An era of record-high oil prices topping US$80 a barrel has left investors and nations scrambling to develop alternative sources of energy. The theoretical annual potential of solar power is estimated to exceed all fossil fuels reserves by more than 10-20 times, UPI reported.
In Central Asia, solar power is receiving renewed attention, particularly in Uzbekistan, with a population of 26 million.
Besides a climate suited to solar power, Uzbekistan brings advantages to the table, including a longstanding interest in generating power from sunlight, an advanced industrial base and a highly literate, hard-working population. Since 1965, the Uzbek Academy of Sciences has published the quarterly journal Geliotekhnika (’Applied Solar Energy,’) the former Soviet Union`s sole scientific publication devoted to solar power. Topics covered range from solar radiation, photovoltaics and solar materials to direct conversion of solar energy into electrical power.
The technical potential of solar energy in Uzbekistan is immense and is estimated to exceed by 400 percent the country`s annual energy needs of 65 million tons of oil equivalent. The problem for Uzbekistan, as with many alternative energy sources, is the relatively high start-up costs.
Initial projects have been modest in scope, with a major effort being made to develop solar-powered hot-water supply systems for use in such enterprises as agricultural hothouses, cattle farms and the drying and canning of fruits and vegetables.
Officials in Tashkent have been busy searching out funding for solar projects from a variety of sources, including the United Nations. Under a grant from the U.N. Development Program, scientists of the Uzbek Physical and Technical Institute and Agency for Technology Transfer have instituted the ’Pure Energy for Rural Communities in Karakalpakstan’ project, which allowed specialists at Uzbekistan`s ’Foton’ Plant to produce 25 photoelectrical systems for supplying the people of the Aral Sea region with electricity and hot water in the designated Ayazkala tourist complex, which uses solar photovoltaic batteries to supply the facility with energy and desalinated drinking water.
Uzbekistan has also sought cooperation with foreign specialists from countries including Israel, Denmark and Japan through its ’Physics-Sun’ Scientific Industrial Association. Currently operating solar facilities include a ’Big Solar Stove’ located in Parkent`s Materials Science Institute with a generating capacity of 1 megawatt.
Uzbekistan is on the crest of a development wave in alternative energy sources, as high energy prices are driving many nations to consider solar power. In March, Portugal opened the world`s largest solar power plant in Serpa. The US$109 million 11-megawatt facility, a joint GE Energy Financial Services, PowerLight Corp. and Catavento project containing 52,000 photovoltaic modules, sprawls across a 150-acre site 124 miles southeast of Lisbon and produces 40 percent more energy than Germany`s Gut Erlasse solar plant, the world`s second largest. Environmentally friendly, the Serpa facility is capable of generating 20 gigawatt-hours of power per year and will produce sufficient power for 8,000 residences as it replaces fossil-fuel fired plants that would otherwise emit 30,000 tons of greenhouse gases annually.
Uzbekistan is pressing forward with bringing together solar specialists from around the world to share ideas on research on solar power. Later this month the ’Physics-Sun’ Scientific Industrial Association is holding an international conference covering collateral solar issues of magnetism and superconductivity in the Academy of Mamun in Khiva. The Uzbek government, the Uzbek Academy of Sciences and Cambridge University are sponsoring the seminar, which is expected to bring together 120 participants from 70 nations.
Uzbekistan also has a potential partner in developing its burgeoning interest in solar -- its rising trade partner China. In 2006 China passed the United States to become the world`s third-largest producer of solar panels, behind Germany and Japan. While the costs of polysilicon, the chief material in photovoltaic solar panels, remains high, some specialists estimate that costs could fall 40 percent in the next few years as purified polysilicon production is boosted by more than a dozen companies in Europe, China, Japan and the United States, with many analysts speculating that China, with its industrial base and lower labor costs, will quickly develop a commanding lead in the field. Chinese solar-cell makers already export 90 percent of their output to Germany, Japan the United States and other countries, surging a ten-fold increase in prices for polysilicon to US$200-300 per kilogram. Chinese-Uzbek trade has similarly expanded; during January-July 2006, the volume of bilateral trade soared to US$659 million, a 62.6 percent gain from the same period in 2005.
Sad to say, there seems to be a nexus between energy and terrorism, and the issue has even indirectly touched Uzbekistan`s growing interest in solar power. On Aug. 15 German authorities arrested Tolga Durbin, a 29-year-old German of Turkish descent, and charged him with incitement to violence after his deportation from Pakistan, where on June 10 he was arrested on the Iranian-Pakistani frontier. Durbin, born in Turkey, introduced his friend Fritz Gelowicz, whom he knew from working in Gelowicz`s father`s solar heating firm in Ulm, to radical Islam. On Sept. 4 Gelowicz along with German Muslim convert Daniel Martin Schneider and Turkish citizen Adem Yilmaz were taken into custody. German authorities allege that the men were members of the anti-Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union and received terrorist training in Pakistan, after which they returned to Germany and procured 1,500 pounds of hydrogen peroxide to fashion into explosives to attack U.S. military installations in Germany.
Both terrorism and renewable energy resources are global problems. Power generation can in itself be a tool to combat terrorism, as it produces a rising standard of living for those with access to it. As the world searches for acceptable alternatives to increasingly expensive fossil fuels, nations previously seen as marginal players in the global energy market will increasingly come to the fore. Given its expertise and abundant sunshine, the future of Uzbek solar power looks bright indeed.