Hydropower is the dominant renewable source in Central Asia. But hydropower can rouse cross-border tensions. It is also criticized for its environmental impact. Another resource Central Asia has in abundance is sunshine. With the region’s ample free space, solar and wind – which currently contribute negligible power – appear an attractive way to ease outages, energy poverty, and emissions.
“We have a lot of sun, wind and determination,” Uzbek Energy Minister Alisher Sultanov said in a sales pitch last month to Brussels-based New Europe magazine. Uzbekistan aims to grow the share of renewables, including hydropower, in its electricity generation to 25 percent by 2030, Sultanov said, with an additional 5 gigawatts of solar, 1.9 GW of hydropower and 3 GW of wind.
Regional rival Kazakhstan aims to reach 10 percent renewables by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050. “Our main goal is to put the inexhaustible energy of sun, wind, water and biomass towards serving the growing needs of the nation,” Arman Kashinbekov of Kazakhstan’s Association of Renewable Energy told state media on April 5. These are lofty goals. Renewable targets can be symbolic and hard to reach (there are doubts that Europe will meet its 2030 emissions targets, for example). And plenty of obstacles remain in Central Asia: weak governance, poor infrastructure, grand corruption that cripples economic development.
Know-how has long influenced China’s investments. “In the past, coal-fired power and hydropower have been the technologies which China has offered to other nations […] as these technologies were where Chinese expertise was,” said Simon Nicholas, an analyst for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis in Ohio. China can now offer the latest technologies. “It’s already the major global solar panel manufacturer and holds dominate positions in battery manufacturing and the resources needed to make them,” said Nicholas. “It’s also a major wind turbine manufacturer and increasingly looking to compete.”