Kazakhstan’s strategic plans and the measures it has already taken speak to the country’s serious intention to establish itself as a pioneering green economy and to become the science, technology and innovation hub of Eurasia.
Kazakhstan’s transition to a green economy is necessary to remove a number of obstacles to its development. These include the inefficient use of resources, an inadequate education system, high rates and prices for energy, the degradation of its natural resources and environment, a dependence on exports of raw materials and external price fluctuations in commodity markets.
The current conditions only perpetuate the traditional economy, which among other things is highly dependent on energy derived from fossil fuels.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, sovereign Kazakhstan had to deal with a weak economy and a damaged environment. The Aral Sea had lost much of its water, the Semipalatinsk region still bears the impact of nuclear weapons testing and the consequences of the irrational use of natural resources and technological backwardness resulted in problems including a loss of water sources, soil degradation and the accumulation of huge quantities of waste.
During its first two decades of independence, Kazakhstan made significant progress in addressing socioeconomic problems, but environmental issues are still on the agenda and the country must make difficult choices as to how to resolve them.
One path follows a vision of a sustainable future. This approach involves a complete overhaul of Kazakhstan’s infrastructure and model of economic development, which will undoubtedly affect the interests of everyone, from those in government and business to average citizens. The decision to take this approach was made by President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev when he instructed the Government to develop a concept for the country’s transition to a green economy. In May of this year, the concept was approved by the decree of the President.
Our country has unique opportunities and prerequisites for the development of a green economy: a vast territory, an advantageous location, adequate financial and natural resources and a growing supply of more effective and affordable green technologies on the market. Today, the country is taking measures to modernise waste management, reduce air pollution, improve water management, raise energy efficiency and energy saving and develop renewable energy sources. As Kazakhstan will be hosting the specialised exhibition EXPO 2017 in Astana, plans to develop alternative and renewable forms of energy have become even more relevant.
In his 2012 State of the Nation address, Strategy Kazakhstan 2050, the President set the task of developing the production of alternative and renewable forms of energy, which in 2050 should account for at least half of total energy consumption. To achieve this goal, much work is being done to study international best practices in introducing renewable energy sources. As a result, legislation on the support and use of renewable energy sources has been passed.
With new and affordable technologies, the share of renewable energy in overall energy use is growing rapidly. Through targeted state support, China has become a world leader in the production of solar panels from photovoltaic cells. In 2011, Germany generated 20 percent of its energy through renewable sources and by 2050 they plan to increase this to 80 percent. Renewable energy is now creating three times as many jobs as traditional energy.
The production and use of wind energy is developing most rapidly. The annual growth of the global wind industry is 30 percent. In Germany, the cost of wind energy in 2011 was lower than that of energy generated from coal: 9 cents per kilowatt-hour for wind versus 10 cents for coal. Prices are predicted to drop by half in the next five years.
According to the Energy Information Agency of the U.S., global production of solar energy will grow 14-fold by 2035 to 191 billion kW/h. In 1997, the U.S. launched a large-scale federal programme, Million Solar Roofs, worth $6.3 billion. This initiative stimulated the development of the domestic solar market, helped restore the competitiveness of companies in the global market and created new jobs. Germany launched a similar programme, Photovoltaics on 100,000 Roofs, valued at $2 billion, in 2000.
In Kazakhstan, solar energy potential is one trillion kW/h, which exceeds the volume of fuel and energy resource consumption 25 times. The economic potential is determined to be more than 50-110 billion kW/h at the current annual consumption of 88 billion kW/h. The most convenient areas for placing solar generation farms are the southern regions of the country, where there are power shortages.
Modern, small-scale hydropower is the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly method of producing electricity. Small hydropower plants preserve the natural landscape, environment and water quality. The world leader in small hydropower generators is China, which has put 90,000 small hydroelectric power stations into operation. The equipment for them is standardised and used widely. In India, the set capacity of small hydropower plants is over 200 megawatts, and facilities with total capacities of over 150 MW are under construction.
Kazakhstan also has a huge reserve of energy in its small rivers. The total potential of small hydroelectric plants with a unit capacity of less than 10 MW is more than 8 billion kW/h.
Biogas plants, in contrast to other independent power facilities, can operate based on renewable energy sources practically around the clock and in any place where biomass or organic waste is available. In Austria, the share of biofuels in the energy sector is 12 percent; in Finland, 23 percent; in the EU, 14 percent.
In addition to power generation, biogas technologies are also environmentally friendly methods for disposing of organic wastes. In Kazakhstan, for example, agricultural waste from crop production or the organic fraction of municipal solid waste can become a stable source of biomass for energy.
Domestic specialists have carried out economic analyses that resulted in the adoption of specific indicators for the development of renewable energy sources. By 2020, their share should reach 3 percent of total electricity production, which in terms of electric power will be about 1 gigawatt; by 2030, 12 percent or 6 GW; by 2050, 30 percent or 30 GW.
But the main source of energy in the coming decades will still be coal. Modern technologies have been widely introduced in this sector to reduce emissions and improve the utilisation of ash and slag. Kazakhstan’s government is developing an action plan for implementing renewable energy projects by 2020. According to preliminary estimates, 31 renewable energy facilities will be put into operation by this date, with a total capacity of 1 GW.
The interest of local and international investors in this sector is growing and the first low-capacity pilot projects have been launched. Since 2011, renewable energy facilities with a total capacity of 16.5 MW have been commissioned in the Akmola, Almaty, Zhambyl, Karaganda, Kostanay and North Kazakhstan regions. By the end of the year, a number of green projects with a total capacity of 9 MW will be launched.
Recently, with the support of the UN Development Programme, we held an international conference on the Green Bridge Partnership Programme and EXPO 2017 with the participation of non-governmental organisations, financial institutions and government agencies.
Eight countries, including Kazakhstan, signed the charter, thereby giving political support to the official launch of the programme. We will continue to work to get other countries to sign the charter and to form an institutional framework for the implementation of the Green Bridge programme. The internationally recognised programme aims to combine the efforts of Central Asian countries to create green economic growth in the region with neighbouring and more distant countries through international cooperation, technology transfer, knowledge sharing and financial support from major financial institutions and the private sector.
The mission of EXPO 2017 in Astana is the organisation of a global dialogue on the strategic priorities of modern energy policies, the joint search for answers to major challenges of our time, the creation of a new model for future energy and the sustainable development of the planet.The Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Astana EXPO 2017 company have developed a draft concept for the exhibition. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture recently won the competition to design the expo site. In addition to pavilion buildings, there will be residential, socio-cultural, education and healthcare buildings, shopping centres, parks and boulevards in the EXPO City.
EXPO City will become a place for the embodiment of the five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution. The master plan and buildings were designed based on the principles of environmentally friendly, economically and socially sustainable development. EXPO buildings are expected to provide themselves with green energy from renewable sources.
The author is Minister of Environment and Water Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan.