NUR-SULTAN – Kazakhstan has enormous potential for renewable energy that will form the basis of a low-carbon future, the World Bank’s regional director of infrastructure for Europe and China told Astana Times. ‘Central Asia, Charles Cormier. Cormier is in Kazakhstan to discuss the transition to green growth.
Do you think humanity is on the right track to tackle climate change?
A very timely question. We are now in the second week of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in which many countries and the private sector adopted net zero carbon targets. These commitments may be enough to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above historical standards. Looking ahead, the worrying thing is that short-term emission reduction targets over the next decade to give us the momentum to reach net zero by mid-century are insufficient. , and more effort will be needed over the next decade.
The good news for the planet is that we are in the midst of what we call a technological transformation. Energy used to fuel people’s lives and livelihoods and to fuel global trade and industry represent 75% of global emissions. But over the past 10 to 15 years, the cost of renewable energy sources that can replace fossil fuels has been drastically reduced. For example, the cost of solar power has fallen by 90% over the past fifteen years, the cost of storing batteries has been cut in half in five years, while the costs of other types of renewable energy sources have been drastically reduced. And this is very good news.
What can humanity do to save the planet? First and foremost, a goal would be to phase out the use of coal for power generation. Coal accounts for 30 percent of all emissions. And if we phase out coal by 2040, it will go a long way to improving our chances of reaching net zero by 2050. A phase-out of coal would require the removal of 100 GW of coal capacity every year for 20 years. .
Kazakhstan relies heavily on coal for the production of electricity and heat. But Kazakhstan also has enormous RES resources – some of the world’s best wind power resources, and other low-carbon fuels – which will form the basis of a low-carbon future. Therefore, optimism is not only political but also technological. The world community still has a chance to fight to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees.
What harm does coal heating do to the health of people in large cities?
Many countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia use coal for heating. In Kazakhstan, more than 95% of households depend on coal for their home heating needs. This is a totally unsustainable approach because the combustion of coal is a major contributor to air pollution by particulate emissions. And many cities in this region have some of the worst air quality in the world. In addition to using coal for heating, households are very inefficient in their use of energy. Buildings in Central Asia often use 2-3 times more energy for heating than their counterparts in Western Europe. Both of these – the inefficient use of energy and the use of coal as a fuel for heating – contribute to poor air quality.
The World Bank has calculated that the annual cost of damage to health from air pollution is in the order of 4.5% of GDP in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and air pollution is air is the biggest environmental factor of premature death in the region (482,000 deaths in 2019).
Today there are cleaner ways to provide heating in homes. There are promising emerging technologies, including combined heat and power (CHP), geothermal energy, biomass and even natural gas. In countries like Kazakhstan, natural gas can be combined with other technologies to make the heating sector more sustainable.
Can nuclear power be considered a component of the green economy, or is it just a phase of transition towards the full supply of renewable energy sources to humanity?
I think nuclear energy will be one of the technologies for many countries that have set themselves carbon neutrality goals. But there are many problems to be solved when a country is considering resorting to nuclear power. On average, it takes 10 years or more to build a nuclear power plant. Sometimes the estimated cost initially planned is exceeded. And there are many externalities to take into account, such as the long-term management of nuclear waste and potential accidents. Therefore, when considering nuclear energy, we need to look at these externalities, assess the costs of other solutions and compare them. It is therefore essential to include these externalities when comparing nuclear options with renewable energy alternatives, whose costs and efficiency are constantly improving and whose deployment is much faster. In addition, any plan to promote a green economy should also deploy plans and programs aimed at reducing energy demand, through energy efficiency. This is particularly relevant for Kazakhstan given the country’s high energy intensity.
Some fear that the transition will be unfavorable for ordinary people. How do you think green growth will affect people?
I think that’s a misconception – that coal is a cheap form of energy. Let me start by mentioning that coal is often seen as cheap only because the environmental and social externalities, such as air pollution and associated health costs, as well as the impacts associated with climate change, are rarely included in its prices. When you internalize these costs and factor in the rapidly falling costs of renewables, you will easily find that coal may no longer be the most economical power generation option. This does not mean, however, that the energy transition will not be costly.
The good news is that RES is becoming a very affordable and very cheap form of energy. Recent solar energy auctions in Uzbekistan have resulted in very attractive prices – from 1.8 to 3 cents per kilowatt per hour – depending on the lots offered. These prices are very affordable. Kazakhstan, I am pleased to say, has some of the best wind energy resources in the world. With this wind resource at this scale, there is potential for the development of this asset at relatively low prices. With its gas and renewable energy resources, Kazakhstan can also explore the production of green or blue hydrogen, which is expected to become a low-carbon fuel on a large scale. The development of hydrogen will require both supply and demand, and it is expected to become economical in some markets. The challenge will be to develop both supply and demand.
Finally, Kazakhstan would benefit from the re-establishment of the regional electricity market, as it would be able to sell excess electricity to other countries. With regional partners and the right organization, this should help everyone.
From a global perspective, fossil fuels benefit from direct and indirect subsidies around the world, and it is possible to reorient some of these subsidies towards the clean energy transition.