Options Magazine, Winter 2022: To help mitigate the water crisis in Central Asia, researchers devised a carbon-neutral and reliable regional strategy by building seasonal pumped storage plants in major rivers.

Much of Central Asia struggles with access to water, especially for irrigation during the prime growing months of summer.

One of the key challenges comes from the complicated history of the countries in the region. Once part of the Soviet Union, infrastructure was developed under the premise that all areas were one nation. Once these countries became independent, there was a serious mismatch between needs and availability.

In a study published in the Journal of Energy Storage, Julian Hunt, a researcher in the Sustainable Service Systems Research Group of the IIASA Energy, Climate, and Environment Program and his colleagues found an alternative to the existing fossil fuels-based energy strategy. This approach increases the storage capacity of the region so that new reservoirs can be used to generate electricity during the winter for upstream countries and the old reservoirs can guarantee the water supply to downstream countries.

The region has vast potential for both wind and solar power options, although the necessary investment and infrastructure to support these options make them less of an immediate solution.

“There is a mismatch in water demand in Central Asia. Whereas Kirgizstan and Tajikistan need water during the winter to generate electricity, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan need water during the summer for agriculture," Hunt explains. "Central Asia has an ongoing solution for its water and energy crisis; however, it is unstable and heavily dependent on fossil fuels. A carbon neutral and more reliable regional strategy is to build seasonal pumped storage plants in its major rivers."

by Jeremy Summers