Solar and Wind Power for Gas-Rich State
While the Turkmen authorities have started talking about creating renewable energy, there is little prospect this will come about in the near future since the country lacks the research facilities, staff and technology required, say NBCentralAsia experts.
On June 12, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov marked national science day with a speech in which he urged scientists to focus more on new alternative energy technologies.
“We have huge opportunities for conducting research in this area, and the state will offer its full support for this,” said the president.
The authorities are currently working on a national strategy for developing renewable energy sources with a focus on solar and wind power.
Turkmenistan is classed as extreme continental, with 86 per cent of its territory consisting of arid desert. Officials believe that creates sound economic and environmental reasons for using renewable energy sources.
Scientists at Gun (“Sun”), a research body in Ashgabat that includes the Solar Institute, have calculated that just one solar power station using panels covering an area of several dozen square kilometers could generate enough electricity to cover the current needs of the entire country, put at about 14 billion kilowatt-hours a year.
NBCentralAsia analysts say the authorities are right to be thinking about alternatives to natural gas and oil. Although Turkmenistan is rich in gas, in particular, reserves will run out one day, so it makes sense to consider other options.
At the same time, many of the elements needed to take the idea forward are missing in Turkmenistan.
“There’s tremendous potential for alternative energy like solar and wind power, but there’s no capacity to do scientific research on this,” said an NBCentralAsia expert on Turkmenistan. “All the science agencies went into decline under the previous regime, the infrastructure was destroyed and no new equipment has been acquired.”
A former employee of the Solar Institute in Ashgabat recalled that a lot of work was done in the final years of the Soviet Union, with funding from Moscow. A number of alternative energy sources were explored – wind-powered desalination plants were created on the Caspian Sea shore, solar-heated houses were built in Ashgabat, and there was even an entire settlement run on alternative energy.
When Turkmenistan became independent in 1991, the authorities lost interest in science, research centres suffered staff cuts, and the Academy of Sciences and the Solar Institute were closed altogether.
Although both the institute and the Academy of Sciences have been reinstated under the current president, it will take a long time to make up for what has been lost.
“The Solar Institute is in a state of distress, as it lacks adequate resources, working conditions, and staffing – there’s no foundation,” said another former employee of the institute. “Fortunately, the library has been preserved.”
Under Berdymuhammedov, there has been talk of reviving science and assigning more importance to it. This year the government has earmarked 64 billion manats (over 90 million US dollars) for science and education, a third more than last year.
However, according to one NBCentralAsia analyst inside the country, money alone will not be enough. The most immediate need is to recruit and train scientists. Under President Saparmurat Niazov, who ran Turkmenistan until his death in late 2006, solar energy experts joined the brain drain that affected many scientific disciplines. If they did not leave the country, they found jobs outside academia.
“Given the lack of qualified staff it’s pretty stupid to be talking about huge research opportunities,” said the analyst.
(NBCA is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service is resuming, covering only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the moment).
Tags: Turkmenistan , Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedo , National Science Day , Alternative Energy , Renewable Energy , Solar Power , Solar Energy , Wind Power , Wind Energy , Gun
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.