Lithuania has one of the highest levels of energy poverty in the European Union. As a result, increasing energy security, efficiency and use of renewables are seen as central pillars for the country’s energy transition.
Hydropower, including production from pumped storage projects, accounts for around 20 per cent of total domestic power generation. The country’s 100 hydropower plants have a total installed capacity of 1,028 MW, amounting to roughly 28 per cent of total installed capacity.
Generation from hydropower reached record levels in 2017, increasing by almost a quarter over 2016. This high level was partly due to good hydrological flow conditions, but also through improved market exploitation and active engagement in intraday trading by state owned energy company Lietuvos Energia.
Despite realising independence from the USSR in 1990, Lithuania’s energy system still relies heavily on its neighbours to the east. The electricity grid was developed during the Soviet era and the power grid is still synchronised to the BRELL (Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) power grid, which is part of the wider integrated and unified power systems of former soviet states.
The closure of the 2,600 MW Ignalina nuclear power plant in 2009 put additional strain on the energy system and increased dependency on gas and power imports. Before closure, Ignalina met approximately 77 per cent of electricity demand, and 58 per cent of its power generation was exported.
The future development of Lithuania’s hydropower and other renewable resources is driven by the 2012 National Energy Independence Strategy, in which the government committed to achieving a 23 per cent renewable energy share of final energy consumption by 2020. While the majority of the increase in renewables is expected to come from biomass and wind, non-pumped storage hydropower should grow by 10 per cent, to a total of 140 MW by 2020.
The majority of Lithuania’s hydropower capacity comes from just two projects: the 900 MW Kruonis pumped storage project and the 101 MW Kaunas project. The two projects work in conjunction, with the Kaunas reservoir acting as the lower reservoir for the Kruonis project. With the exception of Balskų (2.9 MW), Angirių (1.3 MW), Kavarsko (1.5 MW), and Antalieptės (2.6 MW), all other hydropower projects are less than 1 MW.
Despite estimated potential hydropower resources totalling 1.9 TWh per year – representing five times what is currently produced on average per year – developers have been struggling to find economically feasible sites that are also compliant with strict environmental legislation. An amendment to national water legislation in 2004 prohibited dam construction for over 170 rivers, including all of Lithuania’s major water courses. An assessment of hydropower potential which is compliant with environmental legislation estimates a much lower potential of 117 GWh per year, or roughly 6 per cent of the gross theoretical potential.
In 2017, the EU stated it will work with Lithuania and the other Baltic states to link their electricity grids to the EU via Poland by 2025. This is to diversify their energy trade partners, having previously relied on BRELL system and Russian imports. This diversification builds upon the 700 MW HVDC NordBalt interconnection with Sweden which was completed in 2016.
Lietuvos Energia assessed the possibility of installing a fifth pump-turbine at the Kuronis pumped storage plant. The new pump turbine would use variable speed technology, allowing for better balancing of wind power resources. The assessment found that arbitrage opportunities for revenue generation are expected to decrease as interconnections to western Europe are established.
Despite a reduced business case, the report found that the addition of the fifth unit would be the optimal solution to adding reliability and security of the Baltic electricity system in the shortest possible time. Hydropower’s reserve capacity services were in evidence in Lithuania when the NordBalt interconnector experienced an unexpected outage due to a cable malfunction in July 2017. The Kruonis pumped storage facility was able to quickly respond to the power deficit to keep the country’s lights on.
This country profile is featured in the 2018 Hydropower Status Report. Download the full report here.
This profile was last updated in June 2018.