Shall Mongolia be alerted by the recent sharp increase in the amount of energy it imports from Russia? Mongolia’s thermal power stations produce 4 billion KWh of energy annually and, so far, demands in energy during the country’s peak hours have been met with thanks to Russian energy imports.
Mongolia usually buys around 130 million KWh of energy per annum, which leads to think that it has no particular reason to worry. But officials warned that last year its energy import sharply rose by 21% to reach 157.5 million KWh. It is estimated that this year, imports might even reach 200 million KWh.
INTER RAO UES Unlimited Joint Stock Company supplies Mongolia with energy and has been constantly raising its prices. But last year, an increase of almost 60% in prices has surprised everybody and managed to stir panic in Mongolia. As a result of several discussions between relevant Mongolian officials and their Russian counterparts, a solution was found not to pressure the country. However, it cannot be guaranteed that the issue will not occur again. So why is Mongolia importing energy from Russia and putting itself at its mercy?
Every evening between 7 and 10pm, when people return home, cook dinners and watch TV, energy consumption in Mongolia sharply rises to 150 or 200 MW. Experts explain that although Mongolia’s thermal power stations can provide for this demand in energy, 16 hours of operation are required in the furnaces to accumulate an intensity capable of generating such quantity of energy, and the same amount of time to turn them off. Considering the amount of fuel which would be spent during this period and the cost of the labor force, importing energy to meet the country’s demand during peak hours is more cost effective. Nevertheless, experts have been attempting to find a way out of this situation for the last 7 years.
A research from the U.S. Stanford University concluded that by 2030, global energy demand could be fully met thanks to renewable sources of energy. Among the renewable sources of energy, hydro-electric stations occupy, of course, an important place. Although the use of hydropower in the world started as early as the end of the 19th century, the sector has recently rapidly expanded. Hydro-electric stations are ecologically and economically beneficial and contribute to a sustainable development and the reduction of poverty, which explain why developing and underdeveloped countries have become attracted to this type of energy.
According to the World Bank, around 1.6 billion people worldwide cook and heat their accommodation thanks to hydro-electric stations. Furthermore, the energy supplied by hydropower stations is cheaper than that supplied by other types of thermal power stations. For instance, in Russia, the cost of energy produced by hydro-electric stations is twice cheaper than that of other type of power stations.
At present, around 20% of the world energy demand is supplied by hydro-electric stations, which contribute to reduce the amount of greenhouse emissions resulting from the burning of coal, while generating the same amount of energy. Experts believe in the possibility to eliminate air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan and Erdenet cities by building such hydro-electric stations on the banks of the Selenge River, the largest river in Mongolia. The construction of a hydro-electric station in the Western region of Durgun has confirmed the possibility to sustainably operate and use hydropower throughout Mongolia’s four seasons cycle.
On the other hand, the 12 megawatts capacity of the Durguun hydro-electric station and the 11 MW capacity of the Taishir hydro-electric station are, undoubtedly, unsatisfactory when Mongolia’s hydropower reserves are estimated to approximate 56 billion Kwh - 14 times the total amount of energy produced in Mongolia per annum! This is why experts insist in reminding the need to turn the wealthy energy reserves of the country’s Central and Eastern regions into economically viable projects. The Energy Master Plan and the Program on Integrated Power Energy in Mongolia developed in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank include recommendations for the implementation of large-scale hydro-electric stations projects. For Mongolia, hydro-electric stations could not only constitute a source of clean energy, but also become a source of cheap energy to substitute imports and a mean to meet with electricity demand during peak hours.
For a hydro-electric station with a capacity of 220 megawatts to be built at the Egiin River, around USD350 to 400 million of investment are said to be required. 220 MW is no small matter! The thermal power stations No.4 and No.3 which supply the central energy system have a capacity of 580 MW and 136 MW respectively. More importantly, almost four million tons of coal are required to operate these station at full capacity. Furthermore, these thermal power stations have to be rehabilitated every 30 years, while hydro-electric stations can operate for approximately 100 years and more.
Hydro-electric stations have proven their capacity to provide for a sustainable development. By building hydro-electric stations, Mongolia can meet with its increasing demand in energy and forget about energy imports. Even though it is certain that the country’s wealthy coal reserves will provide for its energy demand in the near future, it is vital to make every effort to follow global development trends. However, the technical and economic feasibility studies of the Egiin River which were conducted with the support of the Asian Development Bank were ‘ignored’ for some time. Following experts estimates that the Selenge River has a production capacity of 200 MW of energy and the Orkhon River, 100 MW of energy, T. Tserenpurev believes in the necessity to carry out one of these three projects first. No matter what, Mongolia needs to implement these grand projects now more than ever.