This is an extract from a recent report by Azem Yildirim, Energy Analyst – Türkiye, Ember

Türkiye needs to focus on provinces with high solar potential to achieve its clean electricity targets. In 2021 and 2022, non-hydro renewable electricity generation overtook hydropower in Türkiye. By growing other renewable generation, this should become the rule instead of the exception to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels.

Frequent droughts expose hydro’s vulnerability

Hydro generation has historically been Türkiye’s main renewable electricity source. Türkiye has the second highest hydro capacity in Europe after Norway at 32 GW. In 2022, Türkiye generated 67 TWh from hydro, just above one-fifth of total electricity generation. 

In January 2023, Türkiye announced its new National Energy Plan, which includes capacity targets until 2035. The plan is the first of its kind to take Türkiye’s 2053 net zero target as its basis. For hydro power, the document foresees a scenario where capacity expansion increases by 4 GW to peak at 36 GW in  2030 and then remains flat.

Other net zero pathway studies from institutions such as the Istanbul Policy Center (IPC), Europe Beyond Coal (EBC) and SHURA have lower hydropower capacity projections for the same period. IPC expects 33 GW by 2030 while EBC projects 32 GW, and SHURA does not incorporate any new hydro capacity in its pathways.

Given the limited increases in hydro capacity in the National Plan and other projections, it is clear that non-hydro renewables will lead the way in Türkiye’s electricity transition.

2018 and 2021 were both dry years for Türkiye. Hydro generation in 2018 was around 60 TWh, 14% below the five-year average between 2018-2022. However, the drought in 2021 was the most severe. No hydro-generating province was spared. Across the country precipitation was the lowest in two decades, causing hydroelectricity generation to fall from 77 TWh in 2020 to 55 TWh (-29%). Though generation bounced back to 67 TWh in 2022, this was still 14% below 2020 levels.

During long periods of drought, Türkiye currently substitutes gas-fired electricity for lost hydro power. Since electricity demand for cooling also increases during hot summers, droughts have an intense adverse effect on the share of renewable energy in Türkiye’s total power generation. If drought in winter and spring means that the reservoirs of dammed hydro power plants are not replenished sufficiently, hydro generation cannot meet this rise in electricity demand for cooling in the summer. Since non-hydro renewable capacity is not currently sufficient to fill this gap, gas power generation spikes in the summers of dry years.

As capacity additions and plant modernization can only increase hydro generation to a very limited extent in the future, it is wind and solar deployment that must accelerate to eliminate the need for fossil substitutes during times of drought.

Konya solar leaps, sunny Antalya fails to reach its potential

In 2022, Türkiye’s top five provinces for solar generation were Konya, Şanlıurfa, Ankara, Kayseri and İzmir. All 81 Turkish provinces produced some electricity from solar in 2022 following the introduction of solar generation in the remaining 11 provinces since 2018.

One advantage of solar is its distributed potential: it can be generated where it is consumed, reducing dependence on the national grid. Despite this, solar generation remains geographically concentrated in Türkiye. The top ten provinces accounted for over half of the national solar generation in 2022.

Since 2018, Konya has accounted for 33% of Türkiye’s increased solar generation. The province produced 2.9 TWh of solar power in 2022, more than one-fifth of total national solar generation. One plant in Konya province, the Karapınar Solar Power Plant, drove this increase. It accounted for 63% of the 2.7 TWh total licensed solar power generation across the country in 2022.

By October 2022, 90% of Karapınar’s planned capacity had been installed, with  the plant accounting for 57% of Konya’s solar generation that year. When fully operational in 2023,  Karapınar will reach a total capacity of 1350 MW, making it Europe’s biggest solar power plant.

Konya is ultimately a positive outlier—the story in other provinces is less encouraging. The current state of solar generation reveals a geographical mismatch between Türkiye’s overall solar potential and its actual deployment. The five provinces that experienced the highest growth in solar generation in five years—Konya, Şanlıurfa, İzmir, Ankara and Van—collectively accounted for half of the national increase in solar generation. Though Konya, Şanlıurfa and Van have high solar potential, other sunny provinces could have performed better than Ankara and İzmir.

Progress in solar deployment has also been concentrated and did not take place entirely in line with radiation potential.

Antalya stands out as a key example of unmet potential. Despite having one of the highest radiation rates in Türkiye, Antalya ranked only tenth for solar generation in 2022, generating just 3% of the country’s solar electricity. Türkiye’s southern coast and southeastern provinces could be producing more solar power than the İzmir-Ankara-Kayseri triangle to its north, for example.

Though Şanlıurfa was the top province in solar generation after Konya in 2022, other provinces in the southeast are lagging far behind. A notable example is Van, which has a higher potential than even Konya. Van recorded the fifth largest increase in solar generation from 2018 to 2022. However, it was still only ranked nineteenth for solar in 2022 and remains far behind provinces like Ankara (3rd) and İzmir (5th). The mountainous landscape in the east makes it harder to build utility-scale solar, but sun-rich areas such as this are suitable for smaller projects, which could still allow the region to capture potential.

The possibilities of solar for Türkiye go beyond just high solar radiation. Solar can also work in tandem with hydro to help alleviate the risk posed by droughts. Increased solar generation would reduce demand for hydro power during summer, allowing for more flexibility for hydro to be used in winter and reducing the need to import gas. The fact that the hydro-rich southeastern provinces offer high solar potential opens up avenues for floating solar solutions as well. Türkiye has the world’s ninth largest potential for floating solar at 171 TWh per year, more than ten times the current generation from solar.

New unlicensed regulation spurs solar capacity applications

In Türkiye, unlicensed solar projects have mostly driven capacity expansion, rather than licensed utility solar. This was mainly due to the country auctioning only 1 GW of licensed solar capacity every year. Since it was not possible to build licensed capacity outside of this auction, most of Türkiye’s solar capacity is made up of unlicensed power plants. In 2022, Türkiye had 8 GW of unlicensed solar capacity corresponding to 84% of total solar capacity.

‘Unlicensed’ electricity generation refers to projects aimed at meeting self-consumption needs rather than selling electricity to the grid. Despite the absence of licensing requirements, applicants still have to go through a bureaucratic process involving multiple institutions to get an unlicensed project approved. 

Two changes in the unlicensed generation regulation further increased the attractiveness of this type of solar development. First, the requirement for the generation facility to be at the consumption point was abolished in May 2021. In addition to rooftops and building facades, prosumers can now build their power plants on a suitable field within the same distribution zone, which usually spans several provinces. At the same time, the fixed cap of 5 MW for each application was abolished. The regulation now allows sales up to the annual electricity consumption to the grid as surplus power generation, which makes solar plants that provide up to two times the prosumer’s yearly consumption viable.

This change in the unlicensed generation regulation led to an increase in unlicensed solar project applications in sunny provinces. In the distribution region covering the southwestern provinces of Antalya, Isparta and Burdur, for instance, 106 MW of the total 137 MW of unlicensed solar applications in 2021 were submitted after this regulation came into effect.

The second major regulatory change in August 2022 removed the geographical constraint entirely, allowing net metering between consumption points and power plants in different distribution regions. However, the effects of this change were not reflected in unlicensed capacity application statistics in 2022 since applications that fall under its scope only began to be processed in March 2023.

Nevertheless, the 2021 changes to regulation already had a significant positive effect on capacity applications. Year on year, the total capacity of applications that made it beyond the initial technical review rose by more than 4.8 GW, with more than 6 GW of unlicensed solar applications processed.

However, these numbers only represent the applications that passed the initial stages of the approval process, with further grid feasibility evaluations required before receiving final approval. The relevant regulation requires approved projects to be completed in one to two years depending on technical specifications. Changes to unlicensed solar generation in 2023 will reveal if the updated policy has been successful in driving solar deployment in underutilized provinces.

Capacity auctions have become more geographically distributed

Türkiye’s policy tool to coordinate and incentivize utility-scale wind and solar power plant deployment is the Renewable Energy Resource Area (abbreviated as YEKA). Under this approach, the Ministry of Energy determines areas in which certain capacities of renewable power plants can be built. These capacities are then awarded through auctions with duration or generation-based power purchase guarantees and domestic manufacturing obligations.

The first YEKA auction was held in 2017 for 1 GW solar capacity in Konya’s Karapınar district. This is where the Karapınar power plant was built, the only completed YEKA project so far.

There have been two other YEKA auctions for solar since 2017, each allocating 1 GW of capacity. However, unlike the first competition for Karapınar, the auctions that followed were designed to allocate smaller shares of capacities dispersed throughout multiple provinces. 

The second solar YEKA competition that was carried out  (referred to as the ‘mini-YEKA’), allocated 1 GW capacity across 36 provinces with a maximum of 50 MW per province. Provinces with high potential such as Antalya, Gaziantep and Van were among those that were allocated this maximum capacity.

In the most recent solar YEKA in 2022, 15 auctions for 50-100 MW capacity were held for solar development in Şanlıurfa, Hatay and Niğde. The revision from fewer, large capacity auctions to smaller capacity tenders indicates that the YEKA policy for solar has taken a more decentralized approach. 

Since Türkiye’s solar potential is distributed more homogeneously compared to other power generation sources, decentralized allocation should be beneficial. Limiting YEKA auctions to a few provinces or a single one risks not taking advantage of provinces with high potential.

High potential, slow progress

Among targets outlined in Türkiye’s National Energy Plan, those for solar capacity are the most ambitious. The plan aims for solar to become the energy source with the largest capacity by 2035, with the 9.4 GW capacity in 2022 rising to 32.9 GW by 2030 before reaching 52.9 GW in 2035. 

Annual solar capacity additions will need to triple from current levels to achieve this target. However, the government’s solar capacity target is still lower than the capacity Ember calls for to halve fossil fuel imports for power generation by 2030, which is 40 GW. Yearly solar capacity additions will need to quadruple to achieve this target.

Though Türkiye has higher photovoltaic potential than most European countries, its electricity generation from solar was only 15.3 TWh or  4.7% of total generation in 2022. To put into context, Türkiye’s generation is currently on par with countries that have lower solar potential, such as Poland and Ukraine.

İzmir, Çanakkale and İstanbul have the wind in their sails

Wind is geographically concentrated in Türkiye, with the five provinces that produce the most wind power accounting for 53% of total wind generation. 34 Turkish provinces (42%) generate no electricity from wind at all, and three provinces (Bingöl, Bitlis and Diyarbakır) have below 0.01 TWh wind generation.

The leading province for wind generation is İzmir, home to a metropolis situated on the windy Aegean coast. İzmir’s wind power generation was 5.9 TWh in 2022, representing 17% of the country’s total wind generation. Balikesir, Çanakkale and Manisa (provinces also in the Aegean region) follow İzmir.

İzmir, Çanakkale and İstanbul were the top three provinces that recorded the highest increases in wind power generation between 2018 and 2022. Collectively, they increased generation from wind by 5.9 TWh, corresponding to 39% of the national wind growth.

July 2022 was an extraordinary moment for wind nationally, with the wind capacity factor reaching 51% the highest in five years. In İzmir, this led to 800 GWh of generation, almost double that of the province’s monthly average of five years. July 2022 was also a record month nationally, with 4.18 TWh generated from wind.

Remarkable runner-ups to İzmir’s wind growth include Çanakkale and İstanbul. Çanakkale is the province that produces the most electricity in Türkiye, though most of its generation is sourced from coal. Çanakkale’s generation from wind increased by a huge 226% (2TWh) from 2018 to 2022. 

İstanbul’s progress is also striking since it is the only province that saw exponential growth in wind generation. In total, its wind generation rose from 0.7 TWh in 2018 to 2.5 TWh in 2022 (+242%),  the greatest percentage increase of the top five provinces.

Konya is also worth mentioning since, like İzmir, the province ranks highly for both wind and solar. Though Konya’s solar generation grew the most in absolute terms, its share in the province’s renewable generation has actually declined since 2018. A closer look reveals that the share of wind in total renewable generation in Konya rose from 7% in 2018 to 19% in 2022. In absolute terms, generation from wind rose by a factor of more than ten from 74 GWh in 2018 to 804 GWh in 2022 in Konya.

Years of delays resulted in no auctioned wind capacities being built

Türkiye has mainly relied on capacity auctions and feed-in tariffs for new wind deployment. Unlike solar, more than 99% of wind generation was sourced from licensed power plants between 2018 and 2022. YEKA auctions have also started supporting wind deployment. 

Since 2017, there have been three YEKA auctions for wind power capacity adding up to 2.9 GW in total. The auctions covered a wide range of provinces but 60% of the allocated capacity went to western provinces with high wind potential: Edirne, Kırklareli, Çanakkale, Balıkesir, Aydın and Muğla.

The first wind YEKA auction allocated 1 GW in two provinces in the Thrace region of Türkiye in the northwest, and two others in central Anatolia. The second auction in 2019 allocated 250 MW each to Aydın, Muğla, Balıkesir and Çanakkale, which are coastal western provinces with high wind potential. The third YEKA auction in 2022 allocated smaller capacities to more than twenty Anatolian provinces totaling 850 MW.

None of the auctioned wind YEKA projects have so far been completed. The first wind YEKA auctioned in 2017 is expected to begin its construction only in 2023. The long delays in project development signal the fact that the YEKA model needs an upgrade.

The rise of non-hydro renewables lessened the impact of drought

Over the past five years, droughts and their fallout have shown that accelerated deployment of wind and solar capacity is needed to support Türkiye entering a path of steadily growing clean electricity generation. Droughts have consistently caused a net drop in Türkiye’s clean electricity generation, necessitating a rise in fossil electricity generation and hindering the country’s electricity transition. This was the case most recently in both 2020 and 2021.

As of 2023, hydro is still Türkiye’s main source of renewable energy in terms of capacity at 32 GW. Though other renewables surpassed hydro in terms of combined generation in the past two years, this was mainly caused by the decline in hydropower in 2021.

Türkiye generated a record amount of electricity from renewable sources in 2022 despite the fact that hydro generation did not recover to pre-drought levels. 

Wind and solar stepped up to fill the gap and lessen the impact of low hydro output on total renewable electricity generation. Türkiye must now accelerate wind and solar deployment to mitigate the future risks of volatile hydropower output, hit its renewable electricity targets and ensure energy security.

The complete article can be accessed here