Tajikistan Experiences A Decrease in Water Levels Causing it to Suspend Electricity Delivery to Uzbekistan
On July 28, Tajikistan announced that it would put restrictions on domestic electricity supply due to a decrease in power generation at the Soviet-built Nurek Hydro-electric Station. The shortage has been promoted by an unprecedented drop in snowfall and water flows. As the official announcement suggests, the water volume in the Panj River is 70,629 cubic feet (2,000 cubic meters) less than in previous years, which has resulted in a substantial decrease of water reserves in the Nurek Reservoir. Officials cited climate change as a critical factor in this regard and noted that Tajikistan is becoming increasingly susceptible to its adverse effects. If this trend continues, it may lead to serious challenges for the government’s ability to provide uninterrupted access to electricity. In its statement, the government of Tajikistan also mentioned it would temporarily suspend the delivery of electricity to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in order to avoid energy-related problems in winter when demand for electricity increases significantly.
Earlier this year, Uzbekistan’s National Electric Networks and Tajikistan’s Barqi Tojik power company signed a deal, according to which Uzbekistan would import electricity from Tajikistan from May throughout September to save its own water resources for summer irrigation. However, given current water shortages in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan has also introduced energy consumption restrictions wherein the volume of power generation is reduced by around 1.5-2.0 million kWh, or approximately 0.8-1 percent of daily consumption. To further compensate for the loss of much needed electricity, Uzbekistan has increased its output at thermal power stations and signed a deal to import electricity from Turkmenistan.
Current energy disruptions caused by decreased water levels in Tajikistan and its effects on the access to electricity in neighboring countries illustrate the importance of measures needed to ensure energy security in the region. It is becoming increasingly important to establish an integrated power system that would enable quick and reliable energy transmission across the region and reduce the risk of future energy-related shocks. With a growing number of deals on electricity trading between Central Asian countries, it is encouraging to see an increased level of cooperation that has been lacking since the disintegration of the Central Asian Power System (CAPS).
The CAPS, which was renamed as the Unified Energy System of Central Asia in 2003, was designed to compensate for the uneven distribution of energy resources between fossil fuel-rich countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan and hydropower producing countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. However, when Uzbekistan— which was a critical member of the CAPS due to its geographic location— announced its plans to withdraw from the system in 2009, the system collapsed. This meant that countries were left on their own to meet their energy needs, which has often proven challenging given the region’s poorly developed infrastructure and, for some states, lack of energy resources.
Fortunately, things started to change with the presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has been actively seeking to restore its relations with Tajikistan and resume electricity imports that were stalled for nine years. In 2018, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan signed a deal to supply 1.5 billion kWh of electricity to Uzbekistan during the summer period. In turn, Uzbekistan renewed its natural gas supply to Tajikistan. In 2018, Tajikistan received 1.9 billion cubic feet (54 million cubic meters) of gas, and in 2019, this volume increased to 7.06 cubic feet (200 million cubic meters). A thaw in relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also signified a revised approach to the unified electricity market in the region. As a result, in 2019 the Central Asian countries signed a joint declaration on the creation of the unified electricity market that intends to not only generate low-cost energy, but also lay grounds for ensuring energy security and economic cooperation. To help Central Asia achieve this goal, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has launched the Central Asia Regional Electricity Market program (CAREM). Its major focus lies on U.S. assistance in increasing bilateral electricity trade agreements, developing legal frameworks, and promoting diplomatic engagement. The CAREM also plans to implement new power generation and transmission systems to ensure efficient and uninterrupted flow of energy across the region.