Mongolia's biggest export is coal but the world's fastest growing economy is starting to harness its vast renewable energy potential with its first wind farm set to come online later this year.
The 50 megawatt (MW) wind farm, located 45 miles from the capital city of Ulan Bator, will supply 5% of Mongolia's power needs.
Five massive coal-fired power plants currently generate 80% of the nation's electricity, and Mongolia is the biggest exporter of coal to China.
But Mongolia's climate and geography are ripe for renewable energy development - its high plateaus are swept with winds, there is strong year-round sunlight, and its plains could be developed with little disruption to traditional herders, reports GlobalPost.
The country's annual renewable energy potential is 2.6 terawatts, about one-quarter of global electricity demand, according to data from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Center of Mongolia.
“In Mongolia you have large expenses of land, you've got more than 300 days per annum of sunlight and fairly constant wind. So it’s got basically the perfect trifecta for renewable energy in the world,” Neal Detert, an American project manager at Clean Energy LLC in Mongolia, told GlobalPost.
The challenge is Mongolia's coal dependence: it is the country's major export, helping driving GDP growth of 17% last year.
The new 50 MW wind installation will produce the first new power added to Mongolia’s grid since 1986 (when its population was 30% smaller), and it is the country's first private energy enterprise. The main developer is Mongolian investment firm Newcom, which owns a 75% stake in the $120 million project.
Newcom and its partners, including General Electric and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, are evaluating a future 1,000-square-mile wind farm in the Gobi Desert. The first phase alone would generate six times as much electricity as this first site, reports GlobalPost.
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