Two new high-efficiency combined cycle gas turbines at the Talimarjan power plant in southern Uzbekistan will help modernize the country’s energy infrastructure, free up resources for investment, and produce surplus electricity for export.

Kashkadarya Province, Uzbekistan – Switch the light on in a remote household. Perform an ECG test in a rural clinic. Run a water treatment plant for a provincial town. Or connect a computer to the internet. None of these actions would be possible without electricity.

Access to reliable electricity remains one of the building blocks of development, essential to lifting communities and countries into prosperity. But extending electricity to the billions of Asians who are still without it has to be done in a way that does not contribute to global warming, given that fossil fuel-fired power generation is the single largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Hydrocarbon-rich Uzbekistan is one of Central Asia’s economic success stories, having enjoyed annual GDP growth of over 8% between 2011 and 2015. The country has been self-sufficient in fuel production and power generation since the 1990s thanks to its sizeable gas and oil reserves. However, most of Uzbekistan’s power generation and transmission infrastructure dates back to Soviet times and is now in need of being replaced or rehabilitated. The country’s recent remarkable economic trajectory could be undermined unless energy security is improved.

“Lack of generation capacity is an obstacle to the delivery of power to domestic customers and for exports,” explains Keiju Mitsuhashi, a senior energy specialist from ADB’s Central and West Asia Regional Department.

The efficiency of energy production and use is also a key issue in the sector. To produce $1 of GDP, Uzbekistan uses four times more energy than the world’s average, and 60% more than neighboring Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Cleaner, more efficient technology

The government of Uzbekistan has made energy efficiency one of its priorities, with a policy and legal framework in place to reduce energy losses. Investments in clean power generation technologies are a core part of this approach. The Asian Development Bank is supporting the plan with a $350 million loan to build two power generation units at the Talimarjan power plant in Kashkadarya Province, while the Japan International Cooperation Agency has provided $300 million equivalent. The new combined cycle gas turbines, the cleanest and most efficient fossil fuel-burning technology available, are set to improve the plant’s efficiency enormously.

“The new turbines have an efficiency of around 55%, compared to 37% of the old unit,” says Murod Karimov, Talimarjan Power Plant’s construction manager.

"This is a mega engineering project, and what is interesting about it is the challenge to build the plant, Uzbekistan is double landlocked, one of only two countries in the world to be like that."

Sean O’Sullivan, Director General of ADB’s Central and West Asia Department

“This means that the plant will save 500 million cubic meters of gas per year.” This is equivalent to natural gas export revenues of over $100 million.

Increased energy efficiency will translate into greater financial returns for Uzbekenergo, the state utility running the plant, freeing up resources for further investments. Over the next years, Uzbekenergo plans to invest in over 5,000 megawatts (MW) of power generation capacity based on combined cycle gas technology. This is necessary to meet growing domestic demand. Surplus electricity will also be exported to neighboring countries like energy-sparse Afghanistan, and possibly to Pakistan.

The first of the two new power generation units at the Talimarjan power plant was commissioned in August 2016. The second unit is under construction.

“The first unit is generating 300 MW. When fully operational, it will reach 450 MW,” says Shovkat Akmedov, deputy head of operation at the plant.

When completed, the new units will bring the plant's generating capacity to 1,700 MW, which is equivalent to 15% of the country's total.

Technology from the four corners of the world

Getting the turbines and ancillary equipment to the isolated site in Kashkadarya Province proved a Herculean task. Heavy components for the units had to be transported from as far away as Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States but landlocked Uzbekistan has no easy access to ports where large container ships can dock.

“This is a mega engineering project, and what is interesting about it is the challenge to build the plant,” says Sean O’Sullivan, Director General of ADB’s Central and West Asia Department. “Uzbekistan is double landlocked, one of only two countries in the world to be like that.”

The two 400-tonne gas turbines powering the units travelled over 16,800 kilometers (km) from Kobe, Japan, where they were built. They were transported by boat to the Caspian Sea port of Kuriyk, in Kazakhstan. From there, the journey continued overland on a specially designed heavy-duty, three-part swivel trailer with as many as 48 axels and 1,056 tires moving at around 5 km per hour. All together, the journey from Japan to the Talimarjan site took more than 1 year, including lengthy stops to clear customs at several international borders.

Yet, the mammoth effort of transporting the turbines and other components was necessary to address Uzbekistan's energy paradox. The country's southern region, which accounts for 90% of domestic gas production, receives electricity from the northern provinces, where 70% of power generation infrastructure is currently located. This means gas is transported at great cost to the north where it is burned to produce electricity, which is then sent back to customers in the south. Expansion of the Talimarjan power plant, which is only 30 km away from the Shurtan gas field, is set to change this equation.

Powering the future

The construction of the two units at the Talimarjan power plant is just the first step in boosting power generation in Kashkadarya. The next phase of the project will see the installation of two additional gas turbine units, bringing the plant’s total generation capacity to 2,700 MW, equivalent to over 20% of Uzbekistan's total. This will mark a significant milestone in the development of a modern, efficient power infrastructure supporting economic growth at home and in the region.

Giovanni Verlini is a Communications Specialist (Digital) at ADB's Department of External Relations. Learn more about ADB’s work in Uzbekistan and follow ADB’s Uzbekistan Resident Mission on Facebook.