TASHKENT -- Mindful of environmental concerns and resource depletion, Uzbekistan is seeking to modernise its energy sector.
The country, though it has ample potential for solar and wind power, generated 86.2% of its power with fossil fuels (almost entirely natural gas) and 13.8% with hydro in 2012, according to sources.
Concerned about a day when natural gas is no longer plentiful, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on May 26 approved a state programme on developing renewable energy and boosting energy efficiency.
As part of the plan, the government plans to spend 314.1 billion UZS ($81 million) of its own money and raise 20.5 trillion UZS ($5.3 billion) from foreign sources to develop hydro, solar and wind power through 2025.
The government is hoping that efficient power use and conversion from fossil fuel to renewables will boost economic competitiveness, raise the standard of living and protect the environment.
Electricity in Uzbekistan costs 191 UZS (4 US cents) per kWh. Reducing the cost further could stimulate the economy, say power industry officials and observers.
The rate compares favourably to that "in developed countries like Germany, where rates can reach 775 to 1,160 UZS [20 to 30 US cents] per kWh", Tashkent-based economist Shukurullo Mavlonov told Caravanserai. "Electrical rates affect a product's price."
The need to conserve
Uzbekistanis have not learned, generally, to conserve energy, Tashkent resident Kamilla Niyazova told Caravanserai.
"Virtually nobody in Tashkent saves energy," she said. "They don't turn off their lights or appliances. At the same time, many cities in the provinces have problems keeping the lights on."
Reducing the high power consumption of industry is one of the goals of the programme that Mirziyoyev signed into law May 26.
Its priorities include fostering renewable energy use, switching away from fossil fuels and installing energy-efficient technology everywhere.
The programme is meant to raise renewables' share of power production "from 12.7% [today] to 19.7% by 2025", Uzbekenergo spokesman Muzaffar Mukhitdinov told Caravanserai, giving a statistic -- 12.7% -- slightly different from the outside source's 2012 figure of 13.8% for hydro.
"Energy intensity should fall by 8 to 10% per year," he added of the plan. "It will make Uzbekistani products more competitive, create a domestic industry for energy-efficient technology and raise the quality of life."
Ambitions for solar, wind and water
As part of the push for renewables, authorities are eyeing solar and wind power, a sector that has gone neglected in Uzbekistan.
Solar and wind will account for 2.3% and 1.6% of the country's power by 2025, if the plan succeeds. Presently Uzbekistan has only one solar power station (in Namangan Province), while workers are still building its first wind farm (in Tashkent Province).
It is long past time in sunny Uzbekistan to consider renewable energy, say observers.
"Uzbekistan has about 300 days of sunshine a year," Davron Matrasulov, a physics professor at Turin Polytechnic University in Tashkent, told Gazeta.ru June 5. "But ... it has virtually no market for renewable energy sources, local production of such sources or [their] full-scale integration."
He urged the government to draft a law incentivising the use of alternative energy sources.
Already a major user of water, Uzbekistan is planning to expand its hydro sector.
"We will build 42 new hydro plants and modernise 32 more by 2021 [under the plan]," said Mukhitdinov.
Hydro accounts for 12.7% of all Uzbekistani electricity now, he said. Uzbekistan wants to "raise it [hydro's share] to 15.8%" by 2025, he added.
The plan will give private businesses breaks on taxes and customs duties to encourage them to build small hydro plants.