World Bank data shows that Tajikistan, a central-Asian country of 10 million people, is among the poorest nations in the region with a GDP per capita of $1,054 as of 2022. About 10% of the population lives without electricity in isolated mountainous villages that lack the infrastructure to install power lines. Sadly, this number significantly multiplies in winter months. Due to outdated Soviet-era designs, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) believes that energy use is inefficient with Tajikistan using three times more energy than developed countries to increase GDP by one unit. Overall, USAID reports that, as of 2019, 26% of the population lived in poverty, with 11% in extreme poverty.
Nonetheless, it appears that an encouraging future lies ahead. Since independence, the Tajik government has been subsidizing electricity across the nation and the specialization of renewable energy in Tajikistan unveils a frontier of untapped possibilities to eliminate poverty. Given that impoverished households are able to access electricity at more affordable costs, healthier and more efficient forms of cooking, studying and heating become accessible and reduce poverty.
Tajikistan has an extensive dependence on hydroelectricity. The numerous lakes, glaciers and rivers contribute to 98% of the country’s electrical production hydro-based. Furthermore, Tajikistan is home to eight large and multiple small hydropower plants like the notable Nurek and Baipaza HPPs. These two plants alone create 15 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, according to ADB.
All of these factors contribute to the International Energy Agency (IEA) ranking Tajikistan as the eighth highest nation in the world for hydropower potential (527 terawatt-hours as of 2022). In spite of these feats, poverty has not directly decreased as only 4% of this potential is realized.
Variables like the climate crisis, natural disasters and seasonal changes all hinder the potential of renewable energy in Tajikistan to alleviate energy poverty. From 1992 to 2016, the former two negatively impacted 7 million Tajiks and decreased the national GDP by $1.8 billion, according to the IEA. The harsh winters in Tajikistan cause many of its water sources to freeze over, thus not meeting the high demand for heating. Its poor infrastructure and lack of diversification in the energy sector exacerbate this problem. However, as a country, Tajikistan has natural features that are suitable for hydroelectric power. Also, it possesses ample resources for various other forms of renewable energy.
Solar and Wind Power
Unlike hydroelectric power, solar and wind are not limited by the rigid seasons or landscape in Tajikistan. The nation’s potential for both solar and wind power is high. The Agency of Hydrometeorology of Tajikistan states that, given Tajikistan’s geographical location, it is in a “golden belt” for sunshine, according to CABAR.asia. Up to 3,166 hours of sunlight and 300 clear sunny days make the nation ideal for solar energy.
Furthermore, the use of solar panels eliminates problems caused by poor infrastructure or terrain that inhibits the use of electrical wires. Tajikistan’s Ministry of Energy calculates that solar energy can potentially create 3.1 billion kWh per year; more than enough to make up for winter energy shortages, according to CABAR.asia.
Tajikistan made its first solar power plant in 2020 in Murghab, but the current hydroelectric output shadowed its production. Regardless, solar energy is an untapped and promising facet of renewable energy in Tajikistan that can potentially reduce the rate of poverty.
The potential for wind is relatively unknown, but CABAR.asia estimates of its energy production are promising, with the forecasted figure standing at 30 billion-100 billion kWh per year, effectively rivaling the production of some hydroelectric plants.
New innovations, stronger enforcement and political regulations can further help actualize the potential for hydroelectric energy. The IEA proposes the need for energy service companies and the production of solar panels and wind turbines while recognizing efforts underway, including the World Bank-operated Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000). Alongside Tajikistan’s commitment to UN climate treaties and regulations, such as the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, these advancements in renewable energy carry the potential to help the fight against national poverty.
Since 2018, Uzbekistan has been helping Tajikistan reconnect with the Central Asian Power System (CAPS) and import energy, according to IEA. Furthermore, USAID and Pamir Energy collaborated on creating the Murghab solar energy plant, which was commissioned in 2020, according to CABAR.asia.
Through this foreign aid intervention, renewable energy in Tajikistan stands a chance to reach its full potential and show the world that going green can create a poverty-free future.
– Sahib Singh