Uzbekistan’s steeplechase towards renewable energy

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The Uzbekistan government this week announced it has entered a partnership agreement with the French Development Agency to drive infrastructure projects worth an estimated €1 billion ($1.15 billion).

“Projects for implementation were scheduled with such French companies as Airbus, Total, Vinci, Orano Mining, Total Eren, Veolia, Fives Stein, Bouygues, Rungis and many others,” said the Uzbek government in a statement. Although individual project details were not disclosed, local press have revealed Total Eren – a renewable energy unit of French oil giant Total – is planning a large-scale PV plant in the Samarkand region.

The involvement of Total may increase the chances of seeing Uzbekistan’s first solar park come online, after several years of stalled projects. Coinciding with the infrastructure announcement, media outlets including Azernews and the Tashkent Times revealed construction of a 100 MW solar project in the Pastdargom district of Samarkand – under development by Zhuhai Singyes Green Building Technology Co. Ltd., a unit of Chinese solar manufacturer and developer Singyes Solar Co Ltd. – has been suspended.

The $274 million project, secured by Singyes in a tender finalized in 2016, was part of a 300 MW plan consisting of three 100 MW projects, to be financed by the Asian Development Bank along with the Uzbek Fund for Reconstruction and Development. The fate of the 300 MW plan remains unclear.

High costs inhibit solar ambition

Azernews reported, as a result of “careful examination of technical and economic documents related to the project, it was found that the project should be revised,” without mentioning the most likely reason for the scheme’s suspension – its apparently high cost compared to similarly sized PV projects around the world. According to a document published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), preparatory works on the Samarkand Solar Power Project began between January and June last year.

Attempts by the gas and oil-rich central Asian nation to implement solar energy date back to 2013, and the creation of the International Institute for Solar Energy in partnership with the ADB. Last year, Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev announced a solar plan, including auctions for the deployment of 500 MW of solar between 2017 and 2021. The government said five 100 MW plants would be installed in unspecified regions, and added the installations would be expected to cost approximately $1.1bn.

In May, Canadian solar developer SkyPower Global announced a $1.3bn plan to build large-scale PV plants with a combined capacity of 1 GW across the regions of Tashkent, Samarkand, Navoiy, Jizzakh, Surxondaryo and Qashqadaryo. The projects will be owned and operated by SkyPower and awarded long-term PPAs with Uzbekenergo.

Uzbekistan meets around 90% of its power demand with 12.6 GW of fossil fuel capacity, of which 76% is powered by natural gas with fuel oil and coal accounting for 7% and 6%, respectively. The nation’s solar strategy aims for 4 GW from the sun by 2031 as part of an aim for renewables to meet at least 21% of energy demand. The Uzbek government, however, announced today it will build its first nuclear power station, with Russian support.