Central Asia has the second largest small hydro potential in the world, with more than 34,000MW of capacity, but it also has the lowest percentage of development at 0.8%. While various political, economic, social, technical, legal and environmental factors are behind such a low uptake, the situation is complicated further by climatic conditions. As some Central Asian countries face extreme weather, hydropower development can be affected at high altitudes where streams more likely to freeze in the winter.

Across the region more than 90% of annually renewable water resources are used for irrigation, and allocation conflicts occur regularly between large-scale hydropower developments upstream and irrigation downstream. These often take place across complex international borders, especially during water scare years and low storage conditions. However, with the right sustainable and technical solutions, there is confidence that such barriers to small hydro development can be broken down to boost development and the co-operative cross-sectoral management of shared waters.

Hydro4U is a project funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Under the coordination of the Technical University of Munich and with 13 partners from eight countries, it wants to demonstrate that small hydropower can be a sustainable and economically feasible source of green energy in Central Asia. Fostering collaboration between industry, politics, science and stakeholders from Europe and Central Asia, it aims to show just how viable small hydro can be in a forward-looking approach to the cross-border, water-food-energy-climate nexus.

“The potential for hydropower in Central Asia is huge,” says Dr-Ing Markus Reisenbuchler from Hydro4U. “Together with local partners, Hydro4U will demonstrate that sustainable exploitation is possible and that we can contribute to a green energy transition.”

Demonstration sites

Hydro4U has selected two sites to demonstrate the implementation of two pre-defined European technology solutions that reduce planning and construction costs but do not compromise efficiency. The solutions will be fit-for-purpose with an innovative, modular and radically simplified structural concept, which Hydro4U says will correlate with longevity, eco-compatibility and socio-political acceptance.

In Uzbekistan, Global Hydro has manufactured the Francis Container Power Solution (FCPS) which is a classic medium pressure concept for the lower power range. This is sited on the River Koksu in Shakimardan where a partially developed small hydropower project with an existing intake structure and steel-penstock that was abandoned and left in an unfinished condition in the 1980s. These existing structures will be refurbished and complemented with two new FCPS modules, while additional measures for fish protection and fish migration will complete the project.

In the Francis Container Power Solution, the structural part of the plant is reduced and standardised by eliminating the traditional powerhouse and installing the turbines in a prefabricated container. This cuts installation efforts to a minimum as concrete foundations and a mobile crane are enough to install and commission the mobile container solution and its equipment within a few days, also reducing civil construction and maintenance costs.

The Hydroshaft Power Solution is an innovative and sustainable concept that was developed at the Technical University of Munich. It is a low-head, run-of-river hydropower solution that combines efficient power generation with ecological consistency and will be installed on the Naryn River in Krgyzstan where an existing weir with three pressure segments offers space for up to three modules with one turbine each. All necessary permits are expected to be issued by the autumn of 2023 with construction envisaged by September and plant commissioning in spring or early summer 2024.

The company Orion, described as a competent and strong investor, is jointly implementing this challenging project that experiences continuously high flows during summer months due to snowmelt, is in a remote location with limited access at high altitude, with extremely low temperatures in winter (down to -35 degrees Celsius).

Recent developments have seen the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), a Hydro4U partner, conduct a small-scale hydropower potential analysis and fish sampling campaign at two sites in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where BOKU experts were tasked with assessing the potential for small-scale hydropower projects and conducting fish sampling to determine the impact of projects on the local aquatic ecosystem. The results of the analysis revealed significant potential for small-scale hydropower projects in both locations, with minimal negative impact on the aquatic ecosystem. The fish sampling campaign also confirmed the presence of native fish species in the area, indicating a healthy aquatic ecosystem.

Dr. Harald Kainz, Project Coordinator of Hydro4U, expressed his satisfaction with the findings, stating that “the results of this campaign provide valuable insights that will aid in the development of sustainable hydropower projects in Central Asia.”

Hydro4U aims to:

  • Support the competitiveness of the European hydropower technology sector as a responsible actor in global markets in the long-term.
  • Promote the overall sustainability of the provided hydropower solutions within the Water-Food-Energy-Climate nexus in Central Asia.
  • Strengthen the worldwide leadership of the European hydropower industry in providing innovative and sustainable hydropower solutions.
  • Support international cooperation with developing countries to reach together the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Increase energy security in remote areas.
  • Reduce carbon emissions.
  • Elaborate new standards that are both cost-efficient and sustainable.
  • Enhance the international cooperation with developing countries in terms of (scientific) knowledge exchange and technology support.
  • For more details see https://hydro4u.eu/