Unlocking energy efficiency in Kazakhstan

girls in school
Two girls in a school in Kazakhstan, where some buildings are being retrofitted with new heating systems to save energy and keep rooms warm. (Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan)

A student at Public School Number 9 in Astana, Kazakhstan, 14-year-old Arman said that a few years ago, the gymnasium in his 63-year-old school was so cold in winter that he and his classmates could see their breath.

"We hated going to gym class," he said.


  • A joint UNDP-GEF programme has installed new heating equipment in several schools and 13 old apartment buildings in Kazakhstan to regulate heat in an energy-efficient way.
  • Through the project, the buildings have been able to cut their energy use by up to 25 percent.
  • After the programme’s success, a $2.4 billion state programme will continue similar work in making both public and private buildings energy-efficient.

The chill hurt students’ health as well as morale. Colds and flu were rampant in winter, when Astana’s temperature can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius.

Kazakhstan does a good job of getting heat from municipal boilers to buildings. The problem at Public School Number 9 was getting the heat to individual rooms once it arrived.

When winter temperatures were relatively warm, heat poured into the classrooms and teachers had to open the windows.

Unfortunately, massive energy loss occurs in millions of buildings across Kazakhstan. The old post-Soviet buildings have some of the most energy-inefficient heating systems – resulting in up to 30 percent heat loss annually.

An initial US $15,000 investment from UNDP and the Global Environment Facility allowed School Number 9 to purchase and install modern heat regulating equipment from Denmark. The school also insulated the walls, put in energy-efficient windows and improved the ventilation system.

The days of the sometimes-sweltering, sometimes-freezing classrooms are over. Now all rooms are comfortable, even in the worst of winter.

The country now has a burgeoning energy efficiency market. Just five years ago, the country didn’t have businesses that sold and installed the equipment.

Until recently, contractors only installed energy-efficiency equipment in new buildings, and building owners mistakenly believed that it wouldn’t work in existing buildings. UNDP installed heat-regulating equipment in older buildings to show that this also resulted in energy savings.

Soon after, an energy-efficiency service company was established in Karaganda with UNDP support. Five more rival companies have sprung up to meet the demand for installation of heat-regulating equipment in older buildings,  employing more than 50 people, including women.

Some of those companies donated $14,500 to retrofit School Number 15,  buying new equipment and putting it in for free.

Savings from new heat regulators in older buildings have gone right into the pockets of apartment owners, who are enthusiastic supporters of the effort.

The principal of Astana Public School Number 15, Baurzhan Zharkenov, said he’s been delighted with the results of the pilot project in his building.

“We’ve achieved a 25 percent savings in our heating bill,” he said.

The retrofitted schools are part of a UNDP and Global Environment Facility programme (2007 to 2012) in Kazakhstan’s three largest cities – Almaty, Astana and Karaganda. In addition to the schools, the programme also retrofitted 13 older apartment buildings.

UNDP and the Global Environment Facility set out to remove barriers to energy-efficiency practices, technologies and policies in Kazakhstan. And in 2011, the president and prime minister of Kazakhstan visited one of the project sites, triggering significant government investment in energy-efficient residential buildings.  

A newly adopted $2.4 billion state programme to modernize utilities will continue the work of the programme and build on investments in energy efficiency of buildings, both public and private.