Kazakhstan took another step toward strengthening its energy security this week when a joint Chinese-Kazakh venture launched a new solar farm.
Located in Kazakhstan’s southeastern region of Almaty, the $71 million plant with a capacity of 100 megawatts (MW) covers approximately 667 acres of land – the size of 378 football fields – and consists of 303,000 solar panels that convert the sun’s rays into electricity by exciting electrons in silicon cells, harnessing the power of photons produced by the sun’s rays.
The plant, called “Nurgisa 100 MW Solar Park” to honor Kazakh composer Nurgisa Tlendiyev, is expected to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 150,000 tons per year.
The project was sponsored by Eneverse Kunkuat, a Kazakh-Chinese joint venture, which covered 38 percent or $26.7 million of the total costs and served as the project’s manager. At the same time, the Development Bank of Kazakhstan and its subsidiary BRK-Leasing provided a loan for the project in the amount of $44.5 million, while the government sponsored the construction of the high-voltage power line for $600,000.
China is helping Kazakhstan boost its renewable energy potential, following an agreement signed in 2016. Construction of the solar farm was started last year with more than 500 Kazakhstani specialists and more than 10 local companies being employed. Officials in the Kazakhstan Energy Ministry believe the facility will help 35 people get new jobs.
“I can’t believe the construction began a year ago, while we came up with the idea about two years ago,” said Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Zhenis Kassymbek, according to reports by Energy Media. “The company will introduce five more such facilities in Kazakhstan by the end of the year. As of today, Kazakhstan operates 75 power plants of such kind.”
According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Kazakhstan’s solar power potential is estimated at 3.9 billion to 5.4 billion kWh, or around five percent of annual power consumption. There is high solar irradiance in most regions of the country, but because Kazakhstan is located in the northern hemisphere the general trend is to develop solar resources in the southern parts of the country.
The country’s first solar plant, called Burnoye Solar–1, opened in Zhambyl in 2014, with others in Zhambyl (2018), and Mangystau (2018). Burnoye Solar–1 and Burnoye Solar–2 form one of the largest solar generation facilities in Central Asia.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Zhanaozen located in Kazakhstan’s western region of Mangystau the same day the solar farm in the Almaty region was launched. Demonstrations took place across the city against the construction of the Chinese facilities in Kazakhstan. Protesters believe that local people will be left without work, or their wages will be greatly reduced.
Crowds took to the streets following posts to social networks, which are claiming China is going to launch more than 50 facilities in Kazakhstan.
Officials at the Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development confirmed that construction agreements do exist, but do not specify the number of projects to be undertaken through joint or Chinese-only ventures.
“As of today, the list of joint Kazakh-Chinese industrialization and investment projects includes 55 projects worth $27.5 billion and covers engineering and construction industry, agribusiness, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, oil and gas sector and a number of other energy-related projects,” said Vice Minister of Industry and Infrastructural Development Amaniyaz Yerzhanov, according to reports by Kursiv.
Trade and investment connections between Kazakhstan and neighboring China run deep. After almost 28 years of Kazakhstani independence from the USSR, China has invested $16 billion in what is Central Asia’s largest economy. And China is considered Kazakhstan’s second-largest trade partner, just behind Russia, as trade between the two countries totaled $11.6 billion in 2018.