From stoves to thermal power stations: the history of Moscow’s heat supply system

February 3
Municipal services

The Moscow Hydropower Station’s Heating Network (MOGES) was established 90 years ago, on 28 January 1931, bringing the city’s centralised heating system to everyone.

“Today, this is one of the most powerful and longest heat supply systems in the world and includes over 16,600 kilometres of building-heating systems and 24 pumping stations. All these facilities operate in a well-coordinated manner 24 hours a day, so city residents can receive heat and hot water all the time. We use state-of-the-art technology and specialised equipment to facilitate the uninterrupted and safe operation of the city’s heating system,” said Pyotr Biryukov, Deputy Moscow Mayor for Housing, Utilities and Amenities.

On this memorable date, recalls how the world’s largest heating system came about and developed.

Before the centralised heating system

In the early 20th century, over 500,000 stoves heated most buildings. Businesses and large buildings had their own boiler rooms. About 1,760 small boiler rooms heated some 1,170 buildings inside the Garden Ring. A single large building, especially an industrial facility, would need two or three small boiler rooms for heat. A total of 2,750 stokers and boiler-men operated these boiler rooms and repaired and maintained their equipment. Boiler rooms and stoves required expensive fuel. In 1913, 502,000 poods (one pood = 16 kilogrammes) of fuel were delivered to the city, mostly anthracite; but fuel oil and firewood were also used. 

During the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922, Moscow residents used fences, furniture, and wood from buildings for firewood. The Soviet authorities urged people to huddle as close together as possible to avoid wasting heat from  stoves located in in another  rooms.

In December 1920, the Soviet Government approved the State Plan for the Electrification of Soviet Russia (GOELRO). At the time, most power stations generated electricity alone; most of their steam and hot water byproducts were not used. The GOELRO plan mostly aimed to ensure the cost-effective use of resources. In the late 1920s, it was decided to provide the city with centralised heating based on district-heating systems. Each facility was to generate heat and electricity. This energy-generating alternative helped save up to 40 percent of fuel. 

The first steps

Some of the city’s production facilities needed steam badly. In 1928, an experimental heating station (TETs) of the Dzerzhinsky All-Union  Thermal Engineering Institute started supplying steam with a pressure of about four atmospheres to the Dynamo Plant and the Parostroi Boiler Plant. This project was deemed successful, and the city started building power-and-heating stations in industrial districts. The Krasnopresnenskaya Thermal Power Station started operating in 1929; it supplied steam to the Tryokhgornaya Manufactory. On 1 May 1930, the first experimental high-pressure thermal power station under the Zhirkost (Bone and Fat) Trust opened in an impressive setting in southeastern Moscow. The station started delivering steam to the trust’s plants and to the First Ball Bearing Plant some time later.

“Many districts in what is now central Moscow, including the Krasnopresnensky District, were packed with industrial buildings. Their thermal power stations were built on a priority basis. Residential consumers, including offices, blocks of flats and other buildings, were the first to connect to Hydropower Station No. 1 on Raushskaya Embankment. Consumers in central districts were the first to connect to Moscow’s centralised heat supply system followed by those in outlying areas which already had high-capacity power stations,” Yelena Kosheleva, Head of Mosenergo’s Museum Group, noted.

The first high-pressure station, Thermal Power Station No. 8, in the 1930s

On 28 January 1931 the MOGES Trust established the MOGES Housing Heating Network for designing, building, operating and maintaining residential heating distribution systems. MOGES became an industrial laboratory for addressing scientific and technological power-and-heating objectives.

Moscow’s centralised heat supply system was officially established in 1931. The city’s first water pipeline was laid from the Smidovich Hydropower Plant No. 1 in March 1931 along Raushskaya Embankment via the Ustyinsky Bridge and the Old Moskvoretsky Bridge towards Sverdlova Square, Neglinka Street and the Central and Sandunovskiye bath-houses. The Supreme Council of National Economy building in Kitai-Gorod, as well as the Bolshoi and Maly theatres, were all connected to the pipeline.

“The city’s first power-and-heat supply unit was assembled in the courtyard of Hydropower Plant No. 1. Workers installed boilers, laid a steam pipeline from the boiler house and installed hot-water pipes. Builders dug pits on Raushskaya Embankment and placed pipes in them. They also laid insulated pipes on the iron trusses of Moskvoretsky Bridge spanning the Moskva River. A heat-supply line was laid in the basements of buildings on Varvarka Street. Workers punched holes through old walls and installed the pipes from premise to premise. The order to switch on the new heating system was issued late at night.” (Excerpt from the book “Light Carrier” by F. S. Novikov).

Map of Moscow’s power-and-heat supply system. 1932–1937

The new system became clogged time and again; this was the most serious problem. Plenty of mud and stones penetrated the pipelines, and workers even found a log once. The situation improved after the pipelines were cleaned and overhauled.

The first buildings without boiler houses started appearing all over town. The list included the re-equipped Hotel Novomoskovskaya, now the Hotel Balchug, the building of the People’s Commissariat (Ministry) of the Heavy Industry, and the Communist Youth International Vehicle Assembly Plant.

That same year, Hydropower Plant No. 2 started heating buildings at the All-Union Central Executive Committee, an early Soviet parliament. In all, 16 buildings in central Moscow, primarily state, public and cultural facilities, were connected to the centralised heating system. However, many residential buildings in the central districts were also connected to the system and accounted for 32 percent of consumers.

In 1931-1932, the city drafted the first general power-and-heat supply concept stipulating construction of thermal power stations on the outskirts. This document became an important stage in the history of Moscow’s centralised heat supply system and prompted the development of thermal power stations and the power-and-heating system. In 1935, the city drafted the General Plan for Creating the Moscow Power and Heating System based on the First General Plan for the Reconstruction of Moscow.

The title page of the General Plan for Supplying Moscow with Power and Heat, 1934

In late 1940, the total capacity of the city’s thermal power stations was 230 megawatt. Local heat supply systems were over 70 km long, and they were connected to 445 residential buildings and several dozen industrial enterprises. The city’s centralised heating system had already dwarfed all European cities by that time.

The war and the post-war years

Most buildings and industrial facilities continued to receive heat even during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. However, the city generated less heat after over 50 percent of thermal power station equipment was evacuated and due to fuel shortages. Construction of heat-supply systems continued unabated despite a shortage of materials. City residents also took part in the project. In 1944, they built a 1.5-km heat-supply pipeline and connected it to 20 buildings in the Zhdanovsky, now Tagansky District.

By 1946, the capacity of Moscow’s power-and-heating turbines had exceeded pre-war levels. After the war heat was supplied, for the most part, to residential buildings. The new plan for the reconstruction of Moscow stipulated large housing construction projects, and the new buildings had to be connected to the heating system. In 1945, about 500 buildings were connected to the centralised heating system, and this number reached 8,050 in 1959.

“In the 1950s, heat supply systems reached the famous Stalin-era skyscrapers. In the 1960s and the 1970s, thermal power stations were sited along the Moscow Ring Road where new residential areas mushroomed. For example, there were plans to build the Cheryomushki District, and this had to be first coordinated with specialists in energetics. They calculated the required capacities to provide the future buildings with heat and electricity,” Yelena Kosheleva explained.

In 1973, residents of southwestern and northeastern Moscow received heat for the first time. In 1976, heat-supply mains were built in large residential areas like Yasenevo, Orekhovo-Borisovo and Chertanovo. In the 1980s, it was decided to launch construction of Northern Thermal Power Station No. 27, due to heating shortages in the northern districts. The station started operating in 1992.

The largest heat-supply system in the world

Today, 90 percent of local consumers get heat from the Moscow United Energy Company’s (MOEK) thermal power stations, which supply residential buildings with heat and hot water. Mosenergo, the world’s largest heat energy producer, supplies about 65-70 giga-calories of heat annually. MOEK also ranks as a leading global utility company. It operates the longest power-and-heating supply system, including 16,600 km of heating mains and over 10,000 thermal facilities.

“Although a centralised heat supply system with a common source of heat has evolved in Moscow, the city also has independent heat supply sources for small sectors. Centralised heating is more cost-effective than other sources because all of them generate heat energy and electricity. This is much better than individual heating systems in terms of economic and environmental considerations. Second, this ramified system makes it possible to quickly connect standby capacity and stipulates reservation volumes during emergencies and scheduled repairs,” MOEK Chief Engineer Roman Korovin noted.

The city constantly upgrades the technology for modernising heat supply systems. This includes the use of steel pipelines with foam/polyurethane insulation. They feature a quick remote control system for notifying dispatch controllers about sudden leaks. Another process helps pipelines resist corrosion more effectively. For example, robots examine some internal pipe sections, measure the thickness of pipe walls, find the most vulnerable sections and replace them later on.

“We are introducing a dispatch control system at our heat supply facilities. This will more quickly monitor the heat supply parameters virtually online. A specialist can adjust the equipment in case of malfunction. Smart technology automatically monitors at least ten parameters 24 hours a day, including pressure levels, temperatures, water consumption, etc., at every heat supply facility that is part of the system. If the algorithm spots any unexpected deviation in a specific sector, we can be there to repair it quickly before a possible accident happens. This reduces the possibility of disrupting heating or hot water supplies,” Mr Korovin said.

Over 5,000 heat supply facilities have received the new dispatch control system, and this process continues.


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