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Hydroelectric power in Uzbekistan: solving or causing problems?

18 December 2011

http://www.timesca.net  of 12/18/2011 - The growth of electricity production in Uzbekistan in the medium term will increase the load on hydrocarbon resources: today 77% of electricity at thermal power plants is generated by burning natural gas, 7% by burning black oil, and 3.5% by burning coal. The remaining 12% of electricity is produced at HPPs. Therefore, to address this imbalance Tashkent authorities thought of the energy generated by water.

Uzbekenergo and Uzvodenergo, the two suppliers of hydropower in Uzbekistan, are now planning to build and upgrade hydroelectric plants.

The Uzbekenergo State Power Company, by 2021, will build seven hydroelectric power plants (HPPs), worth more than US $1 billion, in Uzbekistan.

Uzvodenergo has less ambitious plans: during 2011-2015 the company will increase the generating capacity of small hydropower stations in the country by 219 megawatts through upgrades, at an estimated value of $260 million.

They plan to construct the seven new HPPs and reconstruct two existing small HPPs in the Tashkent and Surkhandarya regions. This will increase the generating capacity from 394 megawatts in 2010 to 613 megawatts by the end of 2015. They will increase the generation of electricity at small HPPs from 1.115 billion kilowatt hours to 2.19 billion kilowatt hours for the period indicated.

Despite the low share of hydropower in electricity production -- about 12% (7 billion kilowatt hours) -- Uzbekistan has considerable potential to develop small hydropower plants. According to experts, Uzbekistan has dozens of reservoirs, irrigation canals and rivers, which could be used to generate hydropower. They will be able to generate a total capacity of 1,180 megawatts with annual power generation of 4.6 billion kilowatt hours.

"Due to the fact that hydroelectric power plants will be built on a natural flow, it will be able to avoid significant flooding of land. Moreover, the construction of medium and small HPPs is more rational from the ecological and economic perspectives," said analyst Anvar Jumayev.

According to experts, the increase in power production at these HPPs will make more than 2.5 billion kilowatt hours, which will save 866 million cubic meters of natural gas per year.

However, there is opposition to the construction of these hydroelectric plants.

"The construction of hydroelectric power stations, especially on mountainous rivers, brooks no interruptions. If the object is suspended until the "better times", and after some time its construction will continue, the total cost of HPPs will increase substantially," said Ilkhat Tushev, the analyst at Central Asia Investments. "Under these conditions, chasing for fake saving and fake price begins," agrees an expert Dilmurad Kholmatov. "As a result, the contractor does not fit into the estimate, loses money and misses the deadline."

Moreover, according to experts, the use of small and medium-sized HPPs can be effective only if they are built for the needs of a particular user, such as a large company. "The construction of hydroelectric power plants is mostly scheduled for the central part of the country," said an expert Vasily Lanskoy, "whereas, the eastern and southern regions of the country have power shortage." Thus, the power grid infrastructure will require the costs that reduce the effect of cheap electricity coming from hydroelectric power plants.

However, the main problem is that the possibilities for the construction of HPPs in Uzbekistan are limited due to exhausted hydro potential. The deficit of irrigation water and the increased low water seasons in the past three-four years have already made changes to the program for the construction of small HPPs.

In particular, in 2006 Uzvodenergo had to abandon the construction of the second generating unit of the Tupolan HPP worth $40 million in the Surkhandarya region, as it turned out that the constructed reservoir at the HPP is not filled in the planned amount of 500 million cubic meters a year. With the water level of 120 million cubic meters, the reservoir will be able to provide water only for the first unit of the HPP with the capacity of 30 megawatts.

Moreover, experts believe that Uzbekistan's hydropower industry currently has a number of problems with technical, organizational and regulatory developments. "Today, the country has poor equipment repair facilities," believes Lanskoy. "And a massive construction of hydropower facilities is possible only with the mass production of equipment."