The Armenian government has reaffirmed its pledges to significantly increase the share of hydropower and other renewables in domestic electricity production at the expense of natural gas mostly imported from Russia.
According to the National Statistical Service (NSS), hydroelectric plants accounted for about 30 percent of electricity generated in Armenia last year. By comparison, thermal power plants using gas had a 37 percent share in the total. Virtually all of the remaining 33.7 percent of energy was generated by the Metsamor nuclear power station, NSS data shows.
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Ashot Manukian reiterated on Tuesday that his ministry is keen to ensure that renewable sources meet at least half of Armenia’s energy needs within the next few years. That is essential for boosting the country’s “energy security,” he said at a meeting with Prime Minister Karen Karapetian.
A government statement cited Karapetian as telling Manukian and other senior Energy Ministry officials, also present at the meeting, to continue these and other activities “with greater momentum.”
Hydropower provided only one-fifth of Armenia’s electricity a decade ago. Its share in overall power generation has increased substantially since then thanks to more than 150 small hydroelectric plants built on fast-flowing mountainous rivers. According to Manukian, 36 more such plants with a combined capacity of 69 megawatts will be built by private investors in the next two or three years.
The minister also cited the planned construction of a 76-megawatt plant on the Debed river flowing through the northern Lori province. The $150 million project is led by Samvel Karapetian, a Russian-Armenian billionaire businessman. The Robbins Company, a U.S. manufacturer of giant tunnel-boring machines, announced in October plans to participate in its implementation. Work on that facility court start by the end of this year.
The government hopes that solar energy will become another major source of electricity supply. It called last year an international tender for the construction of a 55-megawatt solar power plant in the eastern Gegharkunik province which will be financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Deputy Energy Minister Hayk Harutiunian announced on Wednesday that ten foreign companies have been shortlisted for the final phase of the tender. “This plant will make a serious contribution to the development of renewable energy,” he said, according to the Armenpress news agency.
Three much smaller solar plants were already built in various parts of the country late last year. Work on several others is reportedly in progress.
Harutiunian said at Tuesday’s meeting that ACCIONA Energy, a Spanish company specializing in renewables, has started exploring the possibility of building large wind farms in Armenia that could have a combined capacity of at least 100 megawatts. Prime Minister Karapetian met with top ACCIONA executives on January 24 on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In Manukian’s words, the Energy Ministry also expects that the volume of natural gas used by Armenian thermal power plants will fall by at least 20 percent by 2021 thanks to their greater efficiency. The minister singled out the ongoing construction by an Italian company of the second block of one such plant located in Yerevan. The plant’s existing power generating unit will be modernized by the U.S. giant General Electric, he said.
In addition, Manukian predicted a sizable increase in electricity production by the Metsamor nuclear plant. The Soviet-era facility is currently undergoing capital repairs aimed at extending the life of its 420-megawatt reactor by 10 years, until 2027. The Russian government provided Yerevan with a $270 million loan and a $30 million grant for this purpose in 2015.
Russia is also Armenia’s principal gas supplier. The government statement on Karapetian’s meeting with the top energy officials said imports of Russian gas rose by 7 percent last year.It said nothing about the scale of a fall in Russian gas supplies which would almost certainly result from greater reliance on renewable energy planned by the government.