The power industry in Central Asia, as well as the transport industry, are developing very unevenly. Against the background of relatively self-sufficient systems in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, such countries as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been experiencing power shortages for at least five years.
This is facilitated by several factors: growth of consumption in the absence of new generating capacity; depreciation of existing equipment, increasing energy loss during production and distribution; inability to use alternative energy sources due to the lack of necessary infrastructure and funds for its construction.
Long-term negative trend in the power industry of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is one of the factors hindering the development of the economy. These countries are not able to provide uninterrupted sufficient supplies resulting in limitation of the production growth, and adversely affecting business activity, technology development, education, health and safety. Systematically worsening indicators for these key positions may lead to a worsening of the country’s dependence on external financial injections and narrow the circle of possibilities for overcoming the crisis.
On a regional scale, the uneven development of the power industry widens the gap in economic development and leaves a serious imprint on the implementation of regional projects. The countries experiencing power shortages are not able to take full advantage of the capacity from trade, industrial, logistics and other economic projects.
Unified Power System of Central Asia
Construction of own unified power systems was a natural step in the early years when the countries of the region were fighting for their independence. These costly and long-term measures literally meant the following: the need to increase generating capacity, diversify the structure of the existing fuel and energy complex, and provide a system for electric power delivery to enterprises and consumers throughout the country.
A similar system existed in the days of the Soviet Union. Five countries in the region created the Central Asian Energy System, which helped to avoid a power shortage by balancing the load on the generating capacity of the region. The system also contributed to reducing the electric power cost through the use of geographical and geological features of each country - hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, thermal power plants (TPPs) running on gas in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, or on solid fuel, as in Kazakhstan.
After the collapse of the USSR, the system worked for some time by inertia, and partly because it had no alternatives. When they appeared, the energy ring disintegrated. First of all, the power system of Kazakhstan was separated, and later system was successively left by Turkmenistan in 2003, and then - by Uzbekistan, in 2009.
The stage of struggle for resources and influence in the region has begun. At the moments of exacerbation of foreign policy relations, the countries used various aspects of the power issue as a tool of pressure on opponents. For example, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, geographically located upstream of the Central Asian rivers, periodically restricted access to water in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In its turn, Tashkent periodically stopped gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan, but Kazakhstan threatened to stop the transit of energy through its territory.
Similar incidents may occur again. The ability to restrict power supplies in the region remains a significant lever for influencing neighboring countries. None of the countries of Central Asia has so far ensured full energy security.
The problem of power shortages in the region is far from being resolved. However, countries are gradually coming to understand the need for the rehabilitation of a single power space and market in Central Asia.
To implement this large-scale project, ideally guaranteeing the power security of the countries of the region, it is necessary to solve several problems: the building of generating capacities, the construction and refurbishment of the existing infrastructure of the power networks.
Now only Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are those countries that have excess electric power, the rest of the countries - Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - are experiencing periodic or sustained shortages.
The structure of electric power generation in Central Asian countries looks as follows: in Kazakhstan, still most of the generating capacity is focused on burning coal - 85.5% (another 8.9% of all electric power is produced by hydroelectric power plants, 5.2% - by gas turbine power plants and less than 1% of generation accounts for renewable sources); in Uzbekistan, more than 67% of electric power comes from gas turbine power plants (19.2% - from coal-fired thermal power plants, 13.3% - from hydroelectric power plants), in Kyrgyzstan - more than 90% of output is attributed to hydroelectric power stations, in Tajikistan this figure is even higher - 95%. Turkmenistan adheres to the mono-fuel structure of production, the main source is gas, and the reserve ones are fuel oil and diesel fuel.
Each aforesaid method for electric power generation has its pros and cons.
Coal-fired TPPs are a source of relatively cheap electric power and unaffected by natural conditions. As for disadvantages - the cost of fuel delivery, a high level of environmental impact (emissions of harmful substances, difficulties with the disposal of ash and slag waste), the use of an exhaustible source for power generation, which over time can increase the cost of power produced making it unprofitable, the lack of maneuverability of the system to cover daily and seasonal loads.
Gas turbine power plants (GTPPs) cause relatively little harm to the environment, they are unaffected by natural conditions, but work on fuel, which is also not a renewable resource. In addition, due to the technological features, the maneuverable power (the possibility of operative change of the generation volumes) of the existing GTPPs is limited.
Hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) are one of the most environmentally friendly power generating facilities, belong to renewable sources, but seriously affected by natural conditions. The low-flow period in Central Asia, when the water level in the rivers decreases, which means the electric power generation is reduced, comes every four to five years. HPP has a fairly good maneuverable capacity, compared with thermal power plants and gas turbine power plants. The cost of power generated is one of the lowest.
Nuclear power plants (NPPs) - their operations are unaffected by weather or environmental conditions, the harm to the environment is insignificant (but in the event of an accident, it is large-scale). No large-scale costs for fuel delivery. The cost of power generated is one of the lowest.
The main disadvantage is the high cost of the construction of nuclear power plants and the receipt of consumables. Such as, for example, enriched uranium required for production. In Uzbekistan, uranium mining is carried out in more than 20 deposits. The nuclear power maneuverability is limited. The long period of facility construction and payback.
Oil-fired power plants usually operate in countries rich in hydrocarbons. The cost of power generated and environmental damage are high.
Renewable power generation. Wind turbines, solar panels and other alternative methods of electric power generation in Central Asia (except for small hydropower plants) have not yet received widespread use. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan are provided with fossil fuels, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have an unrealized hydropower capacity, therefore, the development of this direction is commercially unfeasible.
Each country has its own power industry development program. Leading countries in the region, having their own funds for the implementation of new projects or modernization of old ones, prefer to create a safety margin in order not only to meet their growing needs, but also to enter the market of energy exporters.
At best, those who are building or planning to build generating capacity with the money of foreign partners can act as a transit country.
In 2010, the Kazakh authorities announced plans to build a nuclear power plant in the country by 2020. It was assumed that this would allow to diversify the power generation structure, increasing the share of the nuclear power generation from zero to 20%. The project is not implemented.
Uzbekistan is half a step before the start of nuclear power plant construction. Now, coordination with Rosatom, the main project partner, is underway. Commissioning of two power units is scheduled for 2028. The planned total capacity is 2400 MW, it is enough to supply the Andijan, Namangan and Fergana regions experiencing power shortages in Uzbekistan. Despite the expected growth in power consumption of 15.5% in 2020, there remains a strong likelihood that Tashkent, upon completion of the project, will become an electric power supplier to the common market. With all the surplus volumes, Kazakhstan cannot yet turn into the power center of Central Asia - the state of the infrastructure does not allow it.
On November 19, 2018 Tajikistan launched the first of six planned units at the Rogun HPP. The total output of HPP should be over 17 billion kWh However, given the history of the project and the shortage of funds, the project timeframes may be disrupted. There is a significant probability that the country will not be able to overcome the power crisis in the near future. At the current stage, the electric power output at the Rogun HPP covers the needs of a growing population and is able to meet the needs of existing industrial facilities, but is not able to procure the year-round export supplies.
The construction of generating facilities in Kyrgyzstan - the construction of the Kambarata HPP and a cascade of HPPs on the Naryn River are frozen. The most focused events around the plants required for the country are litigations between Bishkek and the failed investor - the Russian company RusHydro. Work renewal timeframes at the facility have not yet been announced. The plans for the next five years include the commissioning of a complex of small hydropower plants to meet the country’s internal needs.
In compliance with the “Electric Power industry of Turkmenistan Development Concept for 2013-2020”, Turkmenistan is engaged in construction of 14 new gas turbine power plants and in modernization of existing capacities.
After commissioning of generating capacity, the second crucial aspect in the creation of the concept for the unified power market in Central Asia is the resource delivery to the final consumer and the minimization of losses in transit.
In the current state, the infrastructure of power distribution systems is well-worn. Thus, technical losses in main networks of Kazakhstan amount to 5.7%, and in distribution networks are 13%; in Uzbekistan, these figures are even higher - technical losses in power grids are about 13%, of which 25% are in the national sections of the regional bulk power system and 75% are in distribution networks. Now Astana and Tashkent are actively working to reduce these indicators.
The projects focused on restoration of a single power space in the region are underway, given amendments in the infrastructure of individual countries. It is planned to continue the seasonal supply of electric power, including: from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan (about 1.5 billion kWh exported in 2018), from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan (1.2 billion kWh in 2017).
Supplies from Tajikistan to Afghanistan (1.3 billion kWh in 2017 with the prospect of increasing volumes) and negotiations on the provision of power transits through the territory of Uzbekistan are going on. Import-export operations between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan remain unstable - in 2015 and 2016 the energy power supplies were established, but in 2017 they were terminated. Russia is still the main power partner of Kazakhstan.
Turkmenistan continues to upgrade existing capacities and plans to increase the energy power supplies to Afghanistan and Iran. Such projects include the construction of a 500 kV power transmission line from the Mary hydropower station to the Kerki substation, a high-voltage 500 kV transmission line from the Kerki substation to the border of Afghanistan, a 400-500kV overhead power transmission line Mary-Sarahs-Meshhed (Iran), a high-voltage power transmission line Balkanabat-Gonbad (Iran), a power transmission line Imamnazar-Andkhoy, Serhetabat-Herat, and Rabatkashan-Kalainau to Afghanistan.
The export geography of Ashgabat includes Turkey, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the countries of the Trans-Caucasian region.
Electric Power Export outside the region
Following the growth of the electric power generation, the countries of Central Asia will face the question of entering foreign markets.
A promising direction is the so-called. “Southern vector” - access to the markets of the South Asian countries experiencing power shortages. The CASA-1000 project (Central Asia - South Asia) provides for the construction of a system of power transmission lines connecting Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
To implement the project you need to build: a 500 kV power transmission line from the Datka substation to Khujand (477 km), a converter substation with a capacity of 1,300 MW in Sangtuda, a high-voltage power transmission line with a length of 750 km from Sangtuda to Kabul and Peshawar, a converter substation with a capacity of 300 mW in Kabul (ensuring electric power import and export), a converter substation with a capacity of 1,300 MW in Peshawar. The total estimated cost of the project is more than $ 1 billion. The construction of infrastructure in Afghanistan requires about $ 354 million, but in Pakistan the similar costs will amount to approximately $ 209 million.
Another option is to enter the unified power market of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). This idea is under discussion. Previously, the implementation of this project was scheduled for 2019, but the deadlines may be disrupted. The EAEU includes two out of five countries of the region - Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The ways for the implementation of this concept in view of the current imbalance between countries have not yet been determined.
Given certain conditions, China is able to become another potentially attractive market. Now, China is an active importer of resources from countries in the region, including gas, oil, etc., and shows a steady increase in electric power consumption.
Interstate power transmission lines of Central Asia
Name of substation
Transmission capacity (MVA)
Guzar - Regar Surkhan - Regar
Partially dismantled, and 500 kV overhead power transmission line Guzar-Surkhan established
Zarya - Syrdarya SDPP - Kairakum HPP
Khojend - Syrdarya SDPP
Uzlovaya - Syrdarya SDPP
Kizilinsky array - Syrdarya SDPP
Tashkentskaya SDPP - Shymkent
Tashkentskaya SDPP - Zhilga
Tashkentskaya SDPP - Shymkent
Lochin - Toktogul HPP
Lochin - Turabaev
Lochin - Osh
Kyzyl-Ravat - Crystal
Sardor - Crystal
Sokin - Alay
Fazylman - Turabaev
Yulduz - Crystal
Surkhan - Najibabad
Denis Berdakov, political scientist