Kazakhstan heads for more solar and other renewables but needs entrepreneurs to make it happen

10/11/16, 11:00 AM -

Being a country that lives off its huge oil and gas reserves, Kasachstan is one of the most unlikely places to turn the tide and go all-in with green energy and sustainability. And yet this is what appears to be happening right now, with Kazakhstan officials going great lengths to attract solar and cleantech startups to the country. 

NEWENERGY aims to bring to together green and solar start-up companies with international investors and experts. The event is held October 27 in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Although the Central Asian country with a population of 17 million and a territory of 2.7 million km² doesn't appear in the tech news very often, there are things going on slowly under the hood. Last year, Kazakhstan's capital Astana hosted the first Techconnect startup conference and saw the first batch of startups graduating from the country’s first full-fledged accelerator.

Official course towards a greener economy

This year, the government's effort to kickstart the local entrepreneurial ecosystem are taking a new direction—with the state's official course towards the "green economy," it is exploring ways to support startups working in this industry. Same as many things in Kazakhstan, most of the new initiatives are government-driven.

Still 70 percent electricity from coal

 "Historically, the industry and business in Kazakhstan consumes two or three times more energy than their counterparts in Europe,"  Kanat Bozumbayev, Kazakhstan's energy minister says. "And of course we have to be competitive. On the other hand, we need to leave our planet clean and safe for future generations. Now, 70 percent of all electricity produced in KZ comes from coal-based plants. And we have to do something with that."

10 percent renewables by 2030

In order to solve the problem, the state has set a quite ambitious goal—to have renewable energy account for 3 percent of all energy produced by 2020, 10 percent by 2030, and 50 percent by 2050. Bozumbayev said the state has built and commissioned 48 electric plants that generate energy from alternative energy sources. And 8 more solar, wind and hydro-power plants are being built right now. Over the first six months of 2016 the amount of renewable energy generated in Kazakhstan grew 45 percent year-on-year, he added.

Sun and wind as the future

The government of Kazakhstan is also looking at the experience of Spain, Germany, the US, and the Netherlands, Bozumbayev says. According to Askar Munara, head of the state-backed JSC “Informational and Analytical Centre of Oil and Gas,” sun and wind are the energy sources the country is expecting to harvest the most renewable energy from.

Vertically integrated local PV production

Kasakhstan develops State Program on Accelerated Industrial –Innovative Development. In 2012 the first in Kazakhstan plant on production of photovoltaic moduls using local silicon «KazPV» has been launched. It is called Astana Solar. The main idea of this project is to create fully vertically integrated production cycle of photovoltaic moduls from exctraction and procession of silicon to assembly of colar panels. The capacity of this plant is 50 MW and plan to up it to 100 MW. The roof of the building is used for converting the sunlight and wind into electricity.

Promising prospects for solar entrepreneurs

„Solar energy has good prospects in Kazakhstan. The level of solar insolation is very high on all territory of the country. This fact makes renewable technology introduction absolutely favorable. Potential clients are the long –term industry units located outside power lines, human settlements or farms . These facts open huge prospects for solar entrepreneurs not only from Kazakhstan but from all over the world», Viktoriia Sydorenko, spokesperson of NEWENERGY stresses.

Government wants to attract start-ups

„However, a pure governmental effort isn't enough to bring all the plans to life, so Kazakhstan is trying its best to attract entrepreneurs from across the world to learn from them about the new ways of dealing with energy consumption and production“, she adds. Bootstrapping and lean startup methodology are something the country could use now, as the national currency's depreciation last year, together with the slide in oil prices, has had an impact on the economy. "The government of Kazakhstan began the journey towards green economy when oil cost $120 per barrel, and we're still on track now when it costs $47 per barrel," says Bozumbayev. "If it comes to $20 per barrel, we'll still be going the same way."

EXPO 2017 as an opportunity

While Kazakhstan is working towards its sustainable future, there's another thing to take care of—the huge Expo 2017 that will take place in Astana from June to September next year. With the official theme of "Future Energy," it will consist, among lots of other things, of a showcase of the best startups working in the industry.  Of the showcased projects, 30 are the local ones that have already been chosen by the Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan.

Startup festival NEWENERGY end of October

Another 30 startups that will be guaranteed a free place at the Expo come from both Kazakhstan and elsewhere. They will be chosen by a jury at the end of October during the NEWENERGY  startup festival, which is also organised and sponsored by the state and state-backed entities.  "The startup festival should pique the interest of VC funds and cleantech investors," Bozumbayev says. "We'll see new products, new ideas from all over the world gathered here in Astana. […] It is very important that we'll have an opportunity to have exposure to the startup culture."

Hopes for innovative collaboration

„There are always a number of obstacles and pitfalls both authorities and entrepreneurs have to navigate while working together. The state has a tendency to become a control freak when it comes to partnering with small businesses, while early-stage startups are often in a state of constant flux, juggling ideas and business models. If the things go as planned in Kazakhstan, however, we have a chance to see an interesting example of an entrepreneur-driven change on a state scale, as well as a good case of collaboration between startups and the state», Sydorenko stresses.  (HCN)

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