According to Nikolay Belyakov, Asia is expected to replace Europe as the largest market for bioenergy electricity deployment, followed by a new replacement from Africa. This is due to a perfect combination of increasing energy demand, low-cost biomass waste and long term bioenergy targets established by emerging economies such as China, India, and Thailand.
Demand for bioenergy has grown rapidly in Asia, mostly because of an increase in use and trade of solid biomass. In September 2018, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s Bioenergy organisation set up a workshop in Tokyo to address the ongoing developments of bioenergy and biomass in the region. It resulted in Japan and South Korea creating more import-oriented development policies while Malaysia, Indonesia and China developed policies more inclined towards bioenergy linked to agriculture and rural practices.
Central Asia, on the other hand, hasn’t particularly taken policy-making on bioenergy with as much momentum, despite possessing extensive and largely untapped, renewable energy potential. Countries in the region are at different levels of readiness for the adoption of renewable energy solutions, with economic and political situations differing from one nation to the other. It is clear, however, that further action is necessary to address the challenges hindering the deployment in the region. These challenges are reflected mostly by barriers in outdated regulatory frameworks, poor infrastructure, finances, expertise, awareness and support, and lack of data and information. “Ultimately, renewable energy development in the Central Asian region is a pressing requirement, in order to satisfy energy demand in growing residential and commercial sectors and to avoid substantial environmental impacts”, say M. Laldjebaev, R. Isaev, and A. Saukhimov.
According to Belyakov, “One of the major challenges of bioenergy within the electricity production sector is the relatively high cost of electricity generation and limited scope for lowering these costs due to general maturity of technology implemented. These technologies are mostly based on conventional power plant technologies like direct combustion of solid fuels or use of gaseous products of biomass within gas turbines or gas engines. Even combined in most of the cases with heat production, biomass electricity generation is still limited in improvements of project economics or technology”
In a research paper to be published in November 2021 as part of the Energy Reports series, M. Laldjebaev, R. Isaev, and A. Saukhimov write that “Kazakhstan is leading the way with alignment of policies and implementation, whereas Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have developed some legislative (and regulatory) frameworks for deployment of renewable energy, and Uzbekistan has taken the first step in this direction with a recent adoption of a renewable energy law”.
In the report, Kazakhstan demonstrated a head-on approach towards the implementation of bioenergy and other renewable energy sources, focusing on large-scale solar photovoltaic and wind installations. Contrary to other countries in the region, Kazakhstan has worked with public-private partnerships, often teaming up with international companies. with involvement of international private sector companies. According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the International Center on Small Hydro Power (ICSHP)bioenergy potential in the country is estimated at 300 MW. However, the research paper authors found that although the future looks promising, Kazakhstan has some obstacles to overcome, the biggest one being government-backed fossil fuel support. Lack of regulation, however, is second on the list. A worrying lack of technical specifications, lack of green investment frameworks, along with frequent change in energy legislation puts off international and local investors. Although some policies are being put in place, it’s a slow transition into action.
Neighboring Kyrgyzstan showed a bioenergy potential estimated at 200 MW, according to UNIDO and ICSHP. However, lack of a clear bioenergy framework, unclear conditions for investors, and lack of fully thought-through regulations and enforcement make it increasingly difficult for the Central-Asian country to take advantage of its renewable energy potential. The political arena in Kyrgyzstan also creates obstacles, such as no responsible state agency and no division of functions among stakeholders, which makes it difficult to transition from large-scale hydropower projects to bioenergy ones.
Bioenergy potential in Tajikistan is estimated at 300 MW, according to the UNIDO and ICSHP, yet the bioenergy sources could produce around 2000 GWh/year of electricity. The hindrances here are not uncommon to those in Kyrgyzstan: uncertainty about private sector participation makes investment in bioenergy an unknown risk. In legal and regulatory matters, there’s a big discrepancy in development and adoption of particular action. Just as Kyrgyzstan struggles with no division of stakeholders, in Tajikistan there’s a large overlap and unclear roles and responsibilities amongst different government institutions, mainly because of a monopoly in the energy market from state-owned electricity companies. Similarly, the nation has an emphasis on large-scale hydropower and often doesn’t consider other renewable energy sources as alternative energy methods.
Turkmenistan is by far the most concerning nation in the region in this regard. There’s no information about bioenergy potential, no regulatory framework related to renewable energy, no strategy, no responsive institution, no transparency, no accountability in the energy sector. Once again, one monopolistic state-owned company is endowed with the production, transmission and distribution of electricity. In all Central Asia, Turkmenistan is the country with least information, and therefore, less probable to adapt to new energy resources.
In contrast, we have Uzbekistan, the most populous country and the highest bioenergy potential in the region with 800 MW (UNIDO and ICSHP) with the annual potential of 1496 GWh. However, it still lacks some pivotal strategies and benchmarks to define its roadmap. Regulation wise, a renewable energy law was adopted as recently as 2019, but a strong and defined framework is yet to emerge.
All in all, the bioenergy potential in the Central Asia region is abundant. But if the nations were to commit and create regulations and frameworks for its implementation and development, everyone could benefit from the change.