Kazakh Entrepreneur Brings Solar Power To Remote Areas

Nurlan Dzhiyenbayev believes in solar power, especially for those who live a long way from Kazakhstan’s electric grid.

In fact, he’s making a living largely by helping those in remote villages and mountainous areas obtain power.

His ND & Co. produces photovoltaic power plants – arrays of solar cells that collect sunlight to convert into electricity.

Dzhiyenbayev’s initial foray into solar was more like a hobby than a business: He began making solar lamps by hand in his kitchen 10 years ago.

From those humble beginnings he’s developed a business that sells photovoltaic power plants in Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

He obtains particular satisfaction from helping those in far-flung places, he said.

 “Kazakhstan’s territory is huge, and in the 1990s a lot of people” lost electricity when the grid deteriorated after the break-up of the Soviet Union, he said.

That’s why “our company is primarily targeting rural areas and mountainous areas,” he said.

Dzhiyenbayev is aware that Kazakhstan has incredible solar-energy potential – an estimated 2.5 billion kilowatts a year.

To start with, the country has lots of sunny days – up to 3,000 hours a year in the southern commercial center of Almaty, for example.

There are two ways of generating solar power, one of which requires large swaths of open land – and Kazakhstan certainly has the wide-open space.

Dzhiyenbayev’s photovoltaic power plants are a passive energy-generation system, capturing sunlight and converting it directly into electricity.

That option does not require a lot of land. The power plants can be placed on a roof or any small area.

Another solar-energy option is using arrays of mirrors to concentrate sunlight for heating water to produce energy.

That is the option that requires large chunks of land. As the ninth-largest country in the world, Kazakhstan certainly has the land.

The main reason that coal-rich Kazakhstan has yet to tap its solar potential is the same reason the majority of countries have failed to develop theirs: Solar is a lot costlier than traditional forms of energy.

Although the government is still pushing hard to develop Kazakhstan’s oil and gas resources to their capacity in the next 20 years, it also passed legislation in 2009 to promote renewable energy. It has also come up with renewable-energy-project initiatives for the next 10 years.

Kazakhstan gets almost 90 percent of its electricity from burning coal, but it wants to reduce the amount of pollution that coal generates.

Dzhiyenbayev acknowledges the steps the government has taken on renewables, but said it needs to do more.

The renewable-energies law, he said, is short on specifics – especially incentives to meet its goal of stimulating “development, production and use of devices for alternative sources of energy.”

Some of those incentives, Dzhiyenbayev said, could be tax cuts for alternative-energy businesses, a guaranteed price for electricity produced from alternative sources and a guarantee that alternative energy will be put on the national grid.

Dzhiyenbayev also contended that some Kazakh officials need to take a longer-term view on alternative energy.

When the government allocates money for projects to help develop domestic production of solar cells or other alternative-energy devices, he said, some “local officials still tend to say something like, ‘It would be cheaper to get them from China.’”

Dzhiyenbayev said he has been working with United Nations officials to promote alternative energy in Kazakhstan.

The United Nations Development Program started a $4.4 million project seven years ago to help Kazakhstan improve its energy efficiency. Part of that effort is promoting alternative energy.

The project, whose working title was “Removing Barriers to Energy Efficiency in Municipal Heat and Hot Water Supply,” has three partners besides the United Nations: the British Embassy, the City of Almaty and the City of Astana.

The most visible alternative-energy result of the UN project so far has been solar panels on the roof of the AlmatyTeploKommunEnergo heating company offices in Almaty’s Zhuldyz District.

Solar got its biggest publicity splash a few years ago when the Hotel Almaty placed 210 square meters of solar panels on its roof – the largest photovoltaic array of its kind in Kazakhstan at the time.

Another City of Almaty solar effort was placing imported solar-powered streetlights in the park at the corner of Dostyk and Satpaeva streets several years ago. The devices capture sunlight during the day that could be turned into electricity, then stored for lighting at night.

These high-profile but one-of-a-kind efforts will become more commonplace if solar-energy believers like Dzhiyenbayev have something to say about it.

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