As of the end of December, Russia's massive attacks in Ukraine had damaged or destroyed about 50% of the power system, including substations and high-voltage power lines. Every day, Russia continues to shell Ukrainian infrastructure, causing new damage. At the same time, Ukraine is already formulating a post-war recovery plan, including in the area of secure renewable energy. How to plan for recovery in the acute stage of war and will Ukraine be able to switch to 100% renewable energy sources after the end of hostilities? What can Ukraine and the European Union do to help? Read about this in an interview with Natalia Lytvyn, project coordinator of the NGO Ecoclub and the Energy Transition Coalition, and Kostiantyn Krynytskyi, head of the energy department at EcoAction.
Energy security is a priority for Ukraine during and after the war waged by Russia. This is a consequence of massive attacks on energy infrastructure, nuclear terrorism, and damage to more than half of the country’s energy system. There are also more than 2,300 cases of environmental damage caused by the war, including shell explosions, fuel leaks into the soil and groundwater, mining, forest burning, and more. In addition, this year at the UN International Conference on Climate Change, a study was presented showing that Russia’s military actions during the seven months of the full-scale invasion have already resulted in the emission of 49 million tons of CO2.
One of the key ways to ensure Ukraine’s (and, by extension, Europe’s) security is to develop renewable energy sources.
According to a sociological survey conducted by EcoAction on Ukrainians’ attitudes toward renewable energy sources, the majority (78%) have a positive attitude toward renewable energy sources. Among the 9 regions where the survey was conducted, Dnipropetrovsk region, which suffers from regular Russian shelling of energy infrastructure, is in the lead. Also, the vast majority of the population (88%) agrees that Ukraine has enough natural resources to develop clean energy sources. At the same time, the majority supports the idea of reducing the use of fossil fuels and gradually closing nuclear power plants. Thus, the majority of the population is convinced that clean energy sources are a key source of future development of Ukraine’s energy system and a key to improving energy security.
How is Ukraine already planning to restore the lost and damaged energy system and why is it difficult to build a clear plan?
In July 2022, the International Conference on Ukraine’s Recovery was conducted in Lugano, Switzerland, where a 10-year post-war reconstruction plan was presented, estimated at $750 billion.
The main challenge of creating the plan is the unclear initial conditions. The war is not over, which means the amount of destruction will only increase.
“We do not know what we will have even in April. What will be left of our generating capacities, what will happen to the substations? What Russia is doing now may be just the beginning. So it is quite possible that the situation could change dramatically in six months,” says Kostiantyn Krynytskyi, head of the energy department at EcoAction.
Now the recovery plan is a mixture of different projects without a clear strategic vision: “I call this plan a ‘shopping list’ from everyone about everything. There is a focus on gas, oil, nuclear, hydrogen, and renewable energy production. However, there is no overall strategic vision of what our energy system will look like in the coming decades,” the expert adds.
“Russia’s attack on Ukraine has led to complex and unpredictable impact on climate issues in general, as well as on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. At the same time, we are seeing a rapid increase in fossil fuel prices, which necessitates accelerating the energy transition to sustainable energy,” says Nataliia Lytvyn, coordinator of the Energy Transition Coalition.
It is essential that the draft recovery plan is based on modernization and is aimed at European integration, the expert adds.
“It is important that the reconstruction is not about returning to the state we had before the war, particularly in the energy sector. We should continue to focus on integration into the European Community and take into account the European Green Deal. This is necessary so that we can fulfill the requirements and criteria of the European Union necessary for the integration,” Lytvyn said.
“The war has proven that the energy transition should be based on two key points: energy efficiency and energy saving,” adds Krynytskyi.
Energy security guarantees should be the number one priority, the expert emphasizes.
“The ability to recover, be resilient, and take a hit – all this can be provided by renewable energy.”
Why should renewable energy development in Ukraine be decentralized?
Due to Russia’s missile attacks on Ukraine, thousands of consumers in all parts of the country are left without electricity every day. In order to stabilize the power system and guarantee a balance between energy generation and consumption, local authorities are introducing scheduled and emergency outages.
One major problem has been that Ukraine’s energy system is rather centralized, it is concentrated in specific locations that Russia targets with missiles. Therefore, the more decentralized the energy system in Ukraine becomes, the safer it will be.
“Distributed generation should be at the heart of the energy transition. Communities can already solve the issue of their own energy supply. We should consider the option of energy cooperatives and other forms of joint ownership in order to develop decentralized energy in the first place,” emphasizes Nataliia Lytvyn.
Kostiantyn Krynytskyi adds: “We should develop renewable energy sources at the local level and create a more decentralized model. Such a system is more difficult to destroy and damage than to disable a single thermal power plant or nuclear power plant. The communities we work with are now looking for various sustainable solutions. Among the main ones they are considering renewable energy sources, solar and wind generation to meet at least the needs of municipal buildings.”
Regular attacks on energy infrastructure confirm that a decentralized system could potentially help avoid so many losses.
What should be done now to help Ukraine switch to renewable energy sources?
First and foremost, solidarity and support from partners in the European Union is crucial. The first year of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine has highlighted the consequences of dependence on Russian oil, gas, and coal, and has shown the benefits of energy efficiency and decentralization. It also showed the threat to the whole of Europe posed by dependence on Russian resources and the number of victims caused by the inability to immediately abandon them.
“Unfortunately, it will be difficult for us to completely switch to renewable energy sources on our own. We need support of the European Union and foreign partners in these processes,” says Nataliia Lytvyn.
In addition, it is important to properly allocate the funds that we will receive for reconstruction: “Ukraine has to show by its decisions at the governmental level, in legislative processes, that it is interested in the energy transition, i.e. to ensure a good investment climate for investors in the reconstruction process. Unfortunately, we understand that it is almost impossible to attract investors’ funds during the war.”
Since Ukraine will receive a lot of financial support from international partners, it is necessary to ensure that this money is spent efficiently, in particular, through transparent mechanisms and public access to monitoring.
“If you look at the recovery plan for Ukraine that was prepared before the conference in Lugano, you will see that all major decisions are to be made by the Presidential Office and the government, and the funds will go to the Office. Another potentially possible option is that funds will be provided locally, at the disposal of municipalities. In this case, decisions in the reconstruction process will be made by municipalities, and this will significantly develop them,” adds Lytvyn.
It is also important to have an agreed upon and shared vision of the future with partners, for example, regarding the role of nuclear energy in it.
“In July, the European Parliament decided to include gas and nuclear energy in the European Green Taxonomy – this is the matter of energy dependence and lobbying for Russian interests. Currently, there are three largest nuclear fuel producers in the world: the American-Japanese Westinghouse, the French Areva, and the Russian TVEL. Such a monopoly is a risk, and for Ukraine, given Russia’s nuclear terrorism, the true price of such energy and competition for water resources, plans to develop the nuclear industry are completely contrary to the real recovery plan,” the expert adds.
For its part, Ukraine should work on reforming Ukrainian legislation and adapting it to European standards, says Lytvyn. In addition, it is important to study the practices being implemented in the European Union, including approaches to the most effective integration of renewable energy production systems into the grid.
It is extremely important for the local level to have decentralized mechanisms in place in the recovery process, explains Kostiantyn Krynytskyi:
“We need mechanisms that will allow municipalities applying for individual programs themselves, rather than waiting for some government agency. I am sure that many communities will have ideas for energy efficiency and renewable energy that they will want to implement as soon as possible. This requires separate programs, separate initiatives of other governments, and separate funds,” the expert adds.
Communities in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, and other regions have experienced what it means to live without electricity, so they can and should become one of the drivers of the green energy transition after the war ends.
It is also important go green with the emergency energy assistance provided by other countries, adds Krynytskyi: “We need to diversify the list of equipment: not only generators, but also heat pumps and solar power plants. This is the specific equipment that will remain after the war, and people will perceive renewables and the idea of energy transition differently, remembering how solar power plants helped them survive during the war.
The Government of Ukraine and international partners are already developing a common vision of Ukraine’s post-war recovery, which includes not only overcoming the direct consequences of the war, but also building a strategy for the country’s development in the medium term. A number of civil society organizations have already published a vision of Ukraine’s postwar green recovery and its principles. In particular, it should include decentralization of the energy system, increasing the share of renewable energy sources, rebuilding infrastructure with energy efficiency in mind, etc. A cross-cutting element of green recovery should be a zero-pollution strategy, including zero waste, for cities after the war.
This article first appeared here: ua.boell.org