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What Ukraine’s renewable energy sector will look like after the war – interview with Andriy Konechenkov, Chairman of the Board of the Ukrainian Wind Energy Association

The current war in Ukraine has demonstrated once again the great dangers related to an energy supply scheme that is largely based on fossil fuels. Therefore, the Ukrainian Wind Energy Association (UWEA), one of the largest renewable energy associations in the country that unites all wind energy generators has called for governments to phase out fossil and nuclear sources as soon as possible while further developing renewables.

London-based consultancy company Invest In Network and CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Andriy Konechenkov, Chairman of the Board of UWEA, to discuss the current situation and what the future might look like for the Ukrainian energy sector, beginning with an assessment of the work of the United Energy System of Ukraine (UES) after more than three weeks of the war.

“During this period, the United Energy System of Ukraine has been stable,” Mr Konechenkov begins. “The power grid frequency, 50 hertz (Hz). All types of power plants, nuclear, thermal, hydroelectric and renewables have been operating. The level of consumption is stable, the schedule is within the normal range. The volume of electricity production is sufficient to supply all consumers, with no restrictions at all.”

Despite this stability, Mr Konechenkov points out that Russia continues to purposefully destroy the infrastructure of Ukrainian networks, leading to the city of Mariupol being without any power and water suppliers for many days.

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Photo courtesy of the Ukrainian Wind Energy Association.

“As reported in early March 332,000 customers in the country were partially or completely cut off from electricity due to infrastructure damaged in the fighting,” he underlines.

Another example concerns the nuclear power plants in the country. Indeed, at the beginning of March, Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Russian forces had taken control of the site of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant with six reactors. Same goes for the Chernobyl NPP.

“The power line that supplies Chornobyl NPP and the town of Slavutych has been already damaged several times by the invaders after that the national grid operator Ukrenergo repaired it,” Andriy Konechenkov states. “The occupation of the Zaporizhzhia NPP came after a fire erupted in a training building at the plant amid heavy Russian shelling. Currently, there are around 500 Russian soldiers with automatic weapons on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia NPP.”

“As you know, no nuclear power plant is designed for war. If a site is purposefully or accidentally shelled and the containment building, which houses the nuclear reactor is hit, not only Ukraine but Russia and Europe will suffer as well. The consequences are likely to be worse compared to the Chernobyl NPP accident in 1986.”

And same concerns were expressed by the IAEA’s Director General Rafael Mario Grossi, who reminded that the physical integrity of nuclear facilities must be maintained and kept safe at all times to avoid endangering the whole of Europe.

Right before the invasion, UES disconnected from the energy systems of Russia and Belarus and started working in an isolation mode, with Ukrenergo and Moldova’s Moldelectrica requesting an emergency synchronisation with the power system of Continental Europe. And the trial successfully started on 16 March.

“Ukraine officially announced its decision to become interconnected with ENTSO-E in far 2005,” recalls Mr Konechenkov. “Active steps towards ENTSO-E have been made since 2017 when Ukrenergo signed an agreement with operators of the ENTSO-E Continental Europe Region on the conditions for further interconnections with Ukraine and Moldova. Before any interconnection could be achieved, Ukrenergo had to implement several measures, including testing operations of Ukrainian grid in the isolated regime.”

And it is exactly because of the previous studies carried out and the adoption of risks mitigation measures that the synchronisation was a success.

“Despite military aggression by Russia, rocket attacks on critical infrastructure, the Ukrainian power system — working autonomously — has proven its reliability and security of electricity supply to consumers,” says Mr Konechenkov.

Concretely, how will Ukraine’s ascension to ENTSO-E with a further grid synchronisation help the energy sector to stand against the invasion?

“We do need support and assistance from our European partners,” replies Mr Konechenkov.

“Ukraine’s ascension to ENTSO-E with a further grid synchronisation means a great step forward to Ukraine’s full independence from Russia, meaning also strengthening our country’s energy security.”

“The synchronisation of the IPS of Ukraine with ENTSO-E increases its sustainability, overall technological level of operation and security of supply,” he continues. “Moreover, Ukraine’s disconnection from the power system of the Russian Federation will lead to the loss of the latter’s strategic influence on the electricity sector not only in Ukraine but also in European countries.”

Another pillar of energy independence is the scale-up of renewable energy sources. Mr Konechenkov tells us that, as of the end of 2021, the total installed RES capacity of Ukraine reached 9,655.95 megawatts (MW), including solar PV for private households. With 1,672.945 MW installed, wind energy accounted for 19.8 per cent of the total RES capacity installed in Ukraine and 2.72 per cent of the national power capacity.

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Photo courtesy of the Ukrainian Wind Energy Association.

“Unfortunately, Ukraine’s renewable power plants turned out to be at a high risk of complete or partial destruction,” he continues. “Around 47 per cent of the green electricity generating facilities are located in the areas of active hostilities or on the territories adjusted to them. Thus, the vast majority of wind farms in Ukraine are located in the southern regions of the country (which have strong wind resources), namely: Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odesa regions. Currently, only 27 per cent of the total installed wind capacity in Ukraine is generating electricity, others are out of operation due to damage to transformer substations, overhead power lines. Several wind turbines were hit by Russian missiles.”

Currently, as everybody could assume, all the projects that have been already under development and construction have been stopped.

“According to our association’s prognosis made at the end of 2021, we expected at least 1,000 MW new wind additions in 2022,” reveals Andriy Konechenkov. “In addition, around 4,000 MW of wind capacities have already received building permits. For sure the war has changed the schedules and plans.”

“But I’m pretty sure in resuming all the projects planned for construction with more additional megawatts to come. I’d like also to mention that Ukraine has already drafted a Green Hydrogen Strategy, while as an association we are working on an offshore wind roadmap. It means many new megawatts of wind and solar energies.”

He also mentions that despite the changes in schedules and plans, the RES sector continues to regularly pay taxes to the local and national budgets. Indeed, Ukraine has huge wind and solar resources, while being historical an agrarian country, it also has strong bioenergy resources. Renewables in Ukraine will always be attractive to investors but the military aggression stopped the development of new RES projects, first of all with a view to ensuring safety to personnel.

“Nobody will build anything under nonstop bombing,” says Mr Konechenkov. “As I have already mentioned, wind and solar power plants continue to be shelled. There is also a problem, for example, with the maintenance of operating wind farms, since all foreign specialists left Ukraine for the duration of the hostilities. Ukrainian plant operators and dispatchers are doing their best to resolve technical issues related to the plants’ operation by themselves.”

However, on a positive note, as far as Mr Konechenkov knows, so far not a single investor has made a decision to leave the projects.

Furthermore, the current situation is making some fear a return to coal as the fastest and easiest way to reduce our dependence on Russian energy sources while waiting for a full scale-up of renewables. Mr Konechenkov doesn’t believe that coal will become the heart of Ukraine’s power system and he quotes several reasons for this.

“First, there have been already problems with coal supplies from the territory of Donbas as most of the mines were destroyed by flooding due to military actions by the Russian Federation and the logistics chain has been also disrupted,” he begins. “Secondly, many of the coal power plants were built as early as 1959-1967. Though today about 20 per cent of the power units have been reconstructed, it does not solve the problems related to meeting modern international environmental standards. Most of the equipment at the coal plants is worn out and its deterioration reaches an alarming level, therefore further exploitation of these thermal power plants without their renovation is problematic and it requires huge investments.”

According to him, coal supplies will probably continue for some time, but most likely there will be a complete modification of the energy market of Ukraine with its further transition to modern energy technologies, such as renewable hydrogen and small modular reactors.

So, what will the renewable energy sector look like after the war?

“This war has undoubtedly changed our approach to life, energy security and independence,” concludes Mr Konechenkov. “I believe that after this war, after the seizure of nuclear power plants, after having been synchronised with the European energy system, Ukraine will set even more ambitious goals for renewable energy. I am convinced that this war has made us stronger and more aware of how significant and important renewables are for the peaceful world. Today, everyone is aware of the cost of independence. We have to phase out fossil and nuclear sources as soon as possible while further developing renewables since only renewable energy will always be able to maintain this independence in a sustainable, fair and peaceful way.”

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