Hydropower resources are unevenly distributed across South and Central Asia due to the region’s diverse topography and hydrologic conditions.
While several arid countries have limited or no hydropower resources, hydropower remains the dominant source of electricity in Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan. The majority of the region’s overall electricity mix is supplied by natural gas, coal and oil, with hydropower contributing approximately 11 per cent of annual generation, making it the predominant renewable energy source.
While total hydropower installed capacity exceeds 157 GW, the majority of the region’s hydropower potential is still untapped. Georgia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have more than 75 per cent of potential hydropower capacity that could still be developed. In addition, most existing hydropower assets are over 30 years old, offering significant opportunities for modernisation.
In 2020, just over 1,609 MW of hydropower capacity went into operation. Most of the stations in the region that were supposed to be commissioned were however delayed or halted due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Where new capacity was added, it was predominantly commissioned in India, Russia, Israel, Georgia and Pakistan.
Recent events have demonstrated the flexibility and resilience hydropower brings to electricity grids. Responding to a Covid-19 solidarity event in India which encouraged households to switch their lights on and off, hydropower producers had to ramp down and up within seconds to support the unprecedented 31 GW shift in electricity demand.
The World Bank held a summit to encourage South Asian nations to work together on Covid-19 and unlock development opportunities focusing on resilience, economic connectivity and human capital. Subsequently, the World Bank highlighted the need for countries to invest in sustainable hydropower as part of green recovery efforts.
During 2020, India commissioned the 300 MW Kameng hydropower project while several other projects were granted approval to proceed, such as Dibang (2,880 MW), Bodhghat (500 MW), Athirappilly (163 MW) and North Koel (24 MW). Additionally, approval for construction of the 240 MW Kutehr Dam has finally been granted, and the 800 MW Parbati II project is expected to be commissioned by December 2021.
Russia commissioned four hydropower plants in 2020, namely Zaramagskaya 1 (346 MW), Verkhnebalkarskaya (10 MW), Ust-Dzhegutinskaya (5.6 MW) and an upgraded Irkutsk project (adding 22.9 MW). Finally, Barsuchkovskaya (5.25 MW) was commissioned in January 2021.
As for Uzbekistan, in 2020 six hydropower plant modernisation (adding 7.45 MW) and construction projects (adding 64 MW) were commissioned by Uzbekhydroenergo, with a total capacity of 71.35 MW, capable of producing 541 GWh of electricity. The Kamchik hydropower project (26.5 MW) and Zarchob small hydropower chain on the Tupalang river (37.4 MW) were both commissioned, offering a combined annual average output of 177 GWh. It also established an ambitious national energy strategy to double hydropower electricity generation by 2030 involving launching seven large plants with 1.24 GW of hydropower capacity.
In Kazakhstan, Shardarinskaya hydropower plant was modernised in 2020, increasing its installed capacity from 100 MW to 126 MW.
In Nepal, the Upper Trishuli 3A hydroelectric project (60MW) and Kulekhani III hydroelectric project (14 MW) were commissioned. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic however, three hydropower plants were delayed: Rahughat Khola (40 MW), Upper Rahughat (48.5 MW) and Rahughat Mangale (37 MW) are now expected to be commissioned in 2022-2023. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Nepal has about 88 per cent of its economically viable potential hydropower to develop and could export the electricity surplus to Bangladesh and other neighboring countries.
In Pakistan, as of early 2021 the 240 MW Keyal Khwar project had resumed works and was expected to be commissioned by December 2023. The 102 MW Gulpur hydropower plant was commissioned in 2020, located near the Poonch river, capable of generating 465 GWh. A US$300 million loan was granted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to finance construction of a 300 MW hydropower plant in Kunhar river near Balakot City, projected to be commissioned by 2027 and with an estimated annual generation of 1,143 GWh.
Georgia has made solid progress in the past decade in improving the security of its energy supply and transitioning to a cleaner, more sustainable energy system. The Shuakhevi hydropower project was commissioned in May 2020 with a total capacity of 178 MW.
In Bhutan, an ambitious update of the country’s energy policy is expected to focus on capacity building to secure a minimum of 5,000 MW by 2030. The plan includes the construction of the 1,200 MW Punatsangchhu-1 hydroelectric plant. The policy will also support the preparation of the 1,125 MW Dorjilung hydropower project and associated transmission lines to be identified during preparation.
After 12 years of negotiations, India and Bhutan took a major step forward to construct the 600 MW Kholongchhu project, the first hydropower joint venture project in Bhutan’s less developed eastern region of Trashiyangtse. Construction of Punatsangchhu-2 (1,020 MW) will be implemented by the two governments.
Central Asia has a complementary mix of energy sources and countries could realise major benefits from regional energy cooperation. Progress in development of both the CASA- 1000 and TUTAP cross-regional power interconnection projects connecting Central and South Asian countries will increase electricity trading and economic benefits.
Elsewhere, Israel reached a key hydropower milestone by commissioning a pumped storage station for the 300 MW Mount Gilboa project and increased its national capacity from 7 MW to 307 MW.