Five Things to Know About the Future of Energy in Central Asia

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With growing economies and populations, countries in Central Asia need ever more energy to fuel their development. At the same time, the increasing impacts of climate change in the region mean that countries must significantly cut their carbon emissions and accelerate the shift to clean and renewable power sources.

What does this mean for Central Asia, which is home to some of the world’s most energy-intensive economies? The CAREC Energy Outlook 2030 provides critical insights on the region’s energy future by analyzing the energy landscape and market trends in member countries of the CAREC Program, a partnership of countries and development partners promoting regional cooperation for sustainable development.

The publication examines Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as neighboring Mongolia, Pakistan, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). As Asia and the Pacific’s climate bank, ADB is helping these countries expand access to reliable electricity and deploy more clean energy in the region.

Here are five things to know about the energy outlook for Central Asia and the rest of the CAREC region.

1. Energy demand in the CAREC region (excluding the PRC) will grow by more than 30% by 2030

In 2020, energy demand in CAREC countries was 204 million tons of oil equivalent (toe), without including the PRC. This is projected to go up to 254 million-290 million toe or by around 32% by 2030, with electricity as one of the biggest sources of consumption.

The consumption of natural gas in the energy mix is also expected to grow, reflecting its dominance as a fuel in power generation, and direct consumption in residential and industrial sectors.

If the PRC is included in the projection, energy demand is expected to rise from 2.3 billion toe in 2020 to 2.4 billion–2.7 billion toe in 2030. Ultimately, demand growth will depend on energy policies, economic growth, and the implementation of energy efficiency measures.

2. Modernizing transmission and distribution infrastructure will improve energy efficiency

Several CAREC countries that continue to use aging energy infrastructure from the Soviet Union era are currently ranked among the 20 least energy-efficient economies in the world. In the electricity sector, energy losses can go as high as 20%.

Several CAREC countries that continue to use aging energy infrastructure from the Soviet Union era are currently ranked among the 20 least energy-efficient economies in the world. In the electricity sector, energy losses can go as high as 20%.

Upgrading electricity networks and installing smart metering equipment will help to minimize power losses, reduce countries’ carbon footprints, and improve the financial sustainability of energy companies across the region.

Upgrading transmission and distribution infrastructure in the CAREC region is estimated to cost from $25 billion to $49 billion excluding the PRC, and $768 billion-$901 billion with the PRC.

3. Wind and solar are becoming highly competitive

Hydropower is currently the largest source of renewable energy in the CAREC region with more than 380 gigawatts (GW) of installed generation capacity as of 2019, including PRC. Indeed, Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Georgia mostly rely on hydropower for electricity.

Yet, wind and solar are also shaping up to be viable investments, with development costs dropping by over 80% and 35%, respectively, since 2010. Currently, wind and solar energy comprise only 6% of installed capacity in the region. The region needs large-scale public investments to realize the enormous potential of wind and solar, but private sector participation — which can be encouraged through regulatory reforms and incentives, among others — is also crucial.

4. The CAREC region (excluding the PRC) needs around $340 billion in energy investments

Given the CAREC region’s large market size and need for infrastructure modernization, its energy investments needs are estimated at $136 billion–$339 billion by 2030 (excluding the PRC). If we include the PRC in this calculation, the region’s investment needs are valued at $2.9 trillion-$3.8 trillion. These include investments in power generation and energy efficiency.

The region can further enhance its energy security through cross-border infrastructure such as the Central Asian Power System, which interconnects Central Asian countries at different voltage levels and enables regional power trade.

5. CAREC countries are taking action to cut their energy-related carbon emissions

CAREC countries have committed to reducing their energy-related carbon emissions to help mitigate climate change. These commitments, known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, vary among the countries. Under certain scenarios, emissions are expected to decrease by 18% or 30% by 2030 compared to a "business-as-usual" scenario.

CAREC countries, including the PRC, are also working to reduce their overall emissions by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels. To achieve these reductions, the countries are increasing their use of renewables and nuclear energy, shifting from coal to gas, and implementing energy efficiency measures. The PRC, in particular, is aiming to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030.

Source: Asian Development Bank