ASTANA, Kazakhstan, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Kazakhstan, which is chronically short of electricity generation capacity to meet its growing demand, is opting for a big push into renewables, the government says.
The Central Asian nation's demand for electricity is growing quickly -- as much as 5 percent per year due to its booming industrial sector -- but its ability to meet the demand is lacking and its Soviet-era infrastructure antiquated.
The nation has 20,600 megawatts of installed generating capacity but 15,000 megawatts are available, a deficit equal to the consumption its largest city of Almaty, government statistics indicate.
The vast majority of the country's electricity is generated from coal-fired power plants but Minister of Industry and New Technologies Asset Issekeshev announced last week Kazakhstan is embarking on a program to develop more than 1,000 megawatts of renewable and alternative energy capacity by 2020, Tengrinews.kz reported.
"Our goal is to bring the share of renewable energy sources to 1 percent by 2014 and to 3 percent by 2020," Issekeshev said. "According to the international statistics, the share of renewable energy sources currently stands at 0.5 percent in Kazakhstan."
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has set an ambitious goal of generating at least 50 percent of all the power consumed in Kazakhstan coming from renewables by 2050, which will require the country to strike a tricky balance between ecological and economic goals.
The country's western region, including Aktobe, West Kazakhstan and Atyrau region, is supplied by coal-fired power plants, which after the collapse of the Soviet Union went to Russia. Since then, the region's consumers have had to pay much higher rates for the power, the Kazakhstan weekly Caravan reported.
South Kazakhstan, including Zhambyl and the Almaty region, is underpowered -- producing only half of the required output. The area has three geothermal plants but they are outmoded. To compensate, a pair of north-south transmission lines of 500 kilovolts were built but no longer are enough to keep up with demand.
Zhambyl boasts a power plant but it is natural gas-fired and dependent on imports from Uzbekistan at time when gas prices are running at $150 per 1,000 cubic meters.
To reduce prices and environmental risks, the government is promoting renewables such as wind, solar, photovoltaic and geothermal, the latter of which is abundant in the Almaty region.
The Almaty regional government announced Friday it has set a commissioning date of late 2015 for a new 50-megawatt wind plant, BNews.kz reported. Officials have developed a business plan and a picked a site for the project and is preparing a feasibility study.
Issekeshev said that in all, 13 wind power plants totaling 793 megawatts, 14 hydro-electric plants generating 170 megawatts and four solar stations generating 77 megawatts are to be constructed.
"These are the minimum figures," the energy minister said. "The government is reviewing three documents: the concept of power energy development until 2020, the concept of fuel-and-power industries development and the green economy strategy. They will become a base for a balanced solution."
Also this year, the energy company Samruk-Energo will begin construction on the 45-megawatt first stage of the Ereimentausky wind farm, which is envisioned to generate 300 megawatts.