Unlocking energy efficiency in Kazakhstan

 Kids at the exhibition in support energy efficient solutions (Photo credits: UNDP in Kazakhstan)

A few years ago 14-year-old Arman dreaded going to physical-education classes at Public School Number 9 in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana. It wasn’t that Arman disliked sports. It was that the gymnasium in his 63-year-old school was so cold in winter that he and his classmates could see their breath.

“We hated going to physical training,” Arman said.

The chill hurt students’ health as well as morale. Colds and flu were rampant in winter, when Astana’s temperature can plunge to -50 Celsius.

Kazakhstan does a good job of getting heat from municipal boilers to buildings. The problem at Public School Number 9 was an inability to get the heat to individual rooms once it arrived.

The flip side of the “too cold” coin was that when winter temperatures were relatively warm, so much heat poured into the school’s rooms that teachers had to open windows to prevent students from sweltering. It was a colossal waste of energy.

Unfortunately, that same massive energy loss occurs in millions of buildings across Kazakhstan. The old post-Soviet buildings have some of the most energy-inefficient heat distribution systems. With the heat supplied centrally, these buildings lack automatic control systems that would control and balance the heat flow – resulting in up to 30% of the heat loss annually.

The UNDP thought it could help solve the energy-efficiency problem. It started with Astana schools # 9 in 2011 by giving it 15,000 USD to obtain modern heat-regulating equipment from Denmark.   As a result School managed to install new heating system, fortify its walls and windows, and improve the ventilation system.

These and other improvements did its job from the start. The days of the sometimes-sweltering, sometimes-freezing classrooms are over. Now, a year later, all rooms are comfortable, even in the worst of winter.

Parents are happier that fewer students are getting colds. Arman and his buddies are enjoying working out in the gym in winter.

The UNDP-driven change led to the boom of energy efficiency market. Just five years ago the country did not have special equipment sales and installation market, as well as companies that would offer these services.

Until recently, contractors installed such equipment only in new structures. Existing-building owners mistakenly believed that it wouldn’t work in their structures. With UNDP expertise, cutting edge heat-regulating equipment was placed in a number of existing buildings piloted by project, and proved its efficiency.

The savings from the new heat regulators in the old complexes have gone right into the pockets of apartment owners, who – not surprisingly – are enthusiastic supporters of the effort.

Soon in 2009 the first kind of energy-efficiency service company was established in Karaganda with UNDP support.   Five more rival companies have  sprung up to meet the now-soaring demand for installing regulation equipment in existing structures - creating “green” jobs for more than 50 people, mostly women.

Some of those companies– as it was with Enkom and the Danfosscompany – donated $14,500 to retrofit another oldest School # 15 buying new equipment and putting it in for free.

“The message resonated with me. I have grown up in this city, and I see how many problems we have with the heating and energy efficiency. I want children to have comfort in their schools. It’s not about money, it’s about our commitments. And I am very committed in making my city – and the country more energy efficient”, - Entin, head of Enkom company says.

The principal of Astana Public School Number 15, Baurzhan Zharkenov, said he’s been delighted with the results of the pilot project in his building.

“We’ve achieved a 25 percent savings in our heating bill,” he said.

The story of the Astana School just a part of larger energy-efficiency programme that the UNDP supported by GEF has spearheaded in Kazakhstan’s three largest cities – Almaty, Astana and Karaganda – since 2007. The other 13 buildings are existing apartment complexes. The programme was set out to remove barriers to energy efficiency practices, technologies and policies in Kazakhstan.

Starting small, in five-year’ time UNDP initiative piqued the interest of the Government. In 2011 one project site was attended by the President and Prime-minister of Kazakhstan visited pilot project territories, and this visit triggered significant governmental investment in energy efficiency in residential buildings. Newly adopted state program on utilities modernization incorporated all accrued progress of the project records and will allocate another 2.4 billion US dollars to energy efficiency, converting pilot UNDP project efforts into a country-wide state programme.

 New equipment installed at the school with the support of the UNDP-GEF project

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