Uzbekistan: Future Dim for Solar Power

A modest achievement in renewable energy in Uzbekistan is a reminder of the country’s enormous but unexploited potential to harness environmentally friendly resources.

Local media on April 4 reported that United Arab Emirates company ENESOL has completed the largest mobile solar plant in the former Soviet Union, in Uzbekistan.

The 1.2 megawatt plant will be used to power a natural gas field and construction site owned by Russian energy company LUKoil in an area near the city of Bukhara.

“The solar plant’s capacity is enough to provide uninterrupted energy for a populated area of 1,500 people,” ENESOL said in a statement

During the 6th Asian Solar Energy Forum in 2013, President Islam Karimov promised great things in the solar generation field.

In line with plans revealed then, work is currently in progress on a 100 megawatt photovoltaic plant in the Samarkand region. The Asian Development Bank has estimated this could generate 159 gigawatt hours of power and avoid 88,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

In 2011, LUKoil unveiled its own plans for a 130 megawatt plant in the southern region of Navoi.

Solar power in Uzbekistan is currently mainly generated to serve industrial needs and not for household use. That is particularly regrettable since many citizens continue to experience chronic power shortages. The Ferghana Valley suffers particularly acute shortfalls.

In this area, as in many others, the authorities adopt a semi-permanent position of wishful thinking.

The government says 90 percent of the country is connected to the electricity grid. And in May 2014, the head of the state power company Uzbekenergo, Sherzod Hodjaev, told Darakchi newspaper that electricity shortages were down to "the rapid development of the national economy.” 

Although the government routinely reports annual economic growth figures of around 8 percent, that assessment is widely  considered overly optimistic.

Attempts to bridge shortfalls have focused on overhauling existing infrastructure. The Tashkent Thermal Power Plant and Charvak Hydropower Plant underwent repairs in 2015, and similar is scheduled for the Talimardzhan and Angren thermal power plants.

By some estimates, renewables account for only 1 percent of Uzbekistan’s energy needs.

The country typically has around 320 days of sunshine in any given year, but it relies all the same mostly on its fossil fuels and hydro-resources to generate its power.

A 2015 academic paper by two academics at Uzbekistan’s Academy of Sciences, R. A. Zakhidov and S. L. Lutpullayev, suggested that the country’s potential for renewable energy sources is in the area of 179.4 million tons of oil equivalent. The experts estimated that “more than threefold exceeds the annual demand for energy resources.”

Zakhidov and Lutpullayev, whose paper essentially tracks government projections and positions, are unsurprisingly optimistic about the prospects of future government projects. 

“In the next several years, it is planned to equip 1,300 schools and colleges, mainly located in far and hard to reach regions, as well as specialized secondary school, with solar collectors. Photoelectric panels will be installed in more than 600 medical centers in agriculture regions. The full scale implementation of these technologies will make it possible in the nearest future to reduce the load of Uzbekistan’s power system by 2 [billion kilowatt hours] and provide local production of 2 million [gigacalories] of thermal energy, which will give a cumulative savings of power resources of more than $250 million per year,” Zakhidov and Lutpullayev wrote in their paper.

ADB calculations show annual electricity consumption in Uzbekistan potentially rising to between 105 and 130 terawatt hours by 2030, up from the current level of around 58 terawatt hours. The bank also estimates that the country’s entire total installed production capacity at the moment is around 12.6 gigawatts. Of that, 89 percent is account for by fossil fuels, while another 11 percent is produced from hydropower.

The share of solar technologies in the overall mix will remain conservative, even in the long run.

“If appropriate actions are taken, in 2030, it would be feasible to supply 6 percent of total electricity produced in Uzbekistan using solar technologies, less than 0.1 percent of its territory (88 square kilometers) would be needed,” the ADB said in an April 2014 report.

Another scientist queried by EurasiaNet.org, Zinovy Novitsky, said that Uzbekistan needed to think more broadly and explore other possibilities besides just solar power.

“Wind turbines have a great deal of promise in the provinces of Uzbekistan. The first such plant was built with the help of German engineers in 2004 in Karakalpakstan,” Novitsky said.

Uzbekistan: Future Dim for Solar Power

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