One hundred bright years: Lighting up Moscow

December 29, 2020
Municipal services

On 22 December, Russia marked the 100th anniversary of GOELRO (State Plan for the Electrification of Russia). Experts started working on this ambitious project well before the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917. The creation of Moscow’s electricity grid was first mentioned in 1887.  At that time, the authorities signed a contract for lighting the first local private building, namely, Postnikova’s Shopping Centre where the Yermolova Theatre is currently to be found.

As the country marked Electricity Worker’s Day, revealed how electric lamps lit up the city streets and became part of our everyday life.

Local electricity stations 

Today, it is impossible to imagine life without electricity that was initially intended only for factories. Robert Klasson, an engineer and electricity worker, conceived all the main ideas on which the GOELRO Plan hinged. He believed that electricity would primarily reduce the share of manual labour and expand industrial production.

Robert Klasson

Klasson faced a minor problem though that eventually actually helped bring electricity to every home. In 1913, he quickly built a electricity generating station in just eight months, and he wanted to start using it right away. To link the station with industrial facilities, he had to reach agreement with the owners of private plots of land where the electricity pylons were to be placed. He was able to “bribe” them by promising to provide them with free electricity for a certain period of time.

Electricity is the Devil’s invention

Members of the State Commission for the Electrification of Russia became divided into several groups. Each group’s members wrote articles as to how the plan would influence various spheres of life, including the transport sector, agriculture and industry. Robert Klasson predicted that Moscow would soon have its own commuter and metro trains, and that it would expand. He proved to be right.

However, not all Muscovites were happy about technological progress. Many people believed that electricity was the Devil’s terrible invention, feared it and drew posters in protest.

They believed that the new technologies would impact them, and that they would soon enslave people. All things unknown seem to be terrifying, and it was hard to convince ordinary people that electricity is useful.

Moscow in the 1920s

The Kremlin lights go out

There is a legend how a map showing the location of electricity stations under the GOELRO plan was displayed. Vladimir Lenin requested a particularly vivid presentation. For this purpose, the 8th Congress of the Soviets was organised and took place at the Bolshoi Theatre.

Artists, engineers and electricians worked on the map’s mockup for several days. The map’s lamps denoted all the electricity stations. Everything was ready by 23 December. Gleb Krzhizhanovsky, Chair of the State Commission for the Electrification of Russia, stood in front of the map and showed the glowing dots using a special pointer. It’s said that all the electricity was switched off in the Kremlin because there was not enough of it. Today, it is hard to say whether this was true or not because there is no documentary evidence to support the claim.

Is this impossible?

In 1920, British writer Herbert George Wells visited Soviet Russia and met with Vladimir Lenin. Wells who authored science fiction novels about imaginary worlds believed that it was impossible to realise the Russian revolutionary’s plan.

“I cannot see any-
thing of the sort happening in this dark crystal of Russia, but this little man at the Kremlin can; he sees the decaying railways replaced by a new kind of electric transport, sees new roads spreading throughout the land, sees a new and happier Communist industrialism arising again. While I spoke with him he almost persuaded me to share
his vision,” Wells wrote in his book Russia in the Shadows.

Mosenergo PLC published a book called GOELRO: 100 Years On, prior to the anniversary. The book contains an excerpt from Wells’ article, later included in the book Russia in the Shadows narrating his trip to the land of the Bolsheviks.


“Our book provides no contemporary assessments and allows readers to gain an insight into the conclusions and assessments of those directly involved in this historical process. Interestingly, Herbert Well revisited the Soviet Union in 1934 and was really astonished with what he saw,” Yelena Kosheleva, Head of Mosenergo’s Museum Group, noted.

Vladimir Lenin and Herbert George Wells in 1920

Bright and warm

The concept of electricity-and-heat generation was coined during the implementation of the GOELRO plan and the cost-effective use of fuel.

In reality, the generation of heat, namely, hot steam, is an inalienable aspect of electricity generation. This heat was not used for a long time, and experts merely got rid of this byproduct. Engineers decided that steam could also come in handy and tried to use it together with hot water. 

This progressive solution whose results we can see in our flats on every cold day was initially intended for factories alone. It was later decided to use steam for heating up buildings.

Moscow started building thermal power stations.

“Under the GOELRO plan, substantial results were achieved from 1920 to 1935. New power stations appeared, old ones were overhauled, and thermal power stations also emerged. The country received its own electricity workers because the authorities started thinking as to who would operate the power stations. The first specialists were trained at special courses, followed by education institutions. Moscow also received a new transport system with commuter and metro trains. All this is the consequence of how everything began to develop,” Kosheleva added.

Moscow’s electricity workers in 1927

Environmentally friendly power stations

Modern electricity stations no longer use peat or firewood, as had been the case in the early 20th century, the dawn of the Electric Age. In the 1960s, they started converting power stations to natural gas, the most environmentally friendly fuel. All local thermal power stations use gas alone.

This is convenient in terms of fuel deliveries and equipment maintenance. Mosenergo prioritises environmental protection and the comfort of millions of people in Moscow. All local power stations meet high environmental standards, and their capacities far exceed those of the 1920 “cutting-edge technology.”

“Put on stream in the late 19th century, the Raushskaya power station was considered the most advanced and Moscow’s largest.  Its rated capacity was 3.3 megawatt. For comparison’s sake, the rated capacity of one steam-gas power unit at the TETs-20 thermal power station is 445 megawatt. The rated capacity of one large power station, including the TETs-21 or the TETs-26, is about 1,800 megawatt and exceeds the initial capacity of the GES-1 hydropower station 500 times over,” Koshleva said.

From 2007 to 2015, Mosenergo’s thermal power stations received seven modern steam-gas power units with a total rated capacity of 2.9 gigawatt or 22 percent of the company’s overall rated power. The new power units facilitate more cost-effective power generation, save natural gas and considerably reduce toxic emissions.

Power consumption patterns have also changed in the past few years. Earlier, industrial enterprises consumed most of the electricity, but it’s city residents themselves that are the largest consumers today.

Photos courtesy of the Mosenergo History Museum


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