Kyrgyzstan learns energy efficiency from Williston (11/19/09)

Nov. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Vermont’s reputation as a leader in alternative and renewable energies is well known in the United States, and its environmental standing has now gone global. When a delegation from Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked central Asian country, wanted to learn about the best practices in alternative energy, the members chose the Green Mountain State as their destination.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Building Energy owner Scott Gardner (center, wearing baseball hat) explains the concepts of his company’s solar array to a delegation from Kyrgyzstan last week. The Kyrgyz delegation spent three weeks in Vermont learning about energy efficiency and renewable energy. 


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Scott Gardner (left) explains to the Kyrgyz delegation how a blower door system can be used to test the energy efficiency of a building. Kyrgyz government official Ulukbek Muktarov (far right) holds a camera.

Since late last month, the delegation of 10 Kyrgyz government officials, educators and energy experts has traveled the state visiting private companies and public utilities. The group members hope to bring back some of the knowledge they’ve gained and put it to use in their home country. Last week, the delegation visited Building Energy in Williston on one of its last stops.

Ulukbek Muktarov, who runs the Department of Industry, Construction, Transport and Communications for the Kyrgyzstan state of Talas, said the Vermont trip has provided a wealth of information about energy efficiency.

“We’ve seen in real life how people can conserve,” Muktarov said in Russian through a translator.

PH International, a cross-cultural learning organization based in Waitsfield, hosted the Kyrgyz delegation. The program was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, also known as USAID. PH International Program Director Renee Berrian said the delegation became interested in Vermont because of the state’s leadership in energy efficiency — and its cold climate, which is much like Kyrgyzstan’s.

“They’ve been fascinated by some of the things they’ve seen,” Berrian said.

Berrian said the group seemed particularly interested in Vermont’s use of wood products for construction and energy. Since Kyrgyzstan lacks timber resources due to its high altitude valleys and 24,000-foot mountain ranges, it’s truly a foreign concept, she said. Most of the country’s energy production comes through aging hydroelectric dams, Berrian added.

Besides the visit to Building Energy, the delegation attended the Vermont Renewable Energy Conference and Expo late last month and visited Green Mountain Power, the Public Service Board and Burlington Electric. Many of the group members were interested in how utilities billed electric customers and dealt with power outages, Berrian said.

The Kyrgyz group seemed particularly interested in a number of energy saving tools and practices that Building Energy uses in its work. Owner Scott Gardner showed the delegation Building Energy’s solar tracker and insulation trucks, as well as infrared cameras used in energy audits.

The Kyrgyz people talked about how they might implement different alternative energies, especially the foam insulation, in their country.

“This (insulation) is about 20 times better than bricks,” Gardner told the group, referring to the Kyrgyz primary housing materials. “It’s expensive, but very, very effective.”

The need for Kyrgyzstan to look outside its border for help came from a crisis that occurred in 2007. A massive drought caused water levels to drop dangerously low and power generation to nearly shut down at hydroelectric facilities. Muktarov explained that some citizens’ lost power and heat during the winter months. He said the Kyrgyz government started exploring other energy resources in hopes of avoiding future crises.

The former Soviet Union country is also experiencing energy troubles due to fading infrastructure and open theft of electricity by some of its citizens. Since gaining independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has struggled to keep up with new technology, but recent government programs and initiatives hope to change that, Muktarov said.

Muktarov said he’s impressed at how much he’s learned about making buildings and homes more energy efficient and using alternative resources. Wind and solar power could work well in Kyrgyzstan’s windy valleys and sunny weather, he said.

“Energy efficiency doesn’t mean just screwing in a different light bulb,” Muktarov said. “It’s all integrated.”

After watching Gardner’s infrared camera demonstration, Muktarov said many homes and offices in Kyrgyzstan would appear drafty and energy inefficient if Building Energy performed audits in his country.

The delegation was scheduled to return to Kyrgyzstan this week, now supplied with Vermont solutions to energy overconsumption. Some of what the group learned will be slow to implement and might not be practical at all, but Muktarov hopes Kyrgyzstan can solve its energy issues and become an efficiency leader in central Asia.

“All of what we’ve seen is good and promising, but at this point it’s something we can’t afford right now,” he said. “But in the near future, it’s very possible.”