Ukraine is planning a fossil-free future and it is not letting the grass grow under its feet, despite Russia’s unprovoked war. The nation is relying partly on its nuclear facilities but it is also calling on its considerable wind and solar resources. That includes a massive new wind power development planned for the site of the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster near the city of Chernobyl, transliterated as Chornobyl in Ukrainian.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his nation’s murderous rampage through Ukraine last year, he apparently aimed take control of the whole country with one swift blow at its capital city, Kyiv. Along with Kyiv would come control over the nation’s rich fossil energy reserves.
All did not go according to plan, and the law of unintended consequences has kicked in.
One of those consequences is a race by Europe to replace Russian gas with alternative sources. That includes shifting global gas supply chains over the short term, as demonstrated by a gaping wide loophole in the current sanctions against Russia. However, the Russian invasion has underscored the importance of decentralized, local and regional energy resources for resiliency and security over the long term, and that plays to the strength of renewables.
Renewables also provide an opportunity to repurpose brownfield sites, and that’s where the new wind power plant comes in. The plan calls for situating the wind turbines within the Exclusion Zone, a 30-kilometer radius around the Chernobyl disaster site located, about 130 kilometers outside of Kyiv.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, radioactivity in the Exclusion Zone is now considered to be at “tolerable exposure levels for limited periods of time.” The risk of radiation cancer for residents who voluntarily returned to the area appears to be low, though radiation poisoning has reportedly afflicted the invading Russian soldiers who dug trenches in there.
As reported by The Odessa Journal, the new wind power project is part of a pre-war plan to convert the Exclusion Zone into a “Recovery Zone,” contributing to energy independence and supporting green technologies while generating revenue, attracting investors, and creating new jobs.
The new wind farm comes under the umbrella of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine and the State Agency of Ukraine for the Management of the Exclusion Zone, which signed a memorandum of understanding to develop the project with the Ukrainian transmission systems operator Ukrenergo and the firm NOTUS Energy of Germany.
Alexander Krasnolutsky, the First Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, affirmed that the Exclusion Zone is being prepped for a green makeover.
“Partnership with ‘NOTUS ENERGY’ is a positive example for international investors that the Exclusion Zone is an attractive and promising area for the development of not only renewable energy but also other environmentally friendly technical solutions,” he said, as cited by the Journal.
On its part, NOTUS Energy seems determined to make the new wind farm into a regional powerhouse. With a capacity of 1,000 megawatts, it has the potential to pump out the equivalent of 800,000 households’ worth of electricity, according to initial studies.
Among the factors working in favor of the new wind power project, NOTUS draws attention to the nuclear facility’s existing transmission infrastructure, which would be upgraded to enable direct delivery to the Kyiv metropolitan region.
“Since the exclusion zone was left by the former residents, the area is low in conflict from a social and ecological perspective,” NOTUS also observes.
Hannes Helm, the Managing Director of the Ukrainian branch of NOTUS, emphasizes the project’s role in creating a more sustainable and resilient energy profile for the nation.
“A wind farm of this size would make a substantial contribution to the expansion of renewable energies in Ukraine and strengthen the independence and decentralization of the Ukrainian energy supply,” he explained.
US military support for Ukraine has drawn plenty of media attention. In contrast, sustainability support has flown under the radar. Nevertheless, Russia’s strategy of attacking energy infrastructure as well as other civilian targets has underscored the need for an energy system that is more sustainable, resilient and secure.
The US Department of Energy has been deploying its National Renewable Energy Laboratory to support a wide-ranging energy program of the United States Agency for International Development. One key aim of the USAID program is to help Ukraine reduce its dependence on nuclear energy and introduce more wind power, solar power and other renewables into the grid.
In a recap of the program last July, NREL described how the program leverages its previous experience in energy systems disaster recovery. For example, the lab is piloting a solar-assisted microgrid pilot project that will help reduce dependence on diesel fuel for emergency generators. NREL has also deployed USAID funding to create a new solar resources map for Ukraine. Plans are in the works to add wind power resources to the map, too.
Despite the upheaval of war, Ukrenergo has also been participating in the Global Power System Transformation (G-PST) Consortium. Spearheaded by NREL, the organization aims to cut power systems emissions through peer learning.
Despite the activity, a working paper posted by Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment last June warns that the nation’s reconstruction proposals are lagging behind its green recovery aspirations, and that some proposals may even work at cross-purposes.
The Smith School paper was co-authored by Oleh Savytskyi, Campaigns Manager at the Ukrainian organization Razom We Stand. Under the title, “The Green Phoenix Framework: Climate-Positive Plan for Economic Recovery in Ukraine,” it builds the case for focusing recovery plans on energy security and sustainability.
“The promise of Ukraine’s resistance to fossil-fueled terror must be realized by the entire world. The rebuilding of Ukraine should be the beginning of a global movement for clean, renewable, and safe energy,” Razom states (emphasis theirs).
Razom’s case for a green recovery highlights the potential for Ukraine’s biomethane, solar, and wind power resources to supply energy markets in Europe, but that’s just for starters. Razom has set its sights on a global transformation. The organization also advocates for applying wind power and other domestic renewables to green steel and other Ukrainian industries, building an exportable base of low-carbon materials and goods that will feed the growing demand for green supply chains.
“The post-war recovery of Ukraine provides a unique opportunity to direct finance towards low-GHG and climate-resilient development, creating the foundation for a green economy and setting a positive example for the rest of the world,” Savitskyi and his co-authors explain.
Whether or not US policy will continue to support that endeavor remains to be seen. Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly cultivated a phalanx of support in the US, including former President Trump, Republican party leadership, and private sector interests., all of whom could will be called in to play their parts as the 2024 presidential election cycle kicks into gear.
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Image: Wind power, solar power and other renewable energy resources in Ukraine (courtesy of Razom we Stand).
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