Energy independence is a choice for some countries. For Ukraine it is a life-or-death necessity, says Andriy Konechenkov, VP of the World Wind Energy Association and Chairman of the Ukrainian Wind Energy Association, in this op-ed. The Russian invasion has exposed the vulnerability of Ukraine’s current energy system. Many of its fossil-fuelled power plants are near the Russian border, exposing them to disruption by the invading neighbour. The same goes for Russia’s seizure of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest in Europe. Instead of building back the fossil-fuelled energy infrastructure, Ukraine should take this calamitous opportunity to transition to green, homegrown sustainable energy from renewables. Ukraine is only at the start of its transition journey, and its Draft National Renewables Action Plan had already set out targets to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix. Konechenkov says ambitions must now be lifted. In line with EU targets, Ukraine should aim for 40% of electricity to come from renewables by 2030. Firm targets will create the market certainty needed to attract investment to rebuild after the war. Integration in the EU energy system should be part of the plan. That will require EU-Ukraine collaboration that opens up opportunities for the whole of Europe, and makes Ukraine a regional hub for decarbonisation, explains Konechenkov.
Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine and its attempts to weaponise oil and gas supply show that we can’t continue our heavy reliance on dirty energy resources of the past. Just as the invasion shocked the EU into a promise to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels before 2030, Ukraine needs an urgent plan for energy independence too, and urgent international help to execute it.
Living through the 8 years of Russian hybrid war has taught me three things. The first is that Ukraine will never be safe until we have energy independence, and the second is that energy security can never come from fossil fuels. The third thing I’ve learned is that Ukrainians have more than enough ingenuity, courage and expertise to take back control of our energy supply. To secure our future, we need to work hand in hand with the EU and international partners, and set high ambitions for a green recovery.
Ukraine’s fossil and nuclear power is vulnerable to Russia
Russia knows about our reliance on fossil and nuclear power, and that makes our energy system a lucrative target for Russian attacks, both hybrid and direct. Many of Ukraine’s fossil-fuelled power plants are particularly vulnerable because they are near the Russian border, exposing vital energy infrastructure to some of the most intense fighting. Russia’s seizure of our Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – the largest in Europe – shows that Putin is ready to use nuclear terrorism as an act of war.
The destruction and chaos of this war leaves Ukraine at a crossroads: build back our fossil-fuelled energy infrastructure and stay in hock to Russia; or revitalise our country by transitioning to green, homegrown sustainable energy from renewables.
Ukraine’s Draft National Renewables Action Plan
There are already promising signs that Ukraine is on the right path. Just a month before the invasion, the Draft National Renewables Action Plan had already set out targets to increase the share of renewables in our energy mix. Now, the events of the last few months mean we need to raise our sights and set even more ambitious goals for Ukrainian clean energy, which can be now exported to EU member states as our grids are synchronised with ENTSO-E. In line with EU targets, Ukraine should also aim for 40% of our electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030.
To make that happen, we need a plan to draw on how to harvest our abundant winds and other renewable energy resources; to improve energy efficiency; electrify industry and transportation and develop hydrogen technologies.
Creating market certainty
We don’t have other alternatives. Nuclear power is not a solution for Ukraine. Not just because it can be a target for nuclear terrorism once more, it is too slow to build and too expensive. Renewables today are both faster and cheaper, but first of all they are cleaner and safer.
A path towards a modern renewable-based power sector, and away from the unsustainable technologies of the past, will create the market certainty we need to attract investment to rebuild after the war.
Reforming our electricity market will also attract investment to help us rebuild our country. We need to consider the full range of incentives and investment vehicles for renewable energy including public private partnerships and bilateral power purchase agreements, which secures both producers and long-term buyers for clean energy. We need to speed up deployment of renewables across the country during the post-war recovery.
This will require real technological and industrial partnership between Ukraine and the EU. Within the framework of the Climate and Energy Committee of the Energy Community we need to discuss the role of renewables in our post-war revitalisation. We need to create a vision for a green recovery and set ambitious climate and energy targets for Ukraine that make our country more independent from Russia’s control.
An EU-Ukraine collaboration will open up opportunities for the whole of Europe. To wean off our dependency on imported oil and gas, Ukraine will need EU help to rapidly electrify our energy system. We need more inter-connectors to boost our capacity to transmit and trade green power between Ukraine and the rest of Europe. In that way Ukraine can become a regional hub for renewable energy and drive the decarbonisation of the power sector in the whole region.
In the short-term, that would help Ukraine rebuild from the trauma of war and get our energy industry and economy back on its feet. Then in the medium-term, we can dramatically cut our power sector emissions by the early 2030s, phase out coal and start dealing with safe nuclear decommissioning, when energy storage and flexibility solutions will become affordable.
Energy independence is a choice for some countries. For Ukraine – with the invading forces of fossil-fueled petrostate bombing our cities – it is a life-or-death necessity. A green recovery and our long-term security depends on a strong partnership between Ukraine and the EU to scale up renewables, electrify the economy and turn our back on Russian dirty energy.
Andriy Konechenkov is Vice President of the World Wind Energy Association, and Chairman of the Board of the Ukrainian Wind Energy Association