While several arid countries have limited or no hydropower resources, it is the dominant source of electricity in Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan. In addition, with a combined installed capacity of 100 GW, hydropower plays an important role in the electricity systems of both Russia and India.
The majority of the region’s overallelectricity mix is supplied by natural gas, coal and oil, while hydropower contributes approximately 11 per cent of annual generation, the largest renewable source. Over the past five years, annual hydropower capacity growth has averaged 2 per cent in line with the global average. Much of the over 10 GW of capacity added during this period took place in India, Pakistan and Tajikistan.
Looking ahead, hydropower is key to the energy plans of many countries in the region as they seek to address energy poverty and increase access to reliable, affordable and cleaner electricity. This is particularly the case in Pakistan, Nepal, Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic where the immense potential of hydropower has barely been tapped.
Increased regional interconnections and cross-border trading involving hydropower will also become a common feature to alleviate electricity shortages and reduce costs. The CASA-1000 transmission project, set to be completed in the early 2020s, will facilitate the export of hydropower linking Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, India, Nepal and Bhutan continue to augment their already well-established cross-border trading of hydropower.
Finally, with climate change driving greater hydrological variability in the region, implementing measures to build greater climate resilience at hydropower stations is an increasing priority for developers, operators and lenders.
In 2019, just over 2.3 GW of hydropower capacity went into operation across the region, including both greenfield and modernisation projects. This was lower than 2018’s figure of 4 GW.
The largest project commissioned last year was the 720 MW Mangdechu project in Bhutan. Funded by the Indian government, the run-of-river project will supply electricity to the domestic market, with any surplus to be exported to India. It is part of the Indian government’s Neighbourhood First Policy, through which they are assisting Bhutan to build 10,000 MW of hydropower capacity with concessional finance.
While only 154 MW of capacity was added to the Indian hydropower sector in 2019, a 25 per cent increase in annual generation and the announcement by government of a series of measures to incentivise greater development gave cause for optimism.
With increasing penetrations of wind and solar anticipated in coming years, the government believes it will need a significant increase in power system flexibility to ensure grid stability and avoid power shortages. Reflecting this, in March 2019 the government declared that large hydropower (>25 MW) is officially a renewable energy source. This move will enable new, large projects to benefit from the non-solar Renewable Purchase Obligation which mandates that regional utilities must purchase a portion of their electricity from hydropower. It will also provide developers with greater access to green bond financing.
Other measures announced include providing developers with flexibility in tariff determination, and grants for the flood moderation components of projects and enabling infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. Taken together, these measures have injected renewed confidence into the sector with nearly 35 GW of capacity either currently under construction or in the development pipeline.
In neighbouring Pakistan, the government-owned utility Water and Power Authority (WAPDA) declared 2019 as an “historic year” having generated 34.7 TWh from its hydropower stations. This represents an annual increase of 22 per cent, and was mainly due to Tarbela 4th Extension (1,410 MW), Neelum Jhelum (969 MW) and Golen Gol (108 MW) becoming fully operational in 2018. WAPDA also announced the start of the construction of the 800 MW Mohmand Dam in 2019, the first large multi-purpose dam to be undertaken in Pakistan since the Tarbela Dam, which started construction in 1968.
Tajikistan recorded the largest capacity addition in Central Asia with the second unit (600 MW) of the 3,600 MW Rogun project entering into operation. Once complete, it will also be the largest hydropower station in the region, but there are growing concerns about the government’s ability to service its debt and source funding to construct the remaining four units.
Elsewhere in Central Asia, where the bulk of hydropower capacity was built prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the modernisation of ageing stations remains a priority. Notable stations currently undergoing modernisation include Toktogul (1,200 MW), Uch-Kurgan (180 MW) and Golovnaya (240 MW) in the Kyrgyz Republic. Uzbekistan is focussing on several small hydropower stations.
In Kazakhstan, Samruk Energy put three units of the 52-year-old Shardarinsk station back into operation in 2019 with an additional 19.5 MW of capacity. The fourth and final unit is expected to be commissioned in 2020.
In Russia, over 450 MW of capacity was added to the grid, led by the commissioning of RusHydro’s 320 MW Nizhne-Bureyskaya project in the Amur region, situated in the far east of the country. In addition to having an expected annual output of 1.67 TWh, the project will help protect the neighbouring residential areas from flooding. In late 2019, RusHydro also announced that solar panels with a combined capacity of 1,275 kW had been commissioned on the surface of the reservoir created by the project. The solar plant is expected to reduce the cost of electricity for the station’s own needs, therefore unlocking additional output.
As home to one of the oldest fleets in the world, Russia’s hydropower operators continue to make substantial investments in their existing stations. Last year, En+ Group, Russia’s second largest hydropower generator announced major upgrades to both the 662 MW Irkutsk and the 6,000 MW Krasnoyarsk hydropower stations as part of their New Energy modernisation programme.
Picture: Nurek reservoir in Tajikistan. Credit: David Trilling.
This regional profile is featured in the 2020 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report: hydropower.org/statusreport
This profile was last updated in May 2020