Ensuring energy security is one of the main factors, which underwrites the national security conception. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Uzbekistan has one-third of all of Central Asia’s mineral resources, and in terms of gas production, it is among the world’s 20 leaders. However, the country has experienced frequent energy blackouts in the very frigid winter, and even the energy supply was shot down in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent. There is the logical question arises: Why has Uzbekistan gone through a crisis, and energy blockade although the country is rich in energy sources? The presented article sets out to find out the root causes of the systematical emerging problems in the energy sector of Uzbekistan. The article also discusses the features of the recent-issued-energy-related decrees of President Mirziyoyev and put forwards possible preventive solutions to address the energy-related challenges. The article, first of all, is determined to analyze the energy security definition, the concept of energy insecurity, and its impacts on the state, and discusses the root causes of the energy insecurity in the context of Uzbekistan.
The term energy security differs from the classical and contemporary definitions. During the 1970-1980s years, energy security was acknowledged by the stable supply of inexpensive fossil fuels under threats of embargoes and manipulations by export countries. (E.W. Colglazier Jr., D.A. Deese 1983) It is noted to mention that the 1973 year oil crisis has been a key factor to change the perceptions of energy security. Modern energy security is intertwined with other energy security problems, for instance, equable access to energy resources and mitigating climate change. (Goldthau 2011) The International Atomic Energy (IEA) explicates energy security as the uninterrupted and undisturbed availability of energy at reasonable prices. The most distinctive difference in energy security concepts is identified between energy importers and exporters, emerging from the emphasis on the security of supply for the former and the security of demand for the latter. For instance, energy security for exporting countries, like Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela, means finding new markets, ramping up oil and gas production for export purposes, regulating prices, and finding out new routes to export the production to countries, that consume. However, the energy security for importing countries, like the EU, is identified by finding new suppliers and meeting the demands of the domestic population. The supply security, according to the United Nations concept, “the continuous availability of energy in varied forms, in sufficient quantities, and at reasonable prices”. (Security 2015) However, there is not clear cut definition of the term energy security, which remains under discussion for the time being.
Energy insecurity is a term, which means a lack of access to reliable and affordable energy. Apart from that, energy insecurity is used to express a situation where a country or region faces issues in addressing its energy needs. This could happen owing to various reasons, such as political instability, poor management, scarcity of domestic energy resources, or the low quality of the energy infrastructures. The concept of energy security is quite relevant in modern times as a lot of countries around the world are going through with energy demands because of economic development, growing population, and other factors. Scholars analyzed the phenomenon of energy insecurity from various standpoints and perspectives. For example, Daniel Yergin explained the impacts of energy insecurity on global politics and security from the perspective of geopolitics. (Yergin 2020) Michael T. Klare analyzed extensively the impact of energy insecurity on global conflict and researched the geopolitical implications of energy resource competition. (Klare 2005)
It is vital to know about the causes of energy insecurity before considering potential solutions to tackle it. The first factor, I argue, is geography. Some countries, such as Russia or Central Asian countries, are naturally and geographically blessed with the ability to generate energy. Another possible reason is the likelihood of not affording available energy. The third reason stemmed from the dependence on external resources or foreign countries. Countries reliant on foreign countries need to be prepared to respond to the question, such as, what if the country you depend on decides to just shut off your energy supply? Poor management of energy infrastructures is another reason bringing about energy insecurity. Poor management is identified in different forms, such as using too much energy, exporting too much energy that the population of the country could suffer, and investing less in energy routes. Ensuring energy security is a critical aspect of national security and it should be accentuated that energy security and national security are closely interlinked. Energy insecurity could be a triggering point to social unrest because people become infuriated if they go through frequent blackouts, fuel shortages, increase in prices, and other energy-related problems.
Energy crisis in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan has substantial energy potential, particularly in the form of fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil. According to the International Energy Agency, Uzbekistan ranks 11th for gas mining and possesses 14th for gas reserves in the world, the country also obtains significant potential for shale gas, with estimates of up to 4 trillion cubic meters of technically recoverable reserves and there are 594 million barrels of proven crude oil reserves in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has significant coal reserves, approximately 1,9 billion tons, and the Angren and Shargun coalfields, in which the main coal reserves are located. To manage the oil and gas resources, the state-holding company, Uzbekneftegaz was established in 1992. Even though Uzbekistan has an immense potential energy resource, the country has frequently experienced an energy shortage supply, in 2021. Especially, the frigid winter in 2022 totally crumbled the energy supply of chains, especially in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent. It is argued that the blackouts were caused by a sequence of factors, encompassing increased energy demand owing to weather, a shortage of natural gas, and the ramping up of gas export to foreign countries.
The fundamental reason for the energy crisis in Uzbekistan was the scarcity of natural gas, which stemmed from various factors, including infrastructure problems, pricing disputes, and political tensions. Technical problems at some power plants have contributed to the energy crisis as some power plants were unable to operate at total capacity owing to equipment failures. The energy structures, including gas pipelines for domestic consumption, remain in poor condition, which has left from the Soviet period. The government of Uzbekistan acknowledged, first time, this has been a challenging season, with low gas pressure, power cuts, and fuel shortages. The Energy Ministry has blamed a long list of factors for the problems: supply not meeting demand, infrastructure failures, production reductions because of extreme cold, import halts, and political and economic challenges (Imamova 2023). Uzbekistan exported 4 billion cubic meters of gas for 841 million dollars in 2022, this is almost a tenth of the total production in the country, as well as almost the entire volume of gas, was exported to China. It is, I argue, another contributing factor to the energy crisis in the country, as well as there are discrepancies in statistics on the export of gas to China, between Uzbekistan and China. Agency of Statistics shows that Uzbekistan exported gas worth $910.9 million to China in 2022, while reportedly, China imported gas estimated 1,07 billion dollars, which is 18 percent more than the figure provided by the official Tashkent. Behzot Narmatov, head of the ‘Uztransgaz’ transportation company, issued a statement that all exports of gas to foreign countries, including China, are halted (Lillis 2023) but the official statistics of China reveals that China still importing gas production even though official Tashkent vowed to ceased its export. This process, in its essence, is creating a sense of dissatisfaction in public with the government. For example, it should be underpinned that 33 energy/gas-related protests were reported in Uzbekistan from 2018 to August 2021 accounting for slightly more than 10% of total protests in the country, mostly related to energy shortages in households and not to prices and fuel for transport. A severe shortage of natural gas and electricity amid frigid temperatures has sparked some protests in parts of Uzbekistan. If the problem is not solved systematically, it could spark protests throughout the country and might create challenges for national security of the state, even for the status quo of the state as well as the legitimacy of the authority.
The decrees of President in energy sector and challenges to implement them
Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the President of Uzbekistan, has issued a number of decrees to sort out problems in the energy sector. These decrees include “On measures to radically improve the management system of the fuel and energy industry of the Republic of Uzbekistan” was issued in 2019, which defines the main directions for the further development of the fuel and energy industry, “Program for the Development of Renewable Energy for 2017-2021”, “Action Strategy For the Further Development of Uzbekistan For 2017-2021, set out targets for the use of renewable energy projects.
Renewable Energy Capacity of Uzbekistan
|Renewable energy source||Gross Potential||Technical Potential|
|Hydropower||9.2 Mtoe||2 Mtoe|
|Wind Power||2.2 Mtoe||0.4 Mtoe|
|Solar Power||50 973 Mtoe||177 Mtoe|
|Geothermal energy||67 000 Mtoe||3 Mtoe|
|Total alternative energy source||117 984 Mtoe||179.3 Mtoe|
Direct investments of $8 billion have been attracted in the energy sector and in particular, solar power stations have been launched in Navoi and Samarkand regions as well as it is forecasted, another 18 such stations are being built, which will result in 50% increase in electricity generation for households.
However, there are many issues and challenges with the realization of the decrees which need to be addressed. The primary challenge has been the lack of experience in the renewable sector because Uzbekistan is highly dependent on fossil fuels to generate energy, which made it difficult to develop renewable energy projects at the scale required to meet the demands of the country. Another issue is the limited availability of financing for renewable energy projects and there has been a lack of direct investment in the sector. Lack of legal framework for independent power producers, state monopoly, the unhealthy competition is considered a problem that prevents investors to put money into the development and production of solar panels. (Komilov Asror and Numanov Farrukh 2019) Lack of financing options is also barrier for the development of renewable energy sources because in rural areas of Uzbekistan micro credits for household-scale renewable systems may not exist or be difficult to access because of bureaucracy simultaneously there are absence of credits for the local producers and investors.
As Zbigniew Brzezinski accentuated, the diversity of energy resources is the source of security. (Brzezinski 2004) Ensuring energy security is a critical factor of the national security in Uzbekistan. Frigid winters in Uzbekistan have increasingly featured blackouts owing to outdated energy infrastructure, and poor management which are likely to create serious political, security, and social issues in the country. Even though many steps have been taken to manage the problems in the energy sector, blackouts remain a challenge in Uzbekistan. The country has experienced minor protests and grievances during the period of energy blackouts, which lead to the undermining of trust in the authority. In the end, the article inevitably raises the research questions: What are the upsides and downsides for Uzbekistan from the “Trilateral Gas Union”, which is forecasted to be established between Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan? What are the potential risks for Uzbekistan importing gas from neighboring countries, including Turkmenistan? What risks could Uzbekistan go through if the country halts totally the export of gas to China? These are questions that go beyond the scope of the article and could be puzzles to be addressed by research projects in the future.