Kazakhstan’s Renewable Energy Champion

Thursday, June 25, 2020
Ainur Sospanova after a competitive renewable energy auction that helped to reduce the cost of electricity and attract modern renewable energy technologies
Anastasia Palagutina

Ainur Sospanova has a critical job at the Ministry of Energy of Kazakhstan, leading the department responsible for renewable energy development. 

Her office is important because it is helping the country respond to climate impacts and offer affordable solutions that don’t harm the environment. Today she works with USAID’s Power the Future project to make those things happen.

“We know that renewable energy technologies are expensive. We can’t expect instant gains but have to look at the long-term perspective,” says Ainur. “I hope that in 20 to 30 years the share of renewable energy will reach 20 percent. It will be significant for us. By that time, technologies will be more advanced and affordable.” 

Today, about 70 percent of Kazakhstan’s energy sector is based on coal; hydropower and gas are at around 27 to 28 percent; and renewable energy comes in at just 2 percent. Given Kazakhstan’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels, transitioning to renewable energy represents a major shift. The aim: lower costs for electricity and lower environmental consequences in the long term.

So USAID is supporting the government's efforts, helping leaders improve regulatory and technical frameworks and introduce the first competitive renewable energy auctions where private electricity providers compete with each other to sell electricity to the government.  

Those leaders include Ainur.

TRANSITIONING TO CLEAN ENERGY AND IMPROVING EFFICIENCY

Ainur was born near the Lebyazhye Lake in Northeastern Kazakhstan. When she was young, her father passed away and her mother moved the family to Tselinograd—now known as Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan—to make a living. Ainur was an excellent student in math and science—skills that would serve her well in a career that criss-crossed IT solutions for schools and government agencies. 

It was difficult for Ainur when she first joined the civil service in 2011 because the energy sector is connected to the political and economic situation. “We have coal and petroleum lobbies and transitioning to green energy seemed to pose a threat to the business,” she said.  

Back then, coal was responsible for 80 percent of all emissions in the country, including greenhouse gas emissions, and other pollutants. “It was critical to restructure the way electricity was generated in order to reduce emissions and lessen the environmental impacts. If we hadn't started this process in the beginning of the 2000s, by 2040 we could’ve been left without any water,” explained Ainur.

USAID is working with the five countries of Central Asia to accelerate a regional transition to cost effective, low emission, and climate-resilient economies. Providing clean, renewable energy and improving energy efficiency can solve issues of national and regional energy security, stability, and growing emissions. These efforts lead to a future of self-sufficiency by leveraging domestic resources and improving opportunities for cross-border trade. 

“I’ve been involved in the project design before its launch. Together we’ve identified areas where we wanted to work with USAID and needed assistance,” said Ainur.  

EMPOWERING WOMEN LEADERS

Ainur is unique in this industry. While her department has gender balance between men and women, the industry as a whole is predominantly male, particularly in management positions. USAID is helping to shift this imbalance by supporting increased opportunities for women to engage in the power sector, and Ainur serves as a strong example for other young women considering careers in the industry.   

“We hire female students as interns to work at the Energy Ministry in our department,” she said. 

USAID’s Power the Future project also assisted 14 female students from local universities to secure internships from May through August 2019 in leading energy corporations, including the Ministry of Energy, Kazakhstan Market Operator, Kazakhstan Grid Operating Company, Financial Settlement Center and Samruk Energy. The project coordinated with the key power sector stakeholders and local universities to identify the needs and academic interests of prospective interns and managed the application, selection, and internship process. In addition, the project developed an education curriculum for students with extensive materials on renewable energy as well as training materials for specialists.

“We also help with setting up study tours, visits, and expeditions for students of local universities,” Ainur said. “The actual experience of seeing the wind power park or a power plant doesn’t even compare to reading about it in a book.” 

USAID organized field trips to wind and solar power plants for female energy specialists to help address gender inequality and to support women reaching for leadership opportunities in the energy sector.

“The scale of work we are doing today inspires me. The solutions we offer and implement will create new projects, new jobs, and a bright future for Kazakhstan,” says Ainur. 

She dreams of preserving the steppes, the lakes, and the mountains for our children and grandchildren the way we’ve inherited them from our ancestors. Ainur’s work and vision are forward looking.

Last updated: August 11, 2020

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