Turkmenistan has been recognized for its reported 100% electricity accessibility according to international statistics, including data from the World Bank and UN in Turkmenistan. The Voluntary National Review of Turkmenistan by UNDP reports that “Due to the creation of a unified gas transportation and electric power system, Turkmenistan entirely covers the needs of the economy with its own natural gas and electricity”.
The proportion of the population with access to electricity.
Source: UN in Turkmenistan
According to government data, Turkmenistan has made substantial investments and upgrades in its power plant infrastructure, with a focus on thermal power plants. Additionally, the country is now making strides towards renewable energy by investing in projects such as the solar-wind hybrid power plant, the 100-MW solar PV plant announced by Masdar and various other smaller solar PV projects in rural areas, municipal buildings and hotels. Although it is accurate that any household not too far from urban centers theoretically has access to electricity, there are significant concerns regarding the actual quality of the electricity supply.
While there are no official statistics on grid uptime, numerous reports indicate frequent power outages impacting vital services like banking, manufacturing, and commerce and causing sales declines. A World Bank study of 138 developing nations (excluding Turkmenistan) indicates a 0.29% sales drop per 100 blackout hours, like Kyrgyzstan’s case with 3% GDP loss (see Figure 2).
Average sales losses and power outages data.
Source: World Bank
Unfortunately, these regular outages have become an accepted part of daily life in Turkmenistan, and citizens are reluctant to demand a consistent electricity supply, fearing retribution. Historically, people were reluctant to voice their complaints, believing that it would be a sign of ungratefulness for the free utilities. Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy is essential for the well-being of the people, and the government often boasts about its efforts in this regard. The country’s regulatory measures on electric power are focused on “ensuring stable and uninterrupted supply of power”. Even the former president and current chairman of Halk Maslahaty Mr. Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov published a book on the electricity supply in the country, titled “Electric Power Might of Turkmenistan”.
Furthermore, the importance of a reliable electricity supply is magnified by the growing concerns of global warming. The World Bank predicts a rise in the average temperature in Turkmenistan, increase in drought frequency and water shortages which might negatively impact human health, livelihoods, and ecosystems. In many parts of the country, temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius have become the norm, making access to air conditioning a matter of life and death.
Energy security is not a problem for Turkmenistan, considering the abundant availability of natural gas for electricity production. The country possesses sufficient instantaneous electricity generation capacity not only to meet domestic demand but also to export substantial amounts abroad to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan. The root of the problem likely lies in the outdated electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure, including transmission lines, transformers, etc. Outdated power components can cause power outages due to several reasons.
First, the electricity infrastructure may lack modern protective features, making them more susceptible to damage from power surges or faults in the grid. Second, aging components can suffer from deteriorating insulation, leading to increased electrical losses and reduced efficiency. Third, outdated infrastructure might not be designed to handle the increasing power demands of a growing economy, resulting in overheating and failures during peak usage times. Consequently, the grid becomes more susceptible to fluctuations in electricity consumption due to weather changes. There exists a significant correlation between weather variables and electricity consumption, as changing weather conditions greatly impact household electricity usage through temperature fluctuations (leading to increased use of air conditioners), seasonal variations, daylight hours (increased need for lighting), activities influenced by weather (staying home and watching TV), and storm-related disruptions (trees falling on power lines).
Regular maintenance, upgrades, and replacements of these components are essential to prevent power outages and ensure a reliable electricity supply. Unfortunately, there is a lack of data regarding the age and condition of this critical infrastructure. Suspicions have arisen that investments, like the $500 million loan from the Asian Development Bank intended to improve the infrastructure, might have been diverted into personal gains or stolen, exacerbating the issue. Corruption permeates the entire government structure, extending from its highest echelons down to the lowest levels, resulting in a situation where funds allocated by the central government for infrastructure often find their way into the pockets of lower-ranking officials or those responsible for overseeing the upgrading process. Moreover, the impacts of global warming are making matters worse, as it stresses power lines and leads to higher electricity demand due to increased usage of air conditioners.
However, this state of affairs is not inevitable. The key lies in making timely investments and maintaining the infrastructure to minimize power outages. Furthermore, transparent communication about inevitable outages is essential. Other countries have successfully implemented such practices, and Turkmenistan can undoubtedly follow their suit. Inspiration can be taken from neighboring countries like Kazakhstan, where its Electricity Grid Operating Company openly shares data on real-time generation, demand, grid frequency, and provides alerts about potential power outages on a dynamically updated website.
By investing in the transmission and distribution infrastructure and fostering open communication with the public, the government of Turkmenistan can tap into its energy security and existing power production capacities more effectively. This endeavor will not only create much-needed jobs for the population but also curb corruption through transparency.
Timely warnings and public information about potential outages will enable citizens to prepare adequately, ensuring that they stock up on water, non-refrigerated food, and charge their communication devices, potentially saving lives during emergencies.
- Conduct research, collect and publish relevant, disaggregated data on electricity supply, quality of electricity, condition of the infrastructure, frequency of upgrading of infrastructure, households most affected by power outages, social and economic costs of power outages, frequency of and reasons for power outages, government spending on buying and upgrading electricity infrastructure.
- Implement better regulation, oversight and accountability over responsible government agencies and officials to ensure that money designated for buying new equipment or upgrading the infrastructure is actually spent on this purpose and not pocketed by responsible officials.
- Establish contact details for regional branches of the Ministry of Energy or the responsible authorities, enabling people to submit complaints or inquiries. This will facilitate better communication and problem-solving for electricity-related issues.
- Implement a corruption reporting system for citizens to expose local authorities’ embezzlement, negligence, and failure to upgrade electricity infrastructure. This involves an anonymous process where residents submit complaints with evidence to higher authorities, avoiding local channels to prevent victimization and adverse consequences. The state agencies should ensure protection for those reporting power outages and establish a secure way for residents to voice concerns.
- Foster private investment and participation in upgrading infrastructure for an improved power grid. This involvement will infuse new resources, expertise, and innovation, bolstering energy supply reliability. Simultaneously, refining regulations to enable private electricity provision promotes healthy competition, enhancing service quality and efficiency, as indicated by a World Bank study.
Overall, these comprehensive measures will pave the way for Turkmenistan to harness its energy potential, ensure better energy security, and provide its citizens with a more dependable electricity supply, while also promoting economic growth and transparency.