OPINION: Ukraine's post-war green recovery is essential for Europe's security

by Kostiantyn Krynytskyi | Ecoaction
Tuesday, 12 April 2022 16:32 GMT

Visitors walk past solar panels at a solar power plant built on the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl, Ukraine October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ukraine needs an urgent plan for energy independence, focused on renewables not nuclear - and international help to execute it

Kostiantyn Krynytskyi is head of the energy department at the NGO Ecoaction.

In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and occupied Donbas, Europe failed to recognise all the threats that come with continued addiction to fossil fuels. Now is the time to fix the mistakes of the past.

Every day the European Union pays hundreds of millions of euros to the Kremlin's regime for oil, coal and gas, fuelling the war in Ukraine. A total embargo on the purchase of Russian fossil fuels is the only adequate response to the brutal assault we face. Only this can stop the war. And only by ending Europe’s addiction to Russian fossil fuels can Ukraine begin to think about taking the first step towards a sustainable recovery.  

Russia’s attempts to weaponise energy supply show that we must never again give away control over the energy that powers our homes, military, infrastructure and businesses. 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 international help to execute it when re-building the country.

We must consider this during consultations on 2030 climate and energy targets for the Energy Community, a Vienna-based organisation that works to bring together EU and other European energy markets. We should also consider using a newly established Ukraine Energy Support Fund in the post-war period as a vehicle for rapid energy transition.

RENEWABLES, NOT NUCLEAR 

The events of the last few months mean we need to raise our sights and set even more ambitious goals for Ukrainian clean energy. At least 45% of our power generation should be from a full variety of renewable energy sources by 2030, and renewables should generate at least 35% of our primary energy supply. To make that happen, we need a plan to harvest our abundant winds and sun; to improve energy efficiency; and to electrify industry and transportation to get rid of fossil fuels.

There are already promising signs that Ukraine is on the right path. In the first fortnight of the invasion, Ukrainian engineers did “a year’s work in two weeks” by switching our electricity grid away from Russia and Belarus to synchronise it with Europe’s instead.

That change helps isolate us from Russia, prepares us to electrify more of our country, and brings us closer to the security, strength and allyship of Europe. And a month before the invasion, the Draft National Renewables Action Plan had already set out targets to raise the proportion of renewables in our energy mix. 

For Ukraine, trying to build new nuclear power by 2030 is not a solution. Russia’s seizure of our Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant - the largest in Europe - shows that nuclear threats can be used by an aggressor. Nuclear plants also require lengthy and complex construction, are very expensive, and produce huge amounts of hazardous waste. The mechanisms for safe nuclear waste disposal still do not exist – and nuclear power is not climate-neutral if we take into account its full life cycle. Renewables today are cleaner, faster, easier to build and much cheaper. 

EU ENERGY PARTNERSHIP

We need to consider the full range of incentives and investment vehicles for renewable energy: public-private partnerships, cooperatives, energy communities, new development mechanisms such as net metering and bilateral power purchase agreements, which secure both producers and long-term buyers for clean energy. All would speed up rapid deployment of solar and wind technology across the country.

This will require a green industrial partnership between Ukraine and the EU. We need to create a vision for a green recovery and set ambitious 2030 climate and energy targets for Ukraine that make our country self-sufficient in energy supplies. 

A path towards a modern renewable-based power sector will create the market certainty we need to attract investments. We need to start anew, as investment in Ukraine’s power sector was held back by obsolete, polluting coal-fired power plants. Even before the war, both industry and government  acknowledged that phasing out coal was possible and committed to it at COP26

An EU-Ukraine energy transition partnership will open up opportunities for the whole of Europe. In the short-term, it would help Ukraine rebuild from the trauma of war and get our energy industry and economy back on its feet.

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 become more affordable.

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