Central Asian Electrification

Turkestan Solo Book Cover
Central Asia
A place of myth, legend & lore

Editor’s Note: From the windswept steppes of Turkestan far, far west to the high desert of north-east China, Central Asia is the heart of the greatest land mass on earth. Undiscovered, remote, indescribably ancient, to the western psyche this vast land is the subject of lore, myth, legend and wonder. Now Central Asia becomes something else, a repository of huge energy resources that are only beginning to be tapped.

From new coal fired electric power stations in Kazakhstan, to massive hydroelectric development in Tajikistan, Central Asia is not just oil from the Caspian basin, Central Asia is an electricity powerhouse with surplus current to be exported to China, India, Pakistan and Afgahnistan.

With Turkic, Mongol, Persian, Russian, and countless other ancient cultural influences, Central Asia is a crossroads of the world. Eastern Central Asia – as distinguished from the much smaller trans-Caucasian region to the west which is also considered part of Central Asia – is comprised of the nations of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Krgyzstan. In the modern era, these nations have only been independent since 1991.

Strategically placed and energy rich, the five countries of Central Asia are being courted most assiduously by the neighboring and wealthy nations of Russia, China and Iran. Much of the financing for these new coal plants and hydroelectric dams are coming from these nations. Tajikistan’s potential hydroelectric capacity is well over 30 gigawatts.

The plans now in motion to dramatically increase this region’s electricity supply – Tajikistan’s hydroelectric power stations today only have a capacity of about 3 gigawatts – is transformative. Combined with the latest innovations in energy efficiency, the potential this much new electric power has to improve the lives of millions of people is substantial. Remember the Tennessee Valley in the 1930′s? Imagine rural electrification in Afgahnistan.

Such improvements to the quality of life, encouragingly, require cooperation between peoples. For Russia, China and Iran to work together to help Central Asian nations export electric power to Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere, in addition to supplying their own people, is a very positive notion.

Ed “Redwood” Ring

Central Asian Power – Rapid Development of Coal & Hydroelectric Power, Financed by Russia, Iran & China
by Gordon Feller, September 25, 2006

Central Asia’s power sector is just beginning to be developed. Each of the Central Asian economies is hungry for greater power generation – and each one is facing big obstacles on the path to further growth and development of the sector. Probably the most significant development in Central Asia’s power grid is in Tajikistan.


Tajikistan’s hydro resources are unique and top-ranked. Electricity production for 15 years of independence in average amounted to 17 billion kWh. Their aggregate installed capacity of hydropower stations in 2006 amounts to 4,090 MW.

According to the Tajikistan’s National Strategy for Energy Sector Development (2006-2015) their electricity output is estimated to reach 26.4 billion kWh by 2010 and 35.0 billion kWh by 2015.

(expressed in megawatt-years)
Tajikistan's Electricity Export Potential
According to the National Strategy for Energy Sector
Development (2006-2015) the electricity output is estimated
at 3.0 gigawatt-years (gWy) by 2010 and 9.1 gWy by 2015

Opportunities for new hydroelectric power generation projects exist on the following rivers: Vakhsh, Pyandj, Amudarya, Zerafshan, Surkhob and Obi Hingoh.

Development of the potential on Vakhsh River is estimated at 9,195 MW with annual electricity generation at 36,930 million kWh. At present only 3,835 MW are utilized. Hydropower stations offering an additional aggregated installed capacity of 4,490 MW are under construction, and hydropower stations with another 850 MW installed capacity are under design.

Hydroelectric Projects on Tajikistan's Vakhsh River
Projects already in progress will triple the hydroelectric
output on Tajikistan’s Vakhsh River, to 9.1 gigawatts.

The investor behind the Sangtuda-I project is the monopoly power company of Russia, Unified Energy System (http://www.rao-ees.ru).

The investor behind the Rogun project is the largest aluminum producer in Russia, Russian Aluminum, (http://www.rusal.com).

The investor behind the Sangtuda-II project is the Government of Iran.

Kairakkum, Golovnaya and Varzob Cascade Hydropower Plant Modernization Projects:

Barqi Tojik’s Kairakkum hydropower station (126 MW) located on the Syrdarya River in northern Tajikistan, and Golovnaya (240 MW) and Varzob Cascade hydropower stations (a total of 25 MW) in southern Tajikistan need to be rehabilitated to increase utilization and efficiency. Rehabilitation would include primarily the turbines, runners, substations, and ancillary equipment, such as pumps, compressors, and some piping. With the rehabilitation of the hydropower plants, capacity would increase to 162 MW for the Kairakkum station and 270 MW for the Golovnaya station. Likewise, the additional power generated per year would be 259 GWh, 216 GWh, and 40 GWh from the three hydropower facilities, respectively. The Kairakkum and Varzob Cascade rehabilitations are expected to cost a total of $43 million and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is expected to fund these rehabilitations as a package. The Golovnaya rehabilitation is estimated to cost $34 million, and the Asian Development Bank is expected to provide financing.

New Export-Based Power Generation Plants:

The objective of the project is to increase the supply of export-based power generation by identifying from 300 to 1,000 MW of new hydroelectricity in Tajikistan at new sites or by completing partially completed installations. This new electricity will then be exported to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The existence of a transmission corridor makes it feasible for the new electricity supply to reach its markets. The project includes: identifying the criteria by which the new generation would be ranked and selected; the design and construction of the new reservoirs and generation installations; and the new transmission lines to connect to the transmission corridor. It could also involve the negotiation of new electricity sales agreements with Afghanistan and Pakistan that recognize the long-term nature of the new supply before it becomes available. Total project costs are estimated at around $700 million.

Tajikistan's Potential New Power Generation Plants
Along with Norway and Sweden, Tajikistan is a country relatively
small in population that has an enormous hydroelectric resource.

Export of Available Seasonal Electricity to Afghanistan:

Tajikistan has a well-developed sector for the generation of hydropower from existing dams and other structures and seasonally available surplus power. Afghanistan, which lies immediately to the south of Tajikistan, has suppressed electricity demand and currently supplies much of its demand through costly decentralized diesel-electric generation based on imported diesel fuel. This project consists of a transmission line (220 KV) and connection with the appropriate substation in Afghanistan’s northeast transmission grid. The attractiveness of the project stems from the ability to implement it in the short term and the gap between the cost of hydroelectric power and diesel-generated power. Total project costs are estimated at $35 million.


North-South 500kV Transmission Project:

The existing North-South (N/S) electricity transmission lines are insufficient to meet growing domestic and anticipated export demand. The new 500kV N/S line will enable an increased volume of electricity transfer from generating plants in northern Kazakhstan to markets in southern Kazakhstan. Additionally, this will expand the Central Asia electricity marketing options through the expansion of a Kazakhstan leg of a new Central Asia North-South power transmission system. The loan for this project has already been approved by the World Bank. The total amount of financing is about $326 million. The project includes 3 phases.

Central Asia Guide Book
The Music of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan : Moinak Hydropower Plant:

The Moinak Hydroelectric Power Project is located in South-Eastern Kazakhstan on the upper reach of the Charyn River, approximately 170 km East of Almaty. A number of studies have been undertaken in the past to investigate the hydropower potential of the Charyn River, and in 1985, construction on the head works and the dam for the Moinak project started. However, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent suspension of project funding, construction was halted in 1992. The total cost of the entire project is estimated at $310 million. The majority of the costs will be financed by the Government of Kazakhstan, with funding apparently being drawn from the national pension fund, which is reported to have accumulated more than 460 billion tenge ($3.5 billion).

Export of 4,000 MW of Coal Fired Power & 1,500kV DC Transmission Line:
Voracious growth has created an unprecedented demand for energy in China. In order to meet the growing power supply deficit, China is actively looking for innovative supply solutions. Both China and Kazakhstan are taking steps to meet this looming demand as evidenced by their decision to commence deliberations on the construction of a huge power station at the Ekibastuz coal field in Pavlodar Region. This power will be exported to eastern China through a 4,500 km 1,500 kV DC transmission line, with an expected capacity of 5,500 MW.


Datka-Kemin 500KV Transmission Line & Substations Project:

A new 400 km, 500kV transmission line and one substation will be designed and built to increase the internal power transmission capacity of Kyrgyzstan. This will link abundant generation capacity and potential in the south of the country with the energy deficient north. Additionally, this will expand the Central Asia electricity marketing options through the construction of the Kyrgyzstan leg of a new North-South power transmission system. The transmission line will require building, along new rights of way, steel structures with steel-reinforced conductor wires to carry a maximum load of 1,500 MW. At the north end, the line will connect to the 500/220 kV Kemin Substation, whose implementation is included in this project. At the south end, the transmission line will connect to the planned 500 KV Datka Substation and a substation that is part of the Southern Kyrgyzstan Transmission Upgrade Project, for which USTDA is funding a feasibility study. The estimated investment for the project totals about $170 million in line construction and about $20 million in Kemin Substation construction.

Rehabilitation of Uch-Kurgan Hydropower Plant:

The Uch-Kurgan hydropower plant is the first plant of the Naryn Cascade. Construction began in 1956 and was completed in 1962. Its installed capacity of 180 MW (4 units of 45 MW each) averages an annual generation of 899 million kWh. As a result of 40 years of operation and a lack of funding for adequate maintenance in the years following independence, Uch-Kurgan HPP’s primary equipment, auxiliary equipment, control equipment and technical systems all need significant repair or replacement. Lack of action will result in further decrease of installed capacity, leading eventually to HPP shutdown. The cost of rehabilitating Uch-Kurgan is estimated at between $27 million and $35 million.

220 kV Overhead Transmission Line Rehabilitation:

At the present time, power to the South of Kyrgyzstan is supplied through a network of 110-220 kV transmission lines. Those lines also pass through the Uzbek Republic, which leads to security issues for reliable power supply. In addition to the security issue, those lines and substations are overloaded by 25- 30% in the wintertime when peak demand is three times that of the peak summertime load. The transmission company has begun the South Kyrgyzstan Electrical Improvement Program to rehabilitate and strengthen the transmission grid in this region. The first phase of the project involved the construction of the 131 km Alay-Aigultash 220 kV transmission line, the construction of the 220 kV Aigultash Substation and rehabilitation of the 220 kV Alay and 110 kV Batken substations. The second phase of the project involves the construction of a 500/220 kV substation at Datka, with interconnection to the existing 500 kV O/H Transmission Line and the 220 kV network and replacement of the 220 kV network, which is old and in need of rehabilitation. Total costs for this project are estimated at $70 million. Financing is in place.

Naryn Cascade Hydropower Projects:

This project covers the study and promotion of the integrated development of the hydroelectric resources of the Naryn River. There is significant interest within the Government of Kyrgyzstan and others to design and build five or more hydroelectric plant sites with a total generating capacity of approximately 350 megawatts. A concession will be offered for the development of the five sites for the production and export of electricity under the terms and conditions of a negotiated concession agreement. Funding amounts have yet to be determined.

Taliban Book Cover
Taliban, by Ahmed Rashid
Coexisting with Electrification?


220 kV Transmission Line from Sherberghan to the Turkmenistan Border:

At present, Afghanistan’s power demand is being supplied by plants run almost exclusively on diesel. Progress is being made by the governments of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan on energy trade between the two countries. This project is a 220kV interconnection with Turkmenistan that has been identified by USAID as a means to facilitate additional import of power into Afghanistan. This would be an adjunct to the North East Transmission System (NETS), which is currently being designed and built. ADB and others are funding other project components to provide for the transmission of electricity from the north into Kabul. The transmission infrastructure (lines & corresponding sub-stations at different locations) requires repair, and rehabilitation, as well as greenfield project development. Total funding requirements are being established for this component of the NETS project.

Export of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan:

The project addresses the seasonal surpluses of hydroelectricity in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and the establishment of a transmission corridor that would export this surplus electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The total surplus electricity supply from the three Central Asian countries can meet a significant part of the demand in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For this supply to meet the demand an electricity transmission corridor (500 KV) needs to be constructed by linking segments of existing lines with new construction. The corridor will originate at a connection with the Kazakhstan grid at the border with Kyrgyzstan and connect to the Pakistan grid at a yet to be determined location. Total costs of the project are estimated at between $600 million and $1 billion.


* Power generation cost in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is lower than in its neighboring countries in South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India);

* Host governments support export based projects, and in some countries domestic demand for electricity is significantly lower than generating capacity;

* U.S.-based power sector companies are absent in the energy sector in Central Asia, while companies from Russia, China and Iran are actively involved;

* Multilateral banks recognize and support export based strategies;

* In general, the investment climate in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is positive, but remains challenging.

Map of the Nations of Central Asia
(Map: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency)

About the Author: Gordon Feller is the CEO of Urban Age Institute (www.UrbanAge.org). During the past twenty years he has authored more than 500 magazine articles, journal articles or newspaper articles on the profound changes underway in politics, economics, and ecology – with a special emphasis on sustainable development. Gordon is the editor of Urban Age Magazine, a unique quarterly which serves as a global resource and which was founded in 1990. He can be reached at GordonFeller@UrbanAge.org and he is available for speaking to your organization about the issues raised in this and his other numerous articles published in EcoWorld.

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