The Soviet-era Nurek hydropower plant supplies most of Tajikistan's electrical power, but its technology is antiquated and the land its switchyard is built on is sinking, requiring an ADB intervention of funds and expertise.
By the numbers
Percentage of Tajikistan’s electricity produced by the Nurek hydropower plant
Total installed capacity in megawatts of the Nurek hydropower plant
Nurek, Tajikistan - In the shadow of the world's tallest earth-rock-fill dam, the Nurek hydropower plant is Tajikistan's main source of power, producing over 70% of the landlocked nation's electricity. The plant supplies electricity to roughly 6 million people, and to the textile, aluminum, food processing, and agriculture industries that keep the economy moving.
Unfortunately, this leaves Tajikistan's power supply vulnerable. The switchyard of the 3,000-megawatt plant, 75 kilometers (km) east of the capital, Dushanbe, literally sits on shaky ground, and needs to be completely reconstructed to make it safer from the risk of erosion that could disrupt the entire country's energy supply.
Nearly 100 meters beneath the switchyard, a water-soluble rock formation - a layer of salt - is dissolving. About 40% of the 500-kV switchyard has already sunk by 5 meters. Today, some areas of the switchyard are sinking by about 0.8 mm per day.
"The switchyard performs important functions - receiving power from a generating facility, regulating its distribution, stepping voltage up and down, limiting power surges, and converting power from direct current to alternating current, or vice versa," says Saidshoh Abdulloev, deputy technical director of the plant.
If the ground at this particularly vital switchyard were to collapse, he adds, it could destroy the switchyard, leading to power outages for most of the country, with disastrous social and economic consequences.
In 2008, ADB responded by approving a $54.8 million grant for the Nurek 500-Kilovolt Switchyard Reconstruction Project, which will construct a new switchyard on a stable site. It is scheduled to open in 2014.
"The plant has been working for over 40 years, and most of the equipment has already exceeded its usefulness."
- Saidshoh Abdulloev, deputy technical director, Nurek hydropower plant
"ADB's primary focus is to help improve the performance of the power sector by pursuing a reform agenda and investing in physical infrastructure," says C.C. Yu, ADB's country director for Tajikistan.
According to Yu, ADB's investment will not only stabilize the Nurek power plant's switchyards, but also upgrade the plant's overall technology.
"Most of the physical assets in the sector were constructed during Soviet era and need urgent rehabilitation and technological upgrade," he says.
Abdulloev agrees: "The plant has been working for over 40 years, and most of the equipment has already exceeded its usefulness ... Specialists do their utmost to keep the plant running reliably, but some replacement parts are no longer even available anymore."
Upgrading the specs
The new switchyard will use an advanced gas insulated technology that uses 100 times less space than the old one. The old switchyard takes up nearly 4 hectares, while the new switchgear will only occupy 945 square meters, or 0.09 hectares.
"We have specialists from several countries working together - from Germany, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan - and we share and learn a lot from each other."
- Ali Rahimov, electrician for Integral Company
It will also be almost maintenance-free, since all parts are enclosed in gas chambers, reducing almost all contact with dust, humidity, and other external factors to nearly zero.
The result will be a more reliable energy supply, leading to steadier economic growth for the people of Tajikistan.
The project has also improved the skills of the people employed at the plant, by giving them a chance to learn new systems from overseas experts.
"It feels good to work for such a big project," says Ali Rahimov, 55, electrician for Integral Company, which is building the new switchyard. "I also like the opportunity to learn new things. We have specialists from several countries working together - from Germany, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan - and we share and learn a lot from each other."
Ali appreciates the new knowledge and skills that he and his Tajik colleagues have acquired thanks to the project. He dreams of a better future.
"Hopefully, one day I will be able to work internationally."