Library                   Topics



Human life and all human activities require energy. We have become so accustomed to the availability of energy resources produced by the energy industry that it is hard to imagine human civilisation surviving without them.

Energy is derived from a variety of sources. The burning of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and petroleum) accounts for 56 percent of the EU’s total energy production, while nuclear energy accounts for 35 percent and renewable energy sources 9 percent. In Central and Eastern Europe, the burning of fossil fuels provides 80 percent of the energy produced, while nuclear power and renewable energy account for 12 percent and 8 percent respectively.

All types of energy have potential environmental impacts of varying degrees at every stage of the production cycle, from extraction to processing to final consumption.

Fossil fuels ― The use of fossil fuels is the most common source of environmental pressure. Each stage in the process has its own impact, from mining or extraction to processing, transportation, conversion, combustion and disposal. The burning of fossil fuels results in emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and dust. Carbon dioxide is the main contributor to global warming, while sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides cause acid rain, and together with particulate matter contribute to poor air quality. The combustion of fossil fuels, including in transport and industry, contributes roughly 80 percent of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Emissions in Europe are about 30 percent of this total. The amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the production of energy varies, depending on the type of fuel used.

Nuclear power stations ― During normal operation, nuclear power stations do not have serious environmental impacts. Problems arise in relation to the storage and disposal of radioactive waste, and there is also the risk of major environmental impacts from nuclear accidents. The long-term storage of radioactive waste is a major concern and as yet there is no clear solution. There are also concerns about the risks associated with the decommissioning of reactors at the end of their lifetime.

Hydropower ― The use of hydropower has obvious benefits, but the following environmental impacts should be borne in mind:

  • the need to resettle populations displaced from areas that are submerged;
  • the loss of forests and fertile land;
  • the disturbance of wildlife and fish habitats;
  • landscape destruction;
  • loss of livelihoods among communities that rely on fishing, farming and related activities; and
  • the rerouting of rivers to supply dams, which may lead to conflicts over water use.

Although the environmental consequences of hydropower projects are complex and difficult to predict, they are often unacceptably high and represent a barrier to the development of large-scale hydropower schemes.

Renewable energy sources ― There are a wide range of alternative or non-traditional sources of renewable energy, the most well known being wind, solar, geothermal and biomass energy.

  • Wind power is generated from the kinetic energy of the air, which ultimately originates from solar energy. Human beings have used wind energy for thousands of years, the most familiar examples being windmills and sailing ships. Modern wind turbines convert wind power to electricity. The cost of this electricity is not much higher than that of energy produced in thermal power plants. Wind turbines do not pollute the air with toxic emissions, but they can cause noise pollution. The concentration of many turbines in one place is economically profitable, although some people object on aesthetic grounds. Turbine yields are higher in strong winds, but severe storms and hurricanes can damage facilities.
  • Radiation from the sun is the most powerful source of energy. However, greater use of this source is hindered by the need for large areas of land to accommodate optical systems, heat storage devices and solar panels, as well as by strong fluctuations in the intensity of solar radiation as a function of geographic latitude, climate and weather conditions. Solar panels are suitable for household use and are especially efficient in dry, sunny climates and where sufficient space is available. There are two ways of using this type of energy:
    • The first is to construct solar water heaters in which the vaporised water is concentrated via a system of mirrors. The resulting steam drives a turbine, in a similar way to how a thermal or nuclear power plant works. A great deal of space is needed to install solar water heaters.
    • The second method is to use solar cells to convert solar energy directly into electricity. This is how many pocket calculators work, and is also a common energy source in aerospace technology. Photovoltaic panels do not pollute the environment during use, but huge amounts of energy are required for their production, as they are made of ultra-pure silicon. After decommissioning, solar panels are a form of hazardous waste.
  • Heat from thermal waters can be converted to electricity using turbines and generators. Although the production of geothermal energy results in thermal pollution, this problem is also characteristic of other energy sources. One problem specific to this type of energy is that geothermal waters often have high salinity and cause corrosion. This dictates the need to use special materials, as well as the need for frequent shutdowns for maintenance. In addition, if water temperatures are insufficient to produce the superheated steam necessary to drive the turbines, different heat transfer materials need to be used (e.g. liquid sodium). These materials are expensive, cause corrosion and pose a threat to the environment.
  • The burning of plant biomass is another way to generate energy. This technique does not contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect, since only the carbon that plants have consumed recently during photosynthesis is released into the atmosphere. Without burning biomass, nearly the same amount of carbon dioxide is released into the air as a result of natural decay. Biomass burning does, however, produce carbon monoxide and soot, and the efficiency of biomass power facilities is poor because of the fuel’s low calorific value. The fact that high volumes of biomass are needed to generate energy makes this a relatively expensive energy alternative. Another option involves the digestion of biomass or organic waste in a special device (digestion tank or methane tank) and the subsequent use of methane (biogas) to generate electricity for household needs. This method can be used in places where large amounts of agricultural, wood or municipal waste are available, and where there is no permafrost. Where it is possible to produce methyl or ethyl alcohol through the fermentation of agricultural or wood waste, this can be used as a motor fuel, either by itself or in combination with other fuels.

The fuel and energy complex of Belarus comprises:

  • a system for supplying natural gas;
  • a grid that connects electricity generators with consumers;
  • a petrol production and refining system, with pipelines for oil and petroleum products;
  • facilities for peat extraction and the production of peat briquettes; and
  • other industries.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the energy balance of Belarus shifted dramatically from fuel oil and coal to natural gas. Natural gas is expected to remain the most important source of heat and electricity production in the country until at least 2020. At present, natural gas provides 95 to 96 percent of electricity production. The main consumer of natural gas (58 percent) is the state-owned enterprise Belenerga. Industry and transport consume 18 percent, and other petrochemical companies consume just under 10 percent. Natural gas is used to heat 90 out of the country's 104 cities, and 60 of the country's 110 towns.

Belarus is able to supply just 13 percent of its energy needs from its own energy resources. The country imports all of its natural gas, which is transported through existing and newly built pipelines in Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Belarus is able to offset some of its fuel import costs by using its own territory as a transit area for Europe-bound fuel.

Belarus has some of its own petrol fields, but relies mostly on imports from Russia to meet existing petrol demand, which is approximately 21 million tonnes per year. Domestic petrol production is currently about 1.2 million tonnes per year, but is declining.

Gas production is expected to fall to 150 million m3 by 2015.

Over 9,000 peat deposits are being explored in Belarus. The total area of industrial-depth deposits is about 2.5 million hectares, with an initial estimated supply of 5.6 billion tonnes and reserves estimated at 4.3 billion tonnes. Most major peat deposits lie beneath fields used for agriculture or under protected natural areas. Peat resources to be developed are estimated at 260 million tonnes; recoverable mining reserves are estimated at 140 million tonnes; and the planned production of peat in terms of conventional fuel is not likely to exceed 1 million tonnes per year.

Centralised services provide approximately 1 million tonnes of firewood and lumber waste to consumers, while small groups and individuals collect a further 400,000 tonnes for themselves.

Several areas in Belarus have been planted with fast-growing trees, such as willow and Sakhalin bamboo.

The potential capacity of water resources in Belarus is estimated at 850 megawatts (MW). There are plans to construct cascade hydropower stations on the Zakhodniaya Dzvina and Neman rivers.

Up to 2,000 sites for wind turbines have been earmarked throughout Belarus, although wind farms are currently operating only in the Navahrudak and Miadelsky districts.

Agricultural biomass can be used for biogas production, and estimates for the potential production of marketable biogas in Belarus are quite high. When assessing the potential of biomass energy, the possibility of using agricultural crop waste should also be taken into consideration.

Belarus should encourage the widespread uptake of small solar water heaters, which the country is already producing.

Municipal solid waste (MSW) has a low calorific value and is not suitable for direct combustion. One method of maximising the potential of this fuel resource is to convert MSW into gas — a process known as gasification. Belarus accumulates 2.4 million tonnes of MSW per year.

The installed capacity of all the power stations operated by the Belenerga consortium is 7,882 megawatts. Thermal power plants represent 98 percent of installed capacity. In addition to thermal power plants, the grid includes 26 small hydroelectric power stations and other power stations belonging to industrial plants.

The gas energy system in Belarus is extremely inefficient. The fuel utilisation factor, which is the ratio of the sum of the useful heat and electricity produced by cogeneration (combined heat and power, or CHP) and the energy input into the plant, is just 76 percent, while the optimum fuel utilisation factor in cogeneration is about 90 percent.

Belarus imports much of its electricity from Russia and Lithuania, although it also exports electricity, mainly to Poland. The main challenge in the electricity sector is to achieve a significant increase in the efficiency of energy production and to improve the reliability of electricity supply.

Belarus is the only one of the former Soviet states to have established a control system for energy saving. Companies receive energy-saving plans on an annual basis and have managed, on average, to reduce energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP) by approximately 6 percent per year.

Much attention is being focused on developing renewable energy sources. The Government of Belarus has adopted regulations and introduced feed-in tariffs for electricity produced from renewable energy sources, along with guaranteed purchase agreements and guaranteed access to the national grid.

Energy production plants and distribution companies are the main sources of atmospheric pollution in Belarus, being responsible for up to 40 percent of emissions. Thermal power generation accounts for about 75 percent of sulphur dioxide emissions and about 50 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of carbon-based fuels contribute to the greenhouse effect: when burning fuel oil, a thermal power plant with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts produces 11,700 tonnes of nitrogen oxide per year.

Fly ash, the residue from combustion found in smoke emissions from power plants that operate on heavy fuel oil and solid fuel, may contain cadmium, copper, lead, zinc and mercury. Emissions from thermal power plants that use heavy fuel oil contain large quantities of vanadium (13 kg/tonne) and nickel (6 kg/tonne).

Thermal power plants discharge cooling water, which has strong negative impacts on water basins and aquatic systems. Belae Lake in the Brest region of Belarus has been more or less transformed into a tropical swamp due to warm water discharges from the neighbouring Biaroza Power Plant.

The construction of hydropower plants has at least two negative environmental impacts: floodplains become permanently submerged; and the hydrological characteristics of affected rivers are irreversibly altered.

Legislation in the field of energy and energy saving is steadily being improved.

The legislative framework for energy conservation in the Republic of Belarus comprises:

  • The Law on Energy Saving
  • The Law on Amendments and Additions to the Code on Administrative Offences (which determines the responsibility of officials regarding the efficient use of fuel and energy)
  • Decision of the Council of Ministers No. 819 of July 2, 1997, on Additional Measures to Ensure the Efficient Use of Fuel and Energy Resources
  • Decision of the Council of Ministers No. 965 of June 19, 1998, on Measures to Strengthen Work on the Implementation of Energy-Saving Policy in the Republic of Belarus
  • A further 30 regulations

Technical and legal acts also apply in setting industry standards for energy saving. The Law on Renewable Energy Sources, which entered into force in 2011, is of fundamental importance. A new version of the Law on Energy Saving (which has been in effect since 1998) is being prepared, and a new Law on the Electric Power Industry is being developed. There are plans to draft a law on heat supply, and also to update existing normative legal acts on the functioning of the energy system and the establishment of new relations within the electricity industry in the new economic environment.

A programme to develop technical standards for assessing energy efficiency in the 2011−2015 period has also been implemented.

Further information about the energy sector in Belarus can be found from the following sources:
  • Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Belarus:
  • Department of Energy Efficiency of the State Committee for Standardisation of the Republic of Belarus:
  • Green Belarus portal (on projects related to energy and resource savings):
  • Association of Industrial Power Engineering:
  • A school programme for energy and resource saving (developed by an NGO coalition and public educational institutions):
  • A paper describing the main characteristics and macroeconomic importance of the energy sector for the economy of Belarus, as well as factors determining its current and future competitiveness. The study was carried out within the project "National competitiveness of Belarus: Responding to today’s challenges":