. They can reach electrical efficiency up to 45%, total efficiency up to 90%, and to guarantee the cost of kWh which is in most cases twice (in some regions triple) cheaper comparing with the grid in Russia," they explain. "What is also important for investors and future greenhouse management is easy operation and proper maintenance of the system to make sure that the greenhouse will be receiving electricity, heat, and CO2 uninterruptedly, especially during the cold season when most vegetables are demanded by consumers."
Operation of CHP systems certainly requires agronomical and technical skills, but a high level of automation and user-friendly interface makes it easy and logically clear. A grow light computer together with a master control panel work synchronously with the greenhouse computer and manages to follow the parameters set by the agronomist (at the greenhouse computer) automatically.
Maintenance of CHP units is usually provided by specialized service organizations. It is possible to obtain a long-term (10-15 years) service contract with full coverage of preventive and corrective maintenance with guaranteed availability of the power plant 95-97%. This type of service contract provides investors with an opportunity to secure their business model from unexpected electricity, heat, and CO2 shortage due to technical failure.
The CHP system shows itself as an essential solution for the Russian greenhouses. It allows for greenhouses to be closer to the consumers, and saves costs on logistics. At the same time, it can generate much less expensive electricity for artificial lights compared to the electrical grid. It can simultaneously generate heat for the greenhouse heating system, and in addition produces CO2 to fertilize the plants.