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Even Russia, the massive oil & gas exporter, is getting into solar

A worker inspects solar panels at a solar farm in Dunhuang, 950km northwest of Lanzhou, Gansu ProvinceA worker inspects solar panels at a solar farm in Dunhuang, 950km northwest of Lanzhou, Gansu Province

Despite its role as one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and gas, Russia is starting to make small inroads with solar farms in the country. Russian solar developer Hevel Solar is planning to invest $450 million in building solar farms around the country between now and 2018, reports Bloomberg.

Hevel Solar is a partnership between the conglomerate Renova Group — owned by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who has been called Russia’s richest man — and state nanotech company Rusnano. The company makes its own solar panels and also builds solar farms.

The seven-year-old company plans to finish building its third solar farm this Summer. Its first project, located in East Siberia, started producing solar power this year. Its second, located in the Orenburg region near the southern border with Kazakhstan, was constructed last week.

Russia doesn’t have the sunny climate of the solar country powerhouses, such as the southwest of the U.S., or Chile. And the country also has more than enough oil and gas.

But the company is building solar in sunnier border regions of the country, and says there is a market to replace off-grid diesel generators, which are expensive to fuel and maintain. It’s also a play to diversify the country’s energy sectors.