The Kazakh government has set out to modernize its fossil fuel-dependent economy, often in cooperation with German partners. The country is home to ample supplies of both uranium and renewable sources of energy. Whether it can stay its ambitious course and sustain green developments to meet its targets for 2050 remains to be seen, reminds Komila Nabiyeva.
“The green economy” has been a buzzphrase in Kazakhstan ever since President Nursultan Nazarbayev unveiled his strategy to modernize the oil- and gas-rich economy back in 2012. Under his plan, the share of renewable sources in electricity generation will increase from less than one percent today to 50 percent by 2050. To encourage green investment, Kazakhstan is introducing fixed rates on renewable energy and in 2013 has launched a pilot version of the national carbon-trading scheme. In 2017, Kazakhstan will for the first time host the World Expo exhibition, dedicated to “Future Energy.”
With an area seven times larger than Germany and a population equal to the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Kazakhstan has enormous potential to generate energy from wind, sun, and water resources. Decentralized power generation could be particularly beneficial in distant areas of the country with no access to energy. According to UNDP estimates, the potential of wind energy alone exceeds ten times Kazakhstan’s current energy consumption.
Today Kazakhstan generates about 80 percent of its energy from coal. The outdated mining and production industry is extremely energy-intensive. As a result, the country’s emissions have climbed 40 percent since 2006, according to an annual climate performance index released by the NGO Germanwatch. To improve this trend, Kazakhstan voluntarily pledged in 2010 a reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions to 15 percent below 1992 levels by 2020.
Germany is often cited as a role model for the planned transformation by Kazakh politicians and the media. “Following the leading German experience, the President has decided to make the environment ministry responsible for policy making on renewable energy and the ministry of industry and new technology its implementation,” Kazakh environment minister Nurlan Kapparov told journalists in February 2013. By developing renewables, Kapparov hopes to create new jobs in the country, citing impressive figures from the green jobs market in Germany.
The two countries have been cooperating on these developments. Kazakhstan accounts for more than 80 percent of all German trade with Central Asia and more than 60 percent of all German exports to the region. The latest increase in German-Kazakh cooperation occured during Nazarbayev’s February 2012 visit to Germany when the two countries sealed the partnership in the sphere of raw materials, allowing German companies to explore and extract rare earth metals in Kazakhstan in exchange for technology transfer.
German technology is playing no small role in Kazakhstan. The German firm FWT Trade is currently building turbines for the first wind park in Ereymentau, some 150 km from the Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana. The wind park, with an installed capacity of 45 MW, is cofinanced by Samruk-Energy and the Eurasian Development Bank. The park, due to be launched by December 2014, will also generate electricity for the Expo 2017 exhibition.
In 2012 Germany donated solar panels to be installed on the roofs of the Baikonur space launch facility and the Eurasian National University of Astana. The project was part of the export initiative Solar Roofs Program, sponsored by the German Energy Agency (dena) and the federal ministry of economics and energy, demonstrating the advantages of German solar technology.
Dena has also been a key player in the Kazakh energy efficiency market. Last year it helped set up an energy consultancy center, providing advice, energy auditing, and training courses on energy management, and a German-Kazakh Institute for energy efficiency and management, which trains politicians, energy professionals, and academics. These initiatives are intended to support the Kazakh government’s targets on energy intensity reductions in industry by ten percent before 2015 and by 25 percent by 2020, based on 2008 levels.
Such cooperation is all well and good, but on certain issues the Kazakh government is taking a different stand. Nuclear power, a no-go topic in Germany since Fukushima, is considered green and included in Kazakhstan’s future energy mix. “The need for cheap nuclear energy will only grow in the foreseeable future,” Nazarbayev said during his annual address in January 2014. “As the global leader in uranium mining, Kazakhstan should develop its own production of fuel for nuclear plants and build its own atomic plants.”
Construction of the controversial first nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan is slated for completion by 2020, together with 13 wind, 14 hydropower, and four new solar power plants.
The essence of the president’s message: by 2050 Kazakhstan should enter the list of the world’s thirty most-developed countries. “The coming 15 to 17 years will be a ‘window of opportunity’ in which Kazakhstan can make a sweeping breakthrough. During this period, we’ll see a favorable external environment, an increase in demand for resources, energy, food, and the third industrial revolution,” Nazarbayev said. “We must use that time wisely.”
An ambitious agenda, yet it remains to be seen to what degree Kazakhstan will use its “window of opportunity.” If first steps are any measure, the government may have to work harder at bringing other interests on board: Kazakh businesses have already succeeded in putting on hold one of the most important green initiatives of the country. The launch of a carbon trading system, which was planned to begin in January 2014 after a one-year pilot phase, is now delayed until 2015, according to the Kazakh carbon market regulator Zhasyl Damu.
Komila Nabiyeva reports on climate change, energy, and development issues in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This article was first published on the Going Renewable blog.