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Uzbekistan pursues energy self-sufficiency
Every oblast is experiencing power shortages, so Uzbekistan is developing solar and other alternative energies and sees such projects as an avenue toward economic independence.
By Shakar Saadi
TASHKENT – Confronted with intractable power shortages, Uzbekistan is looking to the sun.
The obsolescence and dilapidation of the Soviet-era electricity grid and power stations prevent efficient electricity generation, specialists said in diagnosing the frequent blackouts dogging Uzbek power users. The country hasn't done as much as it could to wean itself off hydrocarbons, which still account for 90% of its electricity.
Wintertime is especially hard on consumers who find themselves going without heat and with only intermittent electricity, the UN reported in January.
"Solar energy can and must become one of the locomotives in the way out of the crisis," Uzbek President Islam Karimov said at the 6th Meeting of the Asian Solar Energy Forum in Tashkent last November, according to Karimov's press office.
Solar power coming to Samarkand
At the forum, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced its plan to lend US $110m (256.6 billion UZS) to Uzbekistan, enabling construction of a 100MW solar power station in Samarkand. Uzbekistan's share of the solar power station's cost will be US $200m (466.6 billion UZS).
"Uzbekistan has a large land mass, plenty of sunshine, and the highly skilled and educated human resources needed to become a major player in solar energy development in this region," ADB President Takehiko Nakao said at the solar forum, according to the ADB press office.
Plans call for the power station to start operation in spring 2019 and construction is proceeding now, according to the ADB's Uzbekistan office.
"The annual potential of solar energy is equivalent to [almost 51 billion] tonnes of oil," Ruzikula Raimova, deputy chairwoman of the state-owned Uzbekenergo, said. "Solar energy has promise for the long term environmentally and economically. Using it will enable us to cut greenhouse gas emissions and conserve hydrocarbons."
Helping remote areas
For Uzbekistan, solar power is desperately needed in regions far from the centralised power and heating grids. Those regions, short of electricity, find economic development extremely difficult. Their residents generally cannot afford to set up solar power for themselves, as installing a solar battery can cost US $5,000 (11.7m UZS).
For example, the 3,500 residents in Nazarkhan, Karakalpakstan, contend with frequent blackouts and low gas pressure in the winter, and often resort to burning firewood.
Abduvali Kuziyev, who lives in Qashqadaryo Oblast, relies on a solar oven that he built from internet instructions.
"On average, it takes 2kg of firewood to cook a meal," he said. "Using my home-made solar oven three times a day saves me about 1m UZS (US $450) a year."
Ten Uzbek companies sell and produce alternative energy equipment, including various solar energy items.
"Most of the purchasers are clinics and farms," Helios Product company spokesman Saidkhon Parpiyev said. "Clinics need an uninterrupted electricity supply, and the farmers buy our products because out in the provinces they have power for only two hours a day."
The range of measures implemented by the state to increase the use of alternative energy sources includes 21 projects for installing solar collectors to heat water for enterprises affiliated with the Uzelektroset power grid and with outlying power grids.
In the long term, Uzbekistan intends to start building several more solar power stations. For this purpose, workers in six regions, in a joint Uzbek-ADB undertaking, have set up modern installations to collect and measure the data to devise alternative-energy projects.