Climate Resilience and Hydropower in Tajikistan

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by Craig Davies and Sandy Ferguson 

The EBRD’s investment in the rehabilitation of Qairokkum hydropower plant in Tajikistan serves as an excellent demonstration of how climate resilience can be integrated into an infrastructure investment.

The EBRD is channeling more than US$ 75 million to repair and rehabilitate one of the country's crucially important hydroelectric power plants - at the Qairokkum dam.

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Tajikistan, a small country in Central Asia, is heavily dependent on hydropower for its electricity and very sensitive to climatic variability and climate change impacts.  Research by some of the world’s leading hydropower companies shows that climate change can have significant impacts on hydropower operations, with earlier spring snow-melts and increased winter flows leading to increased flooding, and reduced summer flows reducing power generation. 

These climatic impacts have serious implications for power generation capacity, management of peak supply and peak demand, and dam safety and extreme events.

Owned and operated by Barki Tojik, the state power facility, Qairokkum is EBRD’s largest investment in Tajikistan to date.  As the only major energy generation facility in Northern Tajikistan, this substantial infrastructure investment will transform the lives of the people in the region. Understanding the uncertainties around future climate conditions can also enable better decision-making and more climate-resilient operations.

While many adaptation projects are often relatively small and struggle to translate uncertainty into investment decisions,  what makes this project stand out is the highly innovative approach EBRD used to integrate climate resilience information into the design of the upgrade by modelling future hydrology outcomes under a range of climate change scenarios. 

The team was able to optimise the design of the HPP upgrade so that it offers the best economic return and greater dam safety across the range of climatic conditions projected for the project site. 

A key part of the project preparation was modelling future hydrology, or the flow of water down the river, under a range of climate change scenarios based on the suite of IPCC models.  This enabled the team to understand the ‘envelope of uncertainties’ – in other words, the range of river flow conditions under which the upgraded HPP can be expected to have to function across its lifespan. This enabled the team to model:

  1. The range of river flow conditions that can be expected at the dam site over its expected lifespan
  2. Options for ensuring dam safety to extreme floods
  3. The amount of electricity that could be produced based on this range of projected river flow conditions
  4. The identification of an optimal turbine upgrade, resulting from analysing the potential economic return expected from variability in river flow and different turbine upgrade options.

Good intentions are not enough in themselves. In order to make climate resilience a reality, commitment and finance are needed. The EBRD’s US$50 million loan sends a powerful message that climate change adaptation can be addressed on a commercial and transformational scale.

Consistent with other EBRD sustainable resource initiatives, the project will also include technical support for significant institutional capacity building.

 This will strengthen Tajik capabilities on data management and record keeping, build long-term collaborative links around specific tasks with international partners in research, engineering, and academia, and build capacity to optimise dam safety and maximize energy productivity by developing and applying modifications to dam operating rules based on improved hydro-meteorological forecasts.

The success of this project relied on commitment and collaboration between many partners, including EBRD, the Climate Investment Funds’ (CIF) Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR), and other donors.  The initial preparatory phase of climate change and hydrological modelling took place from 2010-2012 with a US$300,000 grant from the CIF PPCR. 

As the project moved to the implementation phase in 2012, the Government of Austria provided an US$800,000 grant to undertake the feasibility study.  A further US $21 million in grants and concessional finance from the CIF PPCR ensured appropriate affordability of such an investment in a less developed country such as Tajikistan and is the PPCR’s first climate resilience infrastructure investment. US$4 million of technical cooperation funds from the UK Department For International Development and the EBRD Special Shareholder Fund will ensure the successful implementation and long term sustainability of the project.

Implementing climate resilience and adaptation solutions in vulnerable countries like Tajikistan takes time, but it can be done, and it can be replicated across similarly affected countries.  As countries strengthen their climate resilience activities, energy security increases, environmental benefits are enhanced, and overall economic prosperity grows.

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