Efforts to Claim Energy Autarky

Looking at the various articles of the Ministry of Energy, the efforts of the Georgian government to increase the output of renewable energy are enormous. Most projects go in one direction: hydropower plants, or energy won from the power of water. The unique topographical features of Georgia, with it snow-covered mountain tops and hundreds of rivers forming gorges and valleys, hydropower plants are the government’s top investment choice when it comes to generating new energy.

In fact, over the past decade, numerous foreign development agencies have taken it upon themselves to finance projects to increase the overall energy output of hydropower plants in Georgia. The Austrian Development Agency worked closely with firms and organizations from Austria to support the growing industry in Georgia. Austria has very similar topographic features to Georgia and has been using hydropower plants for decades effectively for its energy consumption.

Just last week, the Georgian government reiterated their support of advancing hydropower plants. “Renewable energy sources and their employment is a priority direction for Georgia’s power sector development. The employment of domestic resources is Georgia’s priority, and this is a precondition for energy independence,” Deputy Economy Minister Romeo Mikautadze noted at the International Conference on Renewable Energy Development in Georgia.

He went on to thank major investors and supporters, the UNDP, SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency), Energy Efficient Center Georgia and ECO British company for supporting the recent action plans. Since the Association Agreement between the European Union and Georgia entered into force, Georgia assumed various obligations connected to the EU norms of energy policy. A multitude of such norms were transformed into national legislative-regulatory databases as well as an action plan to tackle the situation more effectively. The recent conference was part of advancing the action plan and is closely supported by officials of the European Union.

As of 2017, 76 hydropower plants operate in Georgia, producing a total energy output of 3159 MW, thus making it by far the main contributor to the energy won through alternative energy sources. In total, Georgia produced around 4099 MW last year through renewable energies, of which 21 MW came from one wind power plant and 926 MW from six thermal power plants.

Liana Jervalidze, who published a report on Georgia’s energy situation back in 2008 when the reforms started, noted the dependence on other countries. “Georgia consumes approximately 8 billion kilowatts/hr of electricity, 1.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas, and 750,000 tons of oil products annually. Georgia imports 71% of these resources from neighboring countries with only electricity as an exception. A significant portion of electricity (71%) comes from large, medium, and small hydroelectric stations. The remaining 29% is produced using imported natural gas,” Jervalidze wrote in 2008.

However, as part of the 2007 reform process to understand Georgia’s potential energy output through renewable energies, the report stated calculations by USAID. “The rough calculations prepared by the Georgian Energy Academy in autumn 2007 upon the request of the United States Agency for International Development, put the energy potential from wind, the sun, geothermal, and biomasses at 15-17 billion kilowatts/hr annually. Specifically, the annual wind energy potential is 3-4 billion kilowatts/hr, solar energy – 3-5 billion kilowatts/hr, biomass energy – 2 billion, hydroelectric energy from small hydroelectric power stations – 5 billion. Geothermal energy has the lowest potential at 2 billion kilowatts/hr,” Jervalidze explained.

Ten years later, Georgia has strongly improved and keeps on supporting the energy transformation. Taking wind, water and thermal energy together, over 139 projects have been identified by the Ministry of Energy for future investments. 17 of these projects are already under construction and add 524 MW to the overall energy production.

Looking at the current energy consumption of Georgia, the country has improved its situation massively compared to 10 years ago. Yet, Demur Chomakhidze, from the Agricultural University of Georgia, paints a grimmer picture from the government and highlights the shortcomings in a report from 2016.

“The electrification rate is considerably lower compared to similar parameters in developed countries. Electricity generation and consumption constitute 2900 kWh per person, while the index of generation and consumption in Great Britain constitutes 5600 kWh, in Germany – 7100 kWh, in Japan – 7900 kWh. The situation is similar in all segments of energy sectors. It should be especially noted that despite the serious deficit, energy intensity and electricity intensity of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Georgia is higher than in other countries. In 2011, energy intensity in Georgia was equal to 0,40kgoe, in USA – 0.17 kgoe, in the world – 0.25 kgoe (average), while electricity intensity in Georgia was – 0,97 kWh, in the USA – 0,31 kWh, in the world – 0,39 kWh (average),” Chomakhidze wrote.

He continues by pointing out the potentials of hydropower plants. In the end, it seems to be only a question of time as to when the transformation will happen, but the dangers of oil imports and energy dependency are as high as before Georgia started to develop its hydroelectricity sector. One question remains: if Georgia can increase production in line with consumption increases. Blackout and energy rationing are past occurrences of the years following independence, but a developing country is a big burden to the power grid. Only when both go hand-in-hand will success be visible on both fronts.

By Benjamin Music

21 May 2018 17:44