Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused widespread power cuts, spurring a rise in demand for residential solar power units
Speaking about climate change and carbon-free energy is difficult when your nation is at war.
This has been the harsh reality that Ukrainian environmentalists and clean energy companies have had to deal with since the Russian invasion. However, they claim that despite fighting that has caused rolling blackouts, renewable energy has grown in popularity as a dependable power source.
“War, it seems for us, created a new understanding of renewables and maybe also created new possibilities for further development of renewables,” said Executive director of the Ukrainian Solar Energy Association, Artem Semenyshyn.
The conflict in Ukraine between Russia and the West has changed the world’s energy markets, hastening the transition to renewable energy in wealthy regions of Europe while forcing developing nations to revert to dirtier fuels like coal. Energy that is close to where it is needed has become crucial in Ukraine, which has access to coal, gas, and nuclear resources.
Allegra Dawes, a research associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) who specializes in energy security, said that renewables have been valued in the short term for their resilience, with small, distributed systems, like solar panels on the roof of a hospital or a home, enabling backup power during a grid failure.
As Ukraine works to decarbonize its energy system, the war has brought to light the role that renewables can play in enhancing its energy security and promoting closer ties with the EU over the long term.
During the signing of a cooperation agreement with the International Energy Agency in December, Ukraine’s Minister of Energy German Galushchenko called the transition to carbon-free energy the “cornerstone” of the nation’s energy sector recovery.
The invasion began on February 24, 2022, at the same time as a test by Ukraine’s national electric utility to cut off its power supply from grids in Russia and Belarus. According to analysts, this put pressure on the grid operators in Ukraine to quickly synchronize their grid with that of Europe.
However, over the past year, Russia’s attacks on important facets of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure have presented a greater challenge.
Attacks on coal-fired power plants, substations essential to energy distribution, and other crucial grid components in recent months resulted in widespread power outages that temporarily cut off millions of people from having access to lights, heat, and water.
The country’s goals for renewable energy have also been harmed by the war.
The share of renewable energy in Ukraine’s energy mix was over 12% prior to the invasion, and it was growing quickly. By 2035, the government wanted renewable sources of energy to account for 25 percent of the nation’s energy. According to the IEA, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power make up more than 80% of the nation’s energy mix, with nuclear generation providing more than 50% of all power before the war.
The construction of utility-scale solar was, however, hampered by the war, according to Semenyshyn. Fighting has resulted in damage to some renewable energy facilities, and many of the best locations for wind and solar power plants are in the south and southwest of the nation, which were formerly under Russian rule.
What has changed is how the public views renewable energy.
Semenyshyn claimed there was a sharp rise in residential demand for small-scale solar with battery storage after the fighting started in places with few other practical options for obtaining electricity.
At the beginning of the invasion when the electricity shut off, some people with residential solar panels allowed neighbors to charge their phones and connect to the internet to read the news about the invasion or send messages to relatives, Semenyshyn said.
Solar Steelconstruction LLC, which installs solar PV systems, is run by Evgeniy Yaremenko. He claims that his business started giving away its stockpile of solar panels to everyone, from soldiers who used them to charge their phones to hospitals that were having trouble keeping a steady supply of electricity.
“These times, they changed the perception of the people,” Yaremenko noted that the installation capacity of his business is fully booked through the end of the year.
The Ukrainian Solar Association is also working to supply hospitals with solar and storage systems, particularly in former Russian-occupied cities. Green organizations like the NGO Ecoclub, based in western Ukraine, have also contributed to that effort.
Over the past 20 years, Ecoclub, a group of university students, has helped municipalities develop clean energy. In the city of Voznesensk, it will install the first power plant that is owned by a water utility in 2020. After the war began, thanks to this investment, the city was still able to power its pumping station and offer water and sewage services to residents during blackouts.
“We see these pilots, they are a good signal for local communities to invest more in the direction to develop renewables,” According to Andriy Martynyuk, executive director of Ecoclub.
The group has used its connections abroad to deliver some humanitarian aid to Ukraine and is currently monitoring reconstruction plans to ensure local governments are ready to implement green projects.
The nation, according to Semenyshyn, needs to promote smart grids and energy systems centered on residential solar. The goal of several organizations is for wind, solar, and other carbon-free energy to produce 50% of Ukraine’s electricity by 2030.
Semenyshyn believes that the war has sped up the transition away from fossil fuels, just like some of the nation’s renewable energy businesses. He is aware that there are those who may try to use the war as an excuse to expand the use of coal and natural gas, and that they pose a threat to the transition.
“Now, we are in a crossroad,” he said, between reconstruction or restoration of what existed before.
Green reconstruction initiatives are already being promoted by authorities. A national recovery plan unveiled in July calls for investing roughly $130 billion over the following ten years in the development of green energy. Many contend that renewables can lessen the nation’s reliance on expensive, erratic imports of fossil fuels. Analysts note that this will, however, be greatly influenced by outside funding and investment, changes in policy, and transparency.
According to CSIS’s Dawes, the ability to produce electricity that could be transmitted to Europe could aid in the rollout by encouraging necessary investment in the transmission network of Ukraine. But the journey ahead won’t be simple.
“I think that we underestimated that we have also an energy battlefield — not only the battlefield with weapons, but energy is also a huge battlefield,” Semenyshyn said.