I am a visual person. I need to draw to understand and explain. To me, the perfect visualization of regional cooperation in energy is water spillage in a hydropower plant – or water literally doing down the drain without producing any electricity.
Spilling hydropower in one country, however, can bring huge economic benefits to a neighboring country that lacks power or is relying on diesel.
I worked on a project in Indonesia where that was precisely the case. Sarawak province in neighboring Malaysia had excess hydropower, but in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, the state utility PLN was using expensive diesel generation to meet growing power demand.
In 2014, we implemented a cross-border transmission project that allowed West Kalimantan to retire its old oil power generation units and import power from Sarawak instead. This has been happening since January 2016.
Last month we saw a similar situation in Tajikistan. The spillway of the Nurek Hydropower Plant was expelling about 500 m3 of water per second in a country where about 1.8 m3 of water is needed to produce 1 KWh of electricity.
Exporting hydropower from Tajikistan costs about $0.04 per kWh or $40 per MWh. So if we do our math, the spillage had an opportunity cost of about $960,000, almost $1 million.
To produce the same amount of electricity in Afghanistan, for example, would cost about $10 million (40 cents per kWh) using expensive diesel. The $1 million per day loss in Tajikistan could rise to over $30 million per day in Afghanistan.
So, whenever you see a spillway operating in a hydropower plant, try to imagine, where could that energy be sent? That’s regional cooperation.
Both Afghanistan and Tajikistan are members of the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program. ADB is working on several initiatives which collectively will allow excess power from energy-rich Central Asia to reach fast-growing, yet energy-deprived South Asia.