Saturday, October 25, 2014


Uzbekistan

'Alternative' Energy Fuels Central Asia

Many Uzbek families now only turn on their power generators when there is a football match on television.
Many Uzbek families now only turn on their power generators when there is a football match on television.
By Farangis Najibullah
Soaring fuel prices; electricity rationing; early snow -- it's enough to send people scurrying for alternative ways to heat their homes and cook their meals.

In some parts of Central Asia, however, "alternative" doesn't necessarily mean clean burning or eco-friendly. In Uzbekistan, cheap is the operative word, and that means things can get downright, well, earthy.

"Coal is fuel for rich people only," says Eshmurod-Aka, a resident of Uzbekistan's Qashqadaryo province. "Animal manure is the only fuel we use now."

Sadirokhun Sophiyev, a resident of the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, explains that "these hardships have prompted us to find rather unorthodox, alternative ways" to keep the heat going and the stove cooking.

The burning of animal dung for fuel is an age-old practice that had largely faded away. But in the current environment households with livestock once again find themselves slapping manure on barn walls, part of a drying process that will result in dried cakes that can be used for heating.

Sophiyev boasts that he has even found a way to get rid of one of the main detractors of burning dung for fuel -- its smell.

"I make a mixture of sheep manure and coal powder," he says. "Coal powder is very cheap. I put a few kilos of coal powder on the floor of my sheep barn. Their waste eventually gets mixed with the powder and eventually it makes a perfect fuel that burns well and has no smell at all."

This winter is already shaping up to be a long one. The first snowfall came earlier than usual in many parts of Central Asia, in early November, just days after scheduled electricity rationing begun in many provinces across Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Creative Solutions

"It's like a whole package of problems that winter brings to us," says Ahmad Ibrohimov, a resident of the southern Tajik town of Kulob.

"The situation is much more difficult this year," he says. "Three pieces of firewood, which is barely enough to boil a kettle, costs 2.3 somonis ($0.48). Diesel costs 7.5 somonis per liter. It's too expensive to use as fuel for home heating and cooking. For this reason, we can no longer use cooking stoves powered by diesel."

It has now become commonplace for Tajiks to use excrement for fueling their cooking stoves.
It has now become commonplace for Tajiks to use excrement for fueling their cooking stoves.
In Uzbekistan, a state-sponsored program offered households an affordable price of 71,000 soms ($40) for a ton of coal, enough to get a family of five through the winter. But supplies have run out, and prices have gone up to $300 per ton in some provinces -- roughly equal to the monthly per capita income.

Sophiyev, whose home region, the Ferghana Valley straddles the borders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, says the conditions "lead to creativity."

"Even housewives have become like experienced electricians now," Sophiyev explains. "They attach a wire to power lines and connect it to their homes."

Another creation is a home-made siphoning device that increases the flow of natural gas piped into homes.

"It's a common practice because the gas pressure is very low, and people's households don't receive enough gas," a neighbor of Sophiyev's explains to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on condition of anonymity.

In Tajikistan, prices for gasoline and diesel have gone up by some 50 percent since April, following Russia's decision to raise its tariffs on oil exported to the impoverished country.

Kerosene Lamps And Candles

The price means many villagers can no longer easily afford to operate diesel-powered electricity generators that became popular among Tajik households in recent years.

"The generator consumes two liters of fuel every evening to produce electricity, which is barely enough for a television set and lighting a few bulbs," claims Nazirjon Ruziboev, a resident of Ponghoz village in the northern Sughd Province.

"Now I use the power generator only when there is a football match on television," he says. "We get electricity from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. when there are not many good television programs. People mostly watch movies on DVDs during winter."

The shortage of affordable energy and fuel means a complete change of lifestyle for the Ruziboevs. Despite having a sizeable five-room home, the family of six spends the winter mostly in one room.

The room is equipped with a wood-burning stove, which they use both for cooking and heating.

"This is where we eat, watch television and sleep," Ruziboev says. "It's suffocating sometimes, especially when food is being cooked. But it would be too expensive to have more than one stove."

And if more light is needed after electricity is cut off in the evening? Locals again go back to tradition -- in the form of kerosene lamps and candles.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondents Zamira Eshanova and Sadriddin Ashurov contributed to this report.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: George Davids from: LA
December 06, 2011 23:45
My energy cost was drastically reduced after implementing photovoltiac power system.
It still doesn't pay off to officially invest in huge solar power systems. The money back is almost always over 10 years. But, if you invest in a home made photovoltiac electrical system it truly does pay off. Constructing and implementing my household system cost me below 3.000$ and the system gives me 90% electric efficiency in summer and 70% in winter. My energy problem was solved after the first couple of months adjusting it. After 1 year of using it I already got my invested money back, now If I construct 3 more panels I can sell electricity back to the network. This is what I'm planing to do. Finding good and well researched construction instructions is a problem though, I had a hard time finding them, so if you are struggling with this, this is where i found the solution: http://nowtweet.it/6zr
Don't be afraid to invest in solar energy, I first started with powering a light bulb in my garage. Now I'm powering my house hold and I'm planing to connect my neighbor too for a decent amount of money.
In Response

by: Paul the Frenchy from: Tajikistan
December 13, 2011 05:12
Thanks George for sharing your green experience.
However, you do not seem to realize how poor people are back here! Buying one solar panel would take months and usually any product you find in those impoverished countries are the lowest quality you could ever find. China is flooding the markets with its worst quality products and anyways, the local population could never afford high-quality products.

So implementing solar energy independence without any outside help is out of reach for the local population. Your story is a success ;but now, HOW COULD WE IMPLEMENT SUCH A SUCCESS IN CENTRAL ASIA? If you or others have ideas, I would be interested to hear and perhaps develop a project to help those wonderful people gain energy independence.

Thanks again!

by: KF from: Virginia
December 07, 2011 12:46
Interesting article, fuel is definitely an increasing cost for many in Central Asia. You say the practice of burning dung had all but faded but some parts of Central Asia it never fell out of fashion. In rural Kyrgyzstan, cooking and heating with dung has long been a part of daily life, never fading out of fashion. For all the talk of sustainability in the West it seems that we could take some cues from Central Asia in using truly renewable resources.

by: B from: T
December 13, 2011 14:45
"Three pieces of firewood, which is barely enough to boil a kettle, costs 2.3 somonis ($1.57). Diesel costs 7.5 somonis ($1.6) per liter. It's too expensive to use as fuel for home heating and cooking. For this reason, we can no longer use cooking stoves powered by diesel."

Maths doesn't add up here. If 2.3 somonis is $1.57, how can 7.5 somonis be $1.6?
In Response

by: Moderator from: Prague
December 14, 2011 09:12
Thank you. We have corrected the text.

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