Kazakhstan launched its first solar energy project in the Kazakh commercial capitol of Almaty. Funded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the move is seen as a major first step in promoting clean and efficient energy usage in Central Asia’s largest nation.Almaty, Kazakhstan – July 16, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] Kazakhstan launched its first solar energy project in the Kazakh commercial capital of Almaty. Funded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the move is seen as a major first step in promoting clean and efficient energy usage in Central Asia’s largest nation. As part of the initial scheme, 1,500 residents are set to benefit from the program. If successful, the heat and hot-water system could be replicated at suitable locations throughout the country of 15 million, said the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). “The contribution of renewable energy sources to the country’s energy mix is nil,” Deputy UN Resident Representative in Kazakhstan, Selva Ramachandran, told IRIN. “I hope the successful demonstration of this solar cells project will open the way for greater application of solar energy as part of renewable energy not only in urban areas, but also in rural areas for the socio-economic benefit of the poor people.” Approximately 90 percent of the country’s electricity is generated from coal and gas, with 10 percent coming from hydroelectric power. But the hot climate and flat, wind-swept steppe make Kazakhstan a promising candidate for solar, as well as wind-based energy, according to the UN. However, experts say a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in a country like Kazakhstan would be problematic and take time. The UN points to a number of barriers hindering progress in this field, including institutional, financial and information ones. “UNDP is working on a number of fronts to remove these barriers,” Ramachandran said. Of the five Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan is the largest producer of greenhouse gases, and the country has been struggling to mitigate their effect. But the challenge is immense. The country is wrestling with a poor environmental record, despite government legislative efforts to address the problem. “In Kazakhstan, we have a terrible environmental situation,” Zharas Takenov, head of UNDP’s environment unit, told IRIN, adding that mismanagement of the situation was continuing. Meanwhile, CIDA, which has a global climate change fund for innovative projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, believes this latest effort is an important starting point. “I think there is some great potential for this,” Najeeb Mirza, CIDA regional representative for Central Asia, told IRIN. “It’s not been used here. It’s not been part of the history here.” If successful and properly financed, the project could be easily replicated for schools, hospitals and other locations – all to the direct benefit of those who need it most. According to Mirza, while greenhouse gas emissions are currently low due to a slow down in the Kazakh economy, figures are set to rise dramatically. “The predictions are that they are going to rise very quickly as they [the Kazakhs] get back on line with their production,” Mirza warned.