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Joint energy projects help power up community for three decades

By REN QI in Atyrau, Kazakhstan | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-09-15 09:38
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Workers look at solar power panels at a photovoltaic power plant in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on May 4. XINHUA

Energy has been the anchor in the cooperation between China and Central Asian countries over the past 30 years. Their cooperation in the energy sector has rapidly evolved, from traditional oil to petrochemicals, hydrocarbons and renewable energy.

In recent years, Chinese electric vehicle manufacturers have rapidly penetrated the Central Asian market. In Uzbekistan, Chinese carmaker BYD has a joint venture with state-owned UzAuto to produce BYD's best-selling new energy vehicles, including plug-in hybrids and related components.

Last year, China invested $546 billion in solar and wind energy, electric vehicles and batteries, almost four times more than that of the United States. In 2021, China produced 96.8 percent of the world's silicon wafers, 85.1 percent of photovoltaic cells, 79.4 percent of polysilicon, 74.4 percent of solar panel modules, three-quarters of the world's batteries, 70 percent of cathodes, 85 percent of anodes and more than half of EVs worldwide.

By prioritizing the supply of its domestic market, China has quickly become the largest foreign investor in renewable energy as well. Between 2013 and 2020 under the Green Belt and Road Initiative, China's development institutions alone contributed about 20 percent of total global renewable energy financing.

The most significant Chinese investments, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, are being made in the construction of solar and wind power plants in Kazakhstan. Chinese companies such as Universal Energy, Risen Energy and State Power Investment Corporation have become major investors in solar and wind power plants in the Central Asian country.

For Maksat Abilgaziev, the cooperation changed his life. Living in Zhanatas, a small town in southern Kazakhstan that blows wind all year round, Abilgaziev used to be an electrical engineer at a local phosphate mine company in the town.

The place was once a center of phosphate rock mining and fertilizer production, but it witnessed big job losses following the decline of the industries.

Abilgaziev said he was impressed when the first turbine of the town's 100 MW wind power project arrived, with its 60-meter-long blade covering an area as big as the London Eye observation wheel.

He believed the future of his homeland and Kazakhstan lies in clean energy, especially wind energy. So in 2020, the then 30-year-old decided to step out of his comfort zone and became a trainee responsible for maintaining and repairing wind turbines at the Zhanatas wind farm and learned related maintenance work from Chinese experts.

The Zhanatas wind farm is one of the first energy projects under China-Kazakhstan cooperation. Through the Belt and Road Initiative and Kazakhstan's "Bright Road" new economic policy, both countries have cooperated on 52 projects so far worth more than $21.2 billion in total.

Construction began in July 2019, and the first turbines went into operation in September 2020.

Guo Qiang, general director of the Zhanatas wind power plant, said Chinese engineers were mainly involved in the installation of equipment.

"Most of the work was carried out by Kazakh construction firms. The cooperation between Chinese and Kazakh colleagues is based on equality, mutual learning and mutual trust," Guo said.

It became Central Asia's largest wind farm at the time, greatly alleviating the power shortage in southern Kazakhstan.

The wind farm generated 750 million kilowatt-hours of electricity by the end of last year, Abilgaziev said. Compared with coal-fired power plants of the same capacity, it is equivalent to saving 255,000 metric tons of standard coal and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 673,000 tons.

People visit the Zhanatas wind farm in Zhanatas, Kazakhstan, on May 15 last year. XINHUA

Training talent

The Chinese have brought equipment and investment to Kazakhstan, he said, adding that they have also trained local talent in clean energy.

The wind power project has created jobs and increased tax revenue for Abilgaziev's hometown, bringing new opportunities for urban development.

The Chinese also paid attention to public welfare, he said, adding that they have donated emergency vehicles to local hospitals, helped the disabled improve their living conditions, and contributed to the renovation of parks, among other contributions.

Almas Chukin, a managing partner of Visor Kazakhstan, said the launch of the Zhanatas wind farm will ease power shortages in the south of the country, where 70 percent of electricity nationwide was generated in the coal-rich north.

He said a big energy demand in the south had forced the Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company to build three lines to transport electricity from north to south, which is very expensive.

"The Zhanatas wind power plant is a big part of Kazakhstan's energy solution to the north-south imbalance and overdependence on coal use in power generation," Chukin said.

Talking about the prospect of green energy cooperation between China and Central Asia, Abilgaziev said he was confident that the sky will be bluer, the water cleaner and that human beings will live on a more beautiful Earth in the future.

Apart from new energy, China and Kazakhstan have continued close cooperation in the fields of traditional energy sectors under the BRI.

In western Kazakhstan's Atyrau region, the country's largest petrochemical complex constructed by China National Chemical Engineering stands completed.

It is a key cooperation project between Kazakhstan and China that took nearly five years to complete construction, and the complex aims to produce up to 500,000 tons of polypropylene per year, a raw material widely used in mechanical engineering, medicine and electrical engineering.

The Chinese team has cooperated closely with local partners, with Chinese engineers introducing Chinese technological know-how and management concepts to their Kazakh colleagues.

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