ELECTRIC AVENUE

Turkey 2016 | ENERGY & MINING | FOCUS: ÇORUH RIVER DEVELOPMENT PLAN

The government is keen to push hydroelectric projects, with the Çoruh River Development Plan part of a wider blueprint.

The 2023 Master plan aimed at catalyzing Turkey's great leap forward to becoming one of the world's top 10 economies represents an elaborately crafted strategy encompassing intensive action within all the economy's multifaceted particulars. Energy policy, however, has long been identified as the nations' swollen Achilles' heel, and is thus the key focus of an audacious plan to turn the Anatolian tiger from a net importer to a net exporter of energy by the centenary anniversary of Atatürk's triumph. The Çoruh River Development Plan is but a sketch within a wider blueprint, though it also reflects a graphic microcosm of the national targets containing elements of privatization, environment, electricity, industry and geopolitics in a dense and winding chapter.

Geography has at times been perceived as a foe toward Turkey, granting the state an expansive frontier belied with troubled politics, while playing a generous and transformative hand to the oil rich Arab deserts. With hydroelectricity, however, the sweeping mountainous landscape enclosed within three seas offers Turkey huge potential estimated as a workable capacity of 433 TWh per year. Contextually, this is a bonanza: the Turkish Electricity Transmission Corporation estimates electricity demand is expected to reach around 420 TWh annually by 2020, and this reflects a rate of demand growth exceeded only by China.

With approximately 186km3 of water flowing through 177,000km of rivers in five distinct watersheds, more than 500 hydropower plants operating and generating 15GW of power, another 15GW currently under construction, and all of this representing only 60% of capacity before significant modernization works with an expected 3,000 plants to dot the landscape by 2023, it is clear that Turkey will soon become a hydroelectric powerhouse.

The Çoruh river in north-eastern Turkey is considered the nation's last wild river and is the fountain of the rich Çoruh valley, a biodiversity hot spot abundant in endemic Turkish species. It is also the site of a series of great Turkish engineering feats designed to extract the regions' massive hydroelectric potential. Five dams are currently operational, with 15 expected by the turn of the decade in an overarching system expected to produce one-tenth of Turkey's electricity supply. The Deriner Dam is one of the largest in Europe and the sixth highest in the world built upon over 3.5 million m3 of concrete. Its underground hydroelectric plants' massive turbines can generate 2100 GW/h, enough to fuel the annual consumption of a large city. Meanwhile, construction on the proposed 540 MW Yusufeli Dam has been postponed in light of a series of protests aimed at preserving the areas' UN-recognized biodiversity and burgeoning tourism industry. Several high profile campaigns, including by Greenpeace, have consequently led to the withdrawal of backing from several European sponsors of the dam.
As ever the simple reality comes down to reaching a compromise between the interests of the local population and the perceived collective good of the national interest. However, even in an era where the president has declared the necessity of harnessing 100% of available hydroelectric power, the finer details of the compromise will likely come down to the complex terrain of private enterprise. In 2003, the government initiated a detailed plan aimed at deregulating the energy industry, which will see the entire electricity market privatized by the close of 2015. Investment and construction will take the form of international firms partnering with local Turkish engineers to engage in large-scale projects, which may ironically be more susceptible to protest and public noise than the government itself, hard nosed as it is on such matters.

Having oiled the wheels of Turkey's energy plan, privatization may now be acting as a brake on the completion of these ambitious hydroelectric projections. The easier portion of the work is complete, while the remainder will entail a higher market price to compensate for the escalating engineering difficulty. Investors are also wary of the danger of overcapacity and are inclined to wait for definite demand growth figures to catch up with rampant construction. Hydropower is also competing for investment within the renewables sector with wind and solar energy showing great promise alongside less start up capital, while nuclear energy continues to take shape. All of which means there is still time for environmental biodiversity and kayaking enthusiasts to take a trip to the magnificent Çoruh Valley before it becomes less known for its butterflies than for its voltage.