Power plants, downtown

I’ve always been fascinated (and a bit shocked, at first) to see how Russian cities still have active power plants right in the middle of the city, often in nice, upscale, residential neighborhoods.

This is not a case of a city “growing around” industrial buildings that were, once, in the outskirts or even in the countryside. Because of their very limited output and the dispersion in transporting electricity, power plants were built right where the energy was needed. And at first this meant the city center and the most well-to-do neighborhoods.

The first city to benefit from this new “technological marvel” was, of course, Saint Petersburg, them capital of the Russian Empire. In 1879, as an experiment, electric street lighting was installed on the Alexander II Bridge (today’s Liteyny Bridge), where twelve electric candles replaced almost ten times as many gas lamps. The project operated for only 227 days, but the experiment was considered a success, and from that moment on, electricity gradually appeared on the streets of the major Russian cities. Moscow saw its first electric lights in 1881.

In 1883, the first 32 electric lamps illuminated the Kremlin, the terrace outside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the Bolshoi Kamenny Bridge. Electricity was supplied by a small power plant at the Wine and Salt Bonded Warehouse on the Bolotnaya Embankment. Its limited capacity proved to be a drag on the expansion of electric lighting in Moscow, so in 1891, there were only slightly more than 40 lampposts with electric arc lamps in the whole city.

The first “real” power station in Moscow was built in 1896–1897 at 8 Raushskaya Embankment by Electric Lights–1886, a Joint-Stock Company established at the initiative of the Siemens brothers. It is the GES-1, which provided electricity to Petrovka and Kuznetsky Most streets, as well as other central streets, among which a three-kilometre section of Tverskaya Street that boasted about 100 lampposts.

Saint Basil's Cathedral
The chimneys of Ges-1 Power Plant billowing smoke behind the Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

What is truly remarkable is that 120 years later this power plant is still in operation. Even if I did not know the story behind it, I was so impressed to see smoke billowing out of chimneys just a few hundred feet from the Red Square than this is actually the very first picture I ever took in Russia!

In spite of this relative late start, by 1913 the Russian Empire ranked eighth in the world in terms of total electricity generation with two billion kWh, but it was still rather far behind other countries and in particular thirty times behind the leader, the United States. However, the growth rate of power production reached 25% capacity per year (before WWI and the Russian revolution put a temporary end to it) and we can still admire many of the power plants of that time.

As mentioned, GES-1, the oldest Power plant of them all, is still active, operated by MosEnergo, currently the largest territorial generating company in Russia. Here you can read a long interesting article about its history and current capacity. 

The second oldest power plant of Moscow, GES-2, is currently undergoing an incredible reconstruction, which will infuse it with a new, different, life. But that is the subject for the next post

The feature image of this post is TETs-12, also known as Moscow-12, a thermal power plant (that, too, operated by MoEenergo) on the Moskva river near the Krasnoluzhsky bridge.

Travel Tip!

In the coldest months during winter the Moskva river freezes over. But the ice sheet is never very thick. You can definitely NOT cross the river on foot as you can, for instance, walk across the Volga in Tver

On the other hand this also means that you can take a cruise on the Moskva all year around. And in winter these turn into unforgettable ice-breaking river cruises, a rather unique experience, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

I talked at length about it on my “photography only” blog and if you are interested you can read about ice-breaking cruises in Moscow here.


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