Why Is Georgia Importing So Much Electricity?

TBILISI - In October 2017, Georgian power plants generated 828 mln. KWh of electricity, marginally up (+0.79%) compared to September. Following the traditional seasonal pattern, the share of electricity produced by renewable sources declined to 71% of total generation (87% in September), while thermal power generation’s share increased, accounting for 29% of total generation (compared to 13% in September). When we compare last October’s total generation with the total generation of October 2016, however, we observe an 8.7% decrease in total generation (in October 2016, total generation was 907 mln. kWh). The overall decline in generation with respect to the previous year is due to a simultaneous decline in both thermal power and hydro power generation. 

Consumption of electricity on the local market in the same period was 949 mln. kWh (+7% compared to October 2016, and +3% with respect to September 2017). The gap between consumption and generation increased to 121 mln. kWh (15% of the amount generated in October), up from 100 mln. kWh in September. Even more importantly, the situation was radically different with respect to the prior year, when generation exceeded consumption.

The import figure for October was by far the highest from the last 12 years (since ESCO was established). In October 2017, Georgia imported 157 mln. kWh of electricity (for 5.2 ¢/kWh – 13 tetri/kWh). This constituted an 832% increase compared to October 2016, and is about 50% larger than the second largest import figure (104.2 mln. kWh in October 2014). Most of the October 2017 imports (99.6%) came from Azerbaijan, with the remaining 0.04% coming from Russia.

The main question that comes to mind when observing these statistics is: why did Georgia import so much? One might argue that this is just the result of a bad year for hydropower generation and increased demand. This argument, however, is not fully convincing. While it is true that hydropower generation declined and demand increased, the country’s excess demand could have been easily satisfied by its existing thermal power plants. Instead of increasing, however, the electricity coming from thermal power plants declined as well. Therefore, that cannot be the reason, and another must be found. The first that comes to mind is that importing electricity may have been cheaper than buying it from local TPPs, or from other generators selling electricity to ESCO under power purchase agreements (PPAs). We can test the first part of this hypothesis by comparing the average price of imported electricity to the price ceiling on the tariff that TPPs can charge for the electricity they sell. Looking at the trade statistics from Geostat, the average price for imported electricity in October 2017 remained stable with respect to the same month of the previous year, at 5.2 ¢ (13 tetri) per kWh. Only two thermal power plants (Gardabani and Mtkvari) had a price ceiling below 13 tetri per kWh. Observing the electricity balance of Georgia, we see that indeed more than 98% of the electricity generated by TPPs in October 2017 was generated by those two power plants.

What about other potential sources of electricity? To answer this question, we can use the information derived from the weighted average price of balancing electricity. Why balancing electricity? Because it allows us to reconstruct the costs the market operator (ESCO) faced during the month of October to make sure demand and supply were balanced, and it allows us to gain an insight about the price of electricity sold through PPAs.

ESCO reports that the weighted average price of balancing electricity in October 2017 was 13.8 tetri/kWh, (25% higher than in October 2016, when it was below the average weighted cost of imports – 11 vs. 13 – and when the quantity of imported electricity was substantially smaller). Knowing that in October 2017, 61% of balancing electricity came from imports, while 39% came from hydropower and wind power plants selling electricity to ESCO under their PPAs, we can deduce that in this case, internal generation was (on average) also substantially more expensive than imports. Therefore, the high cost of internally generated electricity, rather than the technical impossibility of generating enough electricity to satisfy electricity demand, indeed appears to be one the main reasons why electricity imports spiked in October 2017.


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