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Kazakhstan: Wind-Energy Project To Harness Steppes' Potential

Kazakhstan's sunny skies and flat, wind-swept steppes make the country a promising land for solar and wind-based energy. In order to develop its solar potential, Kazakhstan last year launched its first solar energy project, in the southeastern Almaty region. Some 1,500 residents stand to benefit from the solar program, which was initially funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Canadian International Development Agency. Recently, the vast Central Asian republic launched its first large-scale project aimed at developing wind-based energy.

Prague, 14 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- About 90 percent of Kazakhstan's electricity is generated from coal and gas. The remaining 10 percent comes from hydroelectric power.

In an effort to increase the use of alternative energy sources, the UNDP and the Kazakh government last week launched a three-year program to develop the republic's wind potential, which is estimated at 1.82 trillion kilowatts per hour.

Gordon Johnson, a UNDP official in Kazakhstan, said the UN agency will assist the Energy Ministry in formulating a national-development program for the sector.

Johnson noted that the project also includes the preparation of wind-potential maps for different regions and the development of legal and regulatory measures.

"Kazakhstan is probably one of the most suitable countries in the world to develop wind energy [because] there's a lot of wind sources," Johnson said. "The problem is that population density [is] relatively low and [that] Kazakhstan is rather abundant in oil and coal resources. Therefore, hydrocarbon prices are relatively low. So the challenge will be mostly as to whether or not wind energy can be financially viable. We're supporting this program to promote that financial viability by working with the government to explore mechanisms to improve that."

Johnson said that the second part of the program envisages the construction of a pilot five-megawatt wind power plant at the Jungar Gates near the Chinese border. The objective is to prepare the basis for further investment in the sector.
"Until now our government didn't care about programs developing alternative energy sources."

"We're going to partially finance the construction of a five-megawatt wind farm," Johnson said. "The Global Environment Facility (GEF), which is our main finance source for the project, will provide a grant to the private sector investor who's willing to build this wind farm. On the government side they'll enter into a power purchase agreement for the energy that's produced."

The Washington-based independent financial organization GEF provided more than $2 million for the project's implementation. Private companies are expected to contribute another $4 million.

Johnson said that suitable investors will be asked to bid on contributing to the project.

The project is part of the government's renewable energy-development program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are held responsible for global warming. The plan aims to build 500 megawatts of installed wind power capacity by 2030.

Sergei Kuratov, from the Almaty-based nongovernmental organization Green Salvation, said that the government's task is huge.

"We have good wind resources in areas like steppes. And according to our specialists this resource is very valuable for our country," Kuratov said. "And in the south of Kazakhstan there are a lot of sunny days during the year. And according to...our specialists it will be very useful for our country to develop solar energy as well. Some enthusiasts are trying to develop small stations or equipment to provide wind energy for small enterprises like restaurants [and] laundries. But until now our government didn't care about programs developing alternative energy [sources]."

Johnson, however, characterized the new 5-megawatt pilot project as a strong indicator of the government's commitment toward developing the wind energy sector. He stressed that its impact will be a decrease over 20 years of 400,000 million tons of carbon dioxide -- a key contributor to global warming.

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