The total installed capacity of power plants in Kazakhstan is 20,844.2 MW and available capacity is 16,945.5 MW according to KEGOC-Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company. The electricity generated in Kazakhstan is highly depended on thermal power plants. 84% of electricity generated in 2014 was utilized from those thermal power plants, whereas 9% from hydro power plants and 7% from gas turbine power plants.
Kazakhstan is one of the world’s leading coal producers. However, due to having large land size, things are getting difficult for Kazakhstan to export coal. This makes coal primary source of effortable energy source, unlike highly priced renewable energy sources.
Coal is mostly utilized for internal consumption in coal fired power plants nationwide. Most of the coal fired power plants have been commissioned during Soviet era and equipped with older technology, which creates high emissions values. With the technology of power plants commissioned 20-30 years ago, those power plants shouldn’t be exceeding 30-35% of electrical efficiency. Steam turbines, boilers and other vital equipment of a power plant define the overall efficiency of the power plant. A modernization of those old thermal power plants will improve the efficiency level and as a result the CO2 and synthetic gas emission levels will be reduced drastically.
Modern coal fired power plants may reach up to 45-48% of electrical efficiency. Recovering the excess heat generated from the power plant and exporting it is called CHP- Combined heat and power. This technology is used to increase the energy efficiency of the plants and utilize excess heat to a better purpose, i.e. heating. Kazakhstan, in most cases is exporting the excess heat to the city for heating purposes. This ability may increase the energy efficiency figures up to double of its electrical efficiency rates, depending on the technology.
Without any doubt, the cheapest source of energy for Kazakhstan is coal. With the same amount of coal it is possible to generate more electricity, recover heat and at the same time emission levels will be much lower, which means cleaner environment, reliable base load power and this is called “energy efficiency”.
Kazakh coal is not only consumed in thermal power plants but also in iron and steel industry. Coal is also known as “black diamond” as a natural resource and it is an valuable economical asset for the country. It creates job for many people starting from mining, transportation and consumption. Disregarding this economical asset would be a loss for any country. Therefore, this should be understood very well before commenting on thermal power plants in Kazakhstan.
Analysing the target dates and target levels of emissions and renewable energy sources, Kazakhstan has a potential to reach to those targets. However, the first priority without compromising from energy supply security should be to increase the energy efficiency of old thermal power plants, transmission lines and then followed by renewable energy sources. It should be noted that to have major source of energy from renewable energy sources needs a strong and modernized grid system supported by strong base load power plants.
Therefore, from the technical point of view, Kazakhstan should invest in existing thermal power plants to increase the energy efficiency of the power plants. After securing reliable source of energy, which is cheaper compared to renewables, solar and wind power plants should come operational. Otherwise, with the current tariff in rates set for renewables may attract lots of investment and may affect the system reliability adversely. This may result in with nationwide blackouts, rippling in the electrical frequency. Blackouts mean inefficient working hours of the whole industry and may take several hours to recover and rippling in electrical frequency may damage most of our electrical equipment. Moreover, Kazakhstan households will be paying much higher electrical bills for the unreliable energy due to high investment costs of renewables.
Under these circumstances the Kazakhstan targets to reduce greenhouse gas levels and targets to increase the renewable energy sources should be read very well. Kazakhstan targets for GHG emissions reductions of 15% by 2020 and 25% by 2050 compared to 1992 levels. Furthermore, Kazakhstan targets to generate 30% of its whole capacity from Renewable Energy sources by 2030 and 50% by 2050, which should be appreciated considering the availability of cheap coal in the country. These targets are set in accordance with the country realities and it is not far from being reality. Kazakhstan’s bold targets should be appreciated and very well understood.