Central Asia is mainly known for its abundant hydrocarbon reserves – but some countries in the region are already turning their attention to wind resources to produce cleaner, renewable energy.

Mongolia has set an ambitious goal to become central Asia’s renewable energy champion even as foreign investors compete for access to its huge coal mines. Strong winds gusting across the empty steppe could eventually be harnessed to produce about one quarter of the country’s energy needs.

Newcom, a Mongolian technology investment group, announced plans this week to build Mongolia’s first-ever wind farm in a partnership with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. General Electric will also take a small equity stake in the project and supply wind turbines to the site located 70km from Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital.

Mongolia relies on coal-fired power plants to produce electricity and heat, but most capacity is old and unable to keep up with the country’s growing energy needs. The new 50MW wind farm will go some way to addressing the shortages and help Mongolia’s reduce reliance on environmentally damaging coal.

Nandita Parshad, the EBRD’s director for power and energy, said: “It is not going to solve the problem but it is definitely welcome addition to a country that is very short of energy”. She added: “We hope this investment paves the way for increased private interest in the renewable power sector which can reduce Mongolia’s dependence on coal and its carbon footprint.”

Kazakhstan owns some of the world’s biggest untapped oil fields and has trebled oil production in the last decade. Having grown to become central Asia’s biggest economy on the back of its hydrocarbon resources, the country is seeking investment in renewable energy.

Kazakhstan has huge wind potential, but has not yet perfected regulations to cover renewable energy development, says Parshad. Wind farms cannot yet produce electricity as cheaply as Soviet-era coal fired plants installed at Kazakhstan’s giant coal mines close to the Russian border. The EBRD is considering investing in wind projects in Kazakhstan and helping develop appropriate regulations.

China, under pressure to reduce hazardous pollution from low grade coal plants, is investing heavily in renewable energy projects. After doubling its wind energy capacity each year between 2005 and 2009, China overtook the US as the biggest producer of wind power. Across the windswept plains of northern China bordering Mongolia huge wind farms are being installed each with capacity of 10,000MW – to 38,000MW.

Mongolia’s first wind farm will be a tiddler in comparison – but it’s a start.

Related reading:
Mongolia’s boom economy risks overheating
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In search of outside inspiration
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ADB must give its backing to renewable energy market
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