Energy Production Declines: How Climate Change and Glacier Degradation Affect Power Sector

Power crisis in Kyrgyzstan has gained momentum in recent years. Electricity produced within the country fails to cover the needs of the population, and the country faces energy shortages. Electricity imports rise every year. While authorities do not rule out ‘regulatory blackouts’.

Let’s have a look at the components of our energy system, why the energy crisis grows larger, and how it is being affected by global warming and melting of glaciers? 

Energy in Kyrgyzstan is being produced by over thirty public and private hydropower plants and two thermal power plants. Hydropower stations have been the main source of energy in the country in the last ten years – they produce over 85 percent of energy consumed in the country. However, energy production has declined in recent years.

According to the National Statistical Committee, total energy production by hydropower plants in 2018 was 14.3 billion kWh, while it dropped to 11.9 billion kWh in 2022.

Due to the reduced energy production and growth in consumption, Kyrgyzstan has to import electricity from neighboring countries. And imports have risen in the last 2 years. 16 percent of total consumed power was imported in 2022. The graph below shows where Kyrgyzstan gets electricity from.

Why does production decline?

The Ministry of Energy of Kyrgyzstan urges people to save electricity and not to exceed a 5 kWh limit, which, according to them, is enough for domestic needs of people. If the limit is exceeded, electricity could be switched off for 1-1.5 hours. The ministry has also planned to prohibit electricity-based heating in winter period with reference to reduction in power production because of low water level in Toktogul Hydropower Plant (HPP). However, Minister Taalaibek Ibraev said later that electricity-based heating systems could be used once the 5-kWh limit is not exceeded.

Generally, you can heat your house with electricity, but you should turn it off during peak hours of electricity consumption. If you don’t do it, we will do it for you,” Taalaibek Ibraev said.

Let’s look at the example of Toktogul HPP and find out why power production declines. In 2018, public hydropower plants produced over 14.2 billion kWh of energy, 40 percent of which was produced by Toktogul HPP. But in 2022, total power production by public HPPs reduced to 11.8 billion kWh, and Toktogul HPP produced only 36 per cent of total production.

This is due to the fall in water level in the reservoir. Toktogul HPP, just like most large-scale HPPs of Kyrgyzstan, was built on River Naryn, which begins on Issyk-Kul. The river’s volume affects the power system of the country. Inflow, outflow and total volume of water at Toktogul HPP have been recorded every day since 2019. According to this data, the level of water has declined substantially in the last five years.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the largest areas of glaciation in Central Asia. Almost all mountain ranges have glaciers. But glaciers have been shrinking in all large-scale river and lake basins. Shrinking glaciers lead to reduced water content in rivers.

In 2018, scientists published a catalog of glaciers of Kyrgyzstan. It was compiled based on the data of modern satellites and is still being updated. However, according to the catalog, there are 9,959 glaciers in the country.  When we compared the modern catalog to the catalog of glaciers of the USSR, which was compiled in 1940-1970, we found out that the number of glaciers increased by 1,795. However, it does not mean that new glaciers have appeared – large-scale glaciers have melted down and fallen into several small ones. The thing that we must pay attention to is the area of glaciers. In 70 years, the area of glaciation in the Kyrgyz Republic has reduced by 16 percent.

According to a candidate of geographical sciences, glaciologist (specialist studying types of ice and snow), Ryskul Usubaliev, reduction in the area of glaciers has a negative impact on total river storage.

“Reduction of water content in rivers, and the subsequent decline in water level in reservoirs depend on many factors such as global warming, lack of water and others. Reduction of glacier area leads to the fact that glaciers cannot compensate for the lack of water. For example, some mountain ridges already have a water level decline because of glacier degradation,” Ryskul Usubaliev said.

According to the World Bank, the average yearly air temperature in Kyrgyzstan increased by 2.39 degrees Celsius from the beginning of last century to 2021. The graph below shows the history of yearly average temperature by year.

Other reservoirs also face water level decline

At the end of August 2021, the National Energy Holding and ‘Chakan GES’ started construction of the minor HPP ‘Bala-Saruu’ at Kirovskoye Reservoir. According to the project, the plant should produce nearly 92 million kWh of power per year. Two billion som was allocated from the budget for the project implementation. The project should have been commissioned at the end of 2023.

But, according to Minister of Energy Taalaibek Ibraev, the commissioning of the HPP could be delayed because Kirovskoye Reservoir does not have water.

“If there is no water, we would not be able to launch the HPP. We will have the opportunity if water fills it before the New Year. Now we cannot even produce 5 megawatt, let alone 25 megawatts,” said Taalaibek Ibraev.

Indeed, the level of water in Kirovskoye Reservoir has significantly reduced in 2023. According to the Water Resource Service of the Ministry of Agriculture, Kirovskoye Reservoir had 24.3 million cubic meters of water this August. This is the lowest water level in the last seven years.

Speaking to journalists, Deputy Minister of Energy Talaibek Baigaziev said that the hydropower plant ‘Bala-Saruu’ would be actively operating during the cropping season, i.e. spring and summer.

“A feasibility study was done before the HPP construction. It took into account the level of water and forecasts. The hydropower plant would be working at full capacity in spring and summer, when water level is high. In winter, when water level is low, the capacity will decrease,” he said.

According to the deputy minister, the HPP will be operating in summer at full capacity. But, according to Ryskul Usubaliev, there could be low water levels at Kirovskoye Reservoir even in summer:

“Glaciers forming the basin of River Talas have shrunk by 50 per cent for 70 years.  These glaciers, just like precipitation, have contributed to the river water level because they have compensated for the lack of water in summer. During the crop season, farmers have used melt water for watering, while remaining water filled the reservoir. Glaciers have shrunk today, and the level of water has declined. Glaciers do not play a significant role now. It all depends on atmospheric precipitation now.”

Glaciers must be preserved

The scientist has also noted the need to preserve glaciers and the importance of careful attitude to natural resources. According to Usubaliev, the problem of glacier preservation is relevant not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also in the world. To slow down the rate of glacier degradation, carbon emissions should be reduced or brought to zero. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov expressed the same attitude at the 78th UN assembly:

“Climate change in Central Asia has led to melting glaciers. According to previous forecasts, the area of glaciers in Kyrgyzstan could be reduced by half by 2050, and glaciers could disappear by 2100. Now, there are grounds to say that this process will have a faster pace.”

To slow down the climate change and glacier degradation, respectively, Kyrgyzstan signed and ratified the Paris Agreement in 2019 under the aegis of the UN. It is designed to reduce global greenhouse emissions significantly and to hold the increase in the global temperature in this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius. In 2021, Kyrgyzstan submitted a plan of national contribution to the Paris Agreement. According to the plan, our country is willing to reduce greenhouse emissions by 16.6 per cent by 2025.

Moreover, Sadyr Zhaparov noted that degradation of glaciers would certainly lead to reduction of water resources. It, in turn, would affect the power system of the country. To avoid critical cases in the power system of the country, the government is planning to develop other renewable energy sources. Deputy Minister of Energy Talaibek Baigaziev agreed that glaciers must be preserved and said that wind and solar power use should be developed in future.

Author: “PolitKlinika”

Collage: Alexandra Titova

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