The future of sustainable energy in Kyrgyzstan: nuances and conventionalities
In this article, we reflected together with Kumar Kylychev, UNDP advisor and project coordinator, on energy trends expected in the future and the nuances of transition to clean and sustainable energy.
Sustainable energy is especially important for regions
In 2011, the UN Secretary-General launched the "Sustainable Energy for All" initiative to draw the world's attention to problems with access to energy in some of the world's most underdeveloped and developing countries, to which Kyrgyzstan has also joined. As is known, sustainable energy is conditioned by two main indicators - continuity and security. In other words, it is an energy system that meets the needs of the present without compromising the energy needs of future generations. This is also relevant for our country since the uninterrupted supply of electricity has systemic challenges, such as a high dependence on the water level at Toktogul Reservoir and time constraints for saving.
UNDP in Kyrgyzstan provides targeted support to the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic to promote sustainable energy as one of the activities on the way to transition to sustainable development. We are all familiar with different technologies that promote sustainable energy, including renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric power, solar power, wind power, wave power, geothermal power, biogas power, including energy efficiency technologies. Recently, energy efficiency has become the fifth type of fuel.
Our colleague remembers how UNDP, together with other UN agencies, installed solar panels in the remote Feldsher Midwifery Points (FAPs) of our country in 2012. The need arose due to frequent power cuts, which deprived doctors of the opportunity to use basic equipment such as lighting, computer, or cardiograph. The same was true for vaccines and medicines because they must be stored at a certain temperature in a refrigerator, which has only one power source - electricity. The importance of uninterrupted power supply is more acute when human health and life can depend on it.
Is alternative energy a panacea?
In 2019, Kyrgyzstan entered a low-water inflow cycle, which will continue over the next 3-5 years, Kumar said. This means that river inflow will decrease, and this, combined with climate change, could have a negative impact on the future sustainability of our energy system.
"More and more countries, both developed and developing, are switching to alternative energy sources depending on their geographical location and availability of technologies and resources. Based on these good practices, we are promoting and mainstreaming alternative energy that is independent of water inflows and will be able to provide us, to some extent, with additional energy for sustainable supply. It is important for us to forecast what awaits us in 10 years' time in the Kyrgyz context and to widely inform the society about the prospects of alternative energy sources development. It is natural that such transformations will not happen instantly but will take years. In this regard, UNDP has installed solar panels on the roof of the UN House, which is a small but definite contribution to the development of clean alternative energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving energy. After all, the amount of electricity released can be used to cover new needs," says Kumar.
The installed capacity of the solar plant is 10 kW and the total battery capacity is 8 kW. In one year (from February 20, 2019, to February 20, 2020), solar panels generated 10,977 kW of electricity. This helped UNDP to provide 35% of the office server room needs with clean energy. More battery capacity is needed to further increase the volume. The technical parameters and cost of renewable energy devices can be found on the Green Platform website, created under the UNDP-OFID project "Development of Small and Medium Enterprises in Energy Access".
"In our country, 86% of the electricity produced is considered clean, but outdated equipment and disproportionate growth in consumption do their job. In this sense, it is important to think about diversifying the sources of both electricity and heat generation - and still stop hoping for only one source of production," Kumar shares.
In addition, by diversifying and introducing new alternative capacities, the load on the existing system is balanced and the amount of electricity needed to develop new economic growth points, sustainable development of cities, and new buildings is released. It is no secret that not all new buildings and villages are provided with stable and enough electricity, which in turn leads to the use of coal for heating purposes. And the use of coal is one of the main sources of air pollution in the heating season.
How do we motivate people to switch to clean energy?
"I agree, the current cost of clean energy technology is not yet quite affordable for our country. But we also have positive examples, despite the high cost, solar panels, solar collectors and thermal sources became more and more popular among small and medium-sized businesses. One of the first examples is that in the Chychkan gorge the owners of the cafe built a micro-hydroelectric power plant for themselves, and it seemed to be just electricity, but it allowed them to develop and expand their business. This practice served as an example for many owners of cafes, hotels, and tourist businesses in places where there is no access to traditional electricity. Still, the development of technologies is not standing still, and we are happy to see how such technologies are becoming more and more available and more countries are ensuring their energy security by introducing additional alternative sources of electricity. And it is a pattern that as supply increases, so do the cost - between 2009 and 2017, global prices for solar photovoltaic power plants have fallen by 76% and this gives us hope that in our country these technologies will soon be available and competitive”, says Kumar.
Alternative energy can be beneficial to many businesses that purchase electricity at higher-differentiated rates. In this case, the cost of alternative energy in the long term can easily be equated with the cost of ordinary electricity, which in addition provides business with independent and sustainable energy, not counting the amount of electricity released, which is necessary for the development of other sectors of the economy.
Improving air quality is also an important factor that has recently been among the motivators for the transition to clean energy. The Kyrgyz Republic has chosen its sustainable development path through the transition to a "green economy", gradually replacing the practice of "brown economy" based on the use of fossil fuels and high energy intensity of production. Political will and motivation to improve air quality and the quality of life of citizens is already contributing to the gradual modernization of coal-fired public buildings to cleaner fuel sources such as natural gas and alternative energy sources.
"In all cases, both the state and citizens need to consciously approach the use of renewable energy sources, as special conditions for their daily use are required. For example, we are talking about the use of trolleybuses and electric cars, as they do not pollute the air. However, we must understand that with the transition to electric mobility, we need to produce more electricity. In our conditions, it would be good to think about all these nuances. And it is a pattern that as supply increases, the cost plummets - between 2009 and 2017, global prices for solar photovoltaic power plants have fallen by 76% and this gives us hope that in our country these technologies will soon be available and competitive", concluded Kumar Kylychev.