Can Armenia solve electric power problems?

Mamikon Babayan, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Can Armenia solve electric power problems?

One of key long-lasting problems of Armenia is energy security. Electricity power prices are high in the republic. A day-time rate averages 44 drams for 1 kWh. At the same time, an average salary doesn’t exceed 190 thousand drams. The power economy of the republic demands modernization which is being implemented too slowly. The prime goal is ending reconditioning works in the only NPP in Armenia by 2020.

The Russian ambassador Sergei Kopyrkin and the Acting Minister of Energy Infrastructures and Natural Resources of Armenia Garegin Bagramyan have recently visited the NPP. They concluded that despite huge work which had already been done, the plant needed full modernization of security systems and basic equipment. The NPP has to be closed down for seven months. Russian partners do not insist on purchasing only Russian equipment and let Armenia back up its own economy. However, modernization costs too much for the republic. The main goal is to restore resources and extend exploitation of the NPP to 2026. What’s going to happen next – whether the reactor will be modernized again or it will be closed down – nobody knows.

Today Armenia imports electricity power from Iran and keeps its hopes up alternate sources of energy. The Armenian territory has a huge potential for development of solar energy. Its average capacity on a level surface is 1720 kWh per 1 sq.m. The Ararat Plain is a territory of record-breaking duration of sunshine. A solar power plant is planned to be built there in 2019. Even though the republic has already started construction of ten solar power plants of 1 MW capacity, the volume of solar power in Armenian power economy is still pretty low.

The same situation can be seen in wind power industry. At the same time, if several wind power plants of 1000 MW overall capacity were constructed in various regions of the republic, wind plants could produce about 2 billion kWh on a year-on-year basis.

Difficulties in the energy sphere are also caused by another Armenia’s key problem – absence of investment prospects which prevents republic from projects based on using huge geothermal recourses. It’s unclear who could finance expensive geological exploration and mining in mountains, considering the fact that resources are buried at 10 km depth.

The modern international environmental laws forbid draining wasted water on a surface as on different layers, water contains different salts and dissolved gases of various compositions. That’s why exploration and extraction of geothermal power is thought to be extreme because exhaust gas can contain ammonia. Modern equipment allows draining wasted water back to deep layers. However, the proceeding is energy-hungry. It makes the project of building small geothermal power plants non-profitable.

The situation in power economy of Armenia can be essentially changed by small hydraulic power development. Moreover, since Soviet times, the republic has certain experience in the sphere. In 2018, 20 per cent of electricity power produced in Armenia was small HPPs. Armenia can significantly improve the situation if it considers experience of neighboring Georgia. Its local Georgian International Energy Corporation develops hydraulic power by implementation of modern container-type mini HPPs. Georgian experts stress advantage of mini-plants as they demand less spending on construction materials and installation works (half as much as traditional HPPs). Thus, 30 per cent of a project’s cost is saved and a net cost of produced electricity power is reduced. Moreover, container-type mini HPPs pay off during three years if 93 per cent of their capacity operates. Finally, environmentally, implementation of container-type mini HPPs in Armenia will enable usage of small plants in distant villages where electricity power is not used yet.