Covid-19 Implications for Energy: Interview with Bakitzhan Zhulamanov
Mr. Bakitzhan Zhulamanov currently is the Chair of the Kazakhstan Member Committee of the World Energy Council and holds the position of the Chairman of the Board of Samruk-Energy JSC. He has held many governmental roles in Republic of Kazakhstan, and his leadership roles included Chairman of the Board of the Food Contract Corporation.
What will be the top long-term implications (over 12 months) and structural changes in the energy sector in your region/country as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the economies of many countries, as well as the energy sector. For the energy sector of Kazakhstan, the main consequences have included logistical difficulties that have arisen in terms of the equipment supply, which leads to a delay in the implementation of many projects, due to the widespread closure of the borders of many countries and limits on the movement of specialists.
Energy facilities have a strategic importance to the country. In this regard, human vulnerability is of particular importance – especially the risk of morbidity among the operational workers of the plants, which could jeopardize the uninterrupted supply of electricity to both social facilities and ordinary residents.
We have also seen major changes to the development of the digital economy and the transition to a remote form of work. The first months of strict quarantine showed that it is possible to work remotely. The online service has received a new impetus in development, due to which many government services have switched to electronic format, and this trend will only continue to gain momentum.
Do you expect society, the economy and energy systems to return to business-as-usual quickly or will there be a ‘new normal’ after the crisis is over? If the latter, what will a ‘new normal’ look like?
The COVID-19 pandemic has not yet ended; the vaccine has not been invented. Therefore, in the current environment, it is difficult to predict how society, the economy and the energy system will look.
As for the energy sector of Kazakhstan, it should be noted that the growth rate of consumption and electricity production in the country has been maintained. Electricity consumption for 4 months of 2020 has increased by 2.7 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
Our energy structure is dependent on hydrocarbon resources, and coal power plants account for the majority of our electricity generation. Of course, climate change and the tendency towards environmental protection dictate their own rules. We understand that the world will not be the same. Humanity is changing its attitude towards ecology. The development and widespread use of technologies of treatment facilities in the energy sector and renewable energy sources will be required. Nevertheless, despite our commitment to green energy, taking into account the geographical features of the region, as well as owing to the sharply continental climate, renewable energy sources will not be able to completely solve the issue of stable heat and electricity household supply, especially in winter time.
Could Covid-19 be a pivot point for accelerating energy transition?
Of course, the “energy transition” from fossil fuels to clean sources cannot happen per saltum or in several months. The global infrastructure is tuned for the use of oil, with a global economy adjusted accordingly. However, this crisis showed that the existing system has serious vulnerabilities, and diversification of the energy economy will be in the interests of everyone.