Wind power: why here and why now?

By Rebecca Jacobs

Mongolia owns a lot to coal. It is the country’s main export; it was responsible for the mining boom that has caused the recent growth of the economy. Currently, over 80% of Mongolia’s electricity is produced by five coal power plants built n the 1970s and 80s.
But plans have just been put into action to try and change this. Over the next month, in Salkhit 45 miles outside the capital, Mongolia’s first wind farm will be built. It will consist of 31 wind turbines and is hoped to supply the power needs of around 5% of the population. According to experts’ estimates, the country’s wind energy generation capacity could reach 2.55 trillion KWH annually.
Where viable, wind farms are undoubtedly an important step towards sustainability anywhere. But why here, and why now?
Mongolia’s decisions regarding energy cannot be treated apart from the issue of urbanization. In the last twenty years, the country has urbanized hugely: over 700,000 people have moved to the capital, and the Asian development bank calculates that well over 60% of population live in cities. In 1990, the percentages of the population living in the Western Region and the Khangai Region were similar to those living in Ulaanbaatar, at 20%, 27% and 26%, respectively. By 2000 the capital was home to around 30% of the population, and by 2010 around 40% of the population lived in Ulaanbaatar.
The continual movement of people into Ulaanbaatar has led to highly damaged roads leading into the city. Yet more serious problems have been caused, or may come to fruition, because of rural-urban migration. By its nature, urbanization brings with it increased pollution: as Ulaanbaatar grows, so do the city’s energy requirements. But air pollution only exacerbates climate change, which worsens conditions in the countryside, thus inciting even more herders to sacrifice their traditional livelihoods and move to the city.
So a vicious circle is created. The more people move to the cities, the greater the energy demands, which in turn leads to increased air pollution and thus more people migrating to the capital to escape adverse rural conditions.
We need, then, to find a way of lessening the harsh divide between cities and countryside, of making Mongolia into a world where the two can coexist more peacefully. Several tourists have remarked at the sudden surprise of seeing Ulaanbaatar after days driving through the countryside: the city seems to appear out of nowhere. The smoke that covers the capital seems strangely at odds with the idyllic landscape that precedes it.
Mongolia has the potential to make wind power a major contributor to its population’s energy needs. As the Global Post has pointed out, it has all the right conditions: high plateaus with constant winds; vast, sparsely inhabited plains that could be developed without too much disruption to traditional herder’s lives; and strong sunlight even in the bleak winter months.
Here and now, then, wind power seems like a viable and beneficial option – not to completely replace the coal which currently supplies Mongolia’s energy needs and supports its economy, but to supplement it. At a time of massive urbanization, when levels of pollution in the capital have never been higher, we need to seek out new options that will supply the greater power needs of a growing populace without leading to the health issues and rural hardships that are the consequence of increased pollution.
With urbanization both increasing the demand for energy and leading to a more polluted capital city, we need to start looking elsewhere. Wind power will both make use of Mongolia’s natural resources and help lessen the pollution in Mongolia’s urban centres, thus supporting the surrounding ecosystems and helping to unite rural and urban Mongolia. The new wind farm comes at a time when urbanization is threatening the quality of life in both country and cities. It is a big step forward for Mongolia.


Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=664

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