electricity system falls apart
Clare Nuttall, Almaty, November 23, 2009
Four of the five
Central Asian countries have muddled along with an often unsatisfactory, yet
workable, shared electricity system that was devised after the break-up of the Soviet Union. This year,
however, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have finally been provoked into announcing their withdrawal from
the shared grid.
Kazakh Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Duisenbai
Turganov told journalists on November 3 that the
country would be withdrawing from the Central Asian Interconnected Power System
(IPS). The decision followed recommendations from Kegoc,
which operates Kazakhstanís domestic electricity grid.
Kegoc reported a significant deviation in net power
flow between Kazakhstanís electricity system and the Central Asian IPS since the beginning
of October, due to the unbalanced operation of the Tajik electric power system.
Total unauthorized net power flow of over 100m kilowatts hours (kWh) was
recorded between October 1 and October 28.
Uzbekistan had already notified fellow members of the common grid of its
intention to quit in early October. Two days after Turganovís
announcement, a senior official from Uzbekistanís state energy company, Uzbekenergo,
outlined Uzbekistanís problems with the system and explained its intention to withdraw
from the grid. In an article published in Uzbekistanís Pravda Vostok, Esso Sadullayev, head of Uzbekenergoís
dispatch centre, criticized members of the common system, who "attempt to
meet only their own selfish interests, while not taking into account the
negative effects they cause to others." The current situation,
"is a real threat to the stability and safe operation of Uzbekistanís power system," Sadullayev wrote.
The unified system was adopted as a way of managing the interlinked energy
systems that the five newly independent Central Asian republics inherited from
the Soviet system. Turkmenistan was the first to withdraw from the unified system, resigning in
In the Soviet era, Central Asiaís upstream countries - Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - supplied surplus electricity from their hydropower plants to the
three downstream countries in summer, in exchange for deliveries of gas and
thermally-generated electricity in winter. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the lack of
long-term agreements between the Central Asian countries on water-sharing and
deliveries of electricity and gas has caused frequent disputes between the five
Uzbekistan has taken an increasingly tough stance on the issue, periodically
cutting off gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over unpaid bills. Tashkent has also opposed the construction of additional hydropower plants
in the upstream countries over fears this will reduce water available for
Uzbekistan is now planning a major expansion of its domestic electricity
infrastructure. It plans to raise $3.5bn between 2009 and 2014 to finance the
sectorís development and increase capacity by around 2,700 megawatts, Uzbekenergo CEO Batyr Teshabayev told Interfax.
Investments in new transmission lines and transformer capacity are also
Kazakhstan has already made considerable improvements in its domestic
electricity generation and transmission capacity, thereby reducing its
dependence on energy imports. The countryís main problem has been that most of
its generating resources are concentrated around the coalfields in the north of
the country, while the populous southern regions have needed to import from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. A new power line that opened in September goes a long way towards
solving the problem, by doubling the volume of electricity delivered to central
and southern Kazakhstan. The line was built in two projects, with funding from the European
Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Kazakhstan Development Bank
and the World Bank. "The improvement in the power supply should be
noticeable this year. Before the link was built, the Almaty
region was on the brink of experiencing a major power shortage, which could
have been disastrous during the bitterly cold winter season," said EBRD
operation leader Aida Sitdikova when the line was
As of October 25, only two regions of Kazakhstan - South Kazakhstan oblast and Zhambyl oblast - are still
operating in parallel with the Central Asian system. Kazakhstan has also promised to continue providing electricity to its neighbor
Kyrgyzstan throughout the 2009-10 winter, under an
agreement reached during Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimovís recent visit to Bishkek. Kazakhstan will also supply coal and fuel oil to Kyrgyzstan.
However, Tajikistan is already in trouble. Most of the country was plunged into
darkness November 9 after an accident on the Norak-Regar
transmission line. "For several days, Tajikistanís power system has been
operating autonomously, out of the Central Asian power grid, and therefore the
accident caused an electricity blackout practically across the whole
country," Nozirjon Yodgori,
a spokesman for state power company Barki Tojik, told journalists.
Overall, Tajikistan faces a power deficit of around 2.6bn kWh this winter, Asia-Plus
quotes Barki Tojik as
saying. While the country has considerable hydropower resources, it relies on
imports of electricity and gas in winter. Imports of electricity from Turkmenistan were due to start November 1, but an agreement on transmission of
the electricity via Uzbekistanís grid still has not been reached.
Since the record cold of the 2007-08 winter, Tajikistan has made considerable efforts to improve the situation. It has invested
into new hydropower generation capacity, and is also working with several
international financial institutions to increase efficiency. "Barki Tojik has improved its
management of resources since the cold winter of 2007-08, and has taken steps
to ensure it can supply electricity in winter and spring," Chiara Bronchi, head of the World Bank in Tajikistan, tells bne.
Barki Tojik has said that Dushanbe will be
spared electricity rationing this year allowing the capitalís businesses to
operate as normal. However, rationing, limiting rural areas to just seven hours
of electricity a day, came into effect November 10.
Unless the current situation can be resolved, both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are set to develop their domestic systems independently. For now at
least, Kyrgyzstan is assured of support from Kazakhstan thanks to the two countriesí friendly relations. Tajikistan, though, has been left in the cold.