ULAANBAATAR, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Mongolia has launched a series of new wind power projects to develop its huge renewable energy potential and start delivering clean electricity to other countries in the region in preparation for the creation of an "Asia Super Grid."
The Mongolian government, with officials from France's state energy conglomerate Engie, held a groundbreaking ceremony late on Thursday for the first of the new wind farms, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.
The 55-megawatt (MW) Sainshand plant, 460 km (288 miles) southeast of capital Ulaanbaatar, will help power a long-awaited industrial complex in the region, including an oil refinery.
But the sparsely populated northeast Asia country, which is hugely dependent on its mineral wealth, is looking to diversify its economy by exporting green energy to neighbors China and Russia, as well as to Japan and South Korea. It initially aims to build 8,000 MW of wind capacity dedicated to power exports.
"When we build up energy sources we'll first consider exports. It will be aimed at the Asian super grid," Tleikhan Almalik, chairman of Mongolia's Energy Regulatory Commission, told Reuters.
Asia's super grid project was launched in 2011 when China, Russia, South Korea and Japan signed an initial agreement to create a cross-border power transmission network.
Mongolia's existing renewable plants - including the Tsettsii wind farm commissioned earlier this week - account for 12 percent of the country's domestic power capacity. But the government aims to raise that share to 20 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030.
Almalik said Mongolia has licensed six wind farms and 24 solar plants, which would be enough to meet the country's renewable goals and create a surplus for exports.
While Mongolia's planned expansion represents only a fraction of the 169 GW of wind capacity in operation in China at the end of 2016, its potential is huge. China's State Grid Corporation estimated last year that Mongolia's total wind and solar capacity could reach 1,200 GW.
Mongolian officials have already met with Liu Zhenya, State Grid's former chief, who now heads up a "global interconnection" initiative to promote cross-border power transmission.
The two sides discussed the construction of ultra-high voltage power lines connecting energy bases in Mongolia to load centers in China.
Thomas Papazov, project director with Engie and chief executive of the Sainshand wind farm, said his company was seeking more wind and solar projects in Mongolia.
"Engie is really focused on renewables in Mongolia," he said. "We hope it's not just one shot, but that this is just the beginning." (Reporting by Terrence Edwards; Editing by David Stanway and Tom Hogue)