The war in Ukraine has derailed the energy plans of many European countries, but while renewable energy facilities in the West remain intact and functioning, here in Ukraine the bombings have destroyed at least half of the facilities built to comply with the government’s energy transition. Eighty-nine percent of wind power capacity, 37% of solar power plants and 48% of biomass power plants are concentrated in the southern regions of Odessa, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia, where the conflict is most violent and relentless.
In the last 10 years, Ukraine’s entire renewable energy department has attracted investments of about $12 billion, and according to Kiev’s road map, by 2035, domestic renewable energy production should have reached 25% (it was 12.5% in 2021).
The main players of the renewable energy scene are Norway’s Scatec Solar, whose main shareholder is the oil company Equinor, France’s Total, and China’s CMEC, a subsidiary of SINOMACH, a conglomerate engaged in the production of agricultural machinery.
Even DTEK, the largest Ukrainian group in the energy sector (it supplies 20% of the energy produced in Ukraine with eight coal-fired power stations and others fueled by natural gas), has enthusiastically launched itself into the lucrative business of renewables, which allows it to enjoy an all-inclusive tariff (feed-in) until January 1, 2030 with enormous incentives for companies investing in the sector.
Although in 2021 the energy produced by DTEK’s solar and wind plants was 11.8% lower than the previous year “due to lower sun presence and a decrease in winds,” as the company explained in a statement, in May last year it began the construction of the Tiligulska wind farm, in the Mykolaiv region, which, with a capacity of 564 MW, was to become the largest national renewable energy production center.
The war not only stopped the work, but also destroyed most of the turbines already installed. With photovoltaic parks, wind farms, thermal power plants and oil depots bombed or put out of operation, “Ukraine has to rely for its electricity supply only on nuclear sources, a few coal-fired power plants still working and hydroelectric plants,” says a Ukrhrydroenergo technician, who adds that “42% of the hydroelectric plants are also located in regions affected by the conflict and are at risk of closure. The nuclear power plant of Zaporizhzhia, although controlled by the Russian army, continues, together with the other three (South Ukraine, Rivne and Khmelnytskyi), to be connected to the Ukrainian power grid providing energy to the country until a fault interrupts the network.”
Coal together with natural gas (raw materials for which DTEK has a monopoly in Ukraine) are still the main sources of energy production today, although the invasion has caused the share of these particular sources to collapse in favor of nuclear power. Ukraine is the world’s tenth-largest producer of coal and can count on 3% of the world’s reserves, which provides the largest share of revenue for DTEK.
DTEK’s owner, Rinat Akhmetov, the controversial richest businessman in Ukraine with an estimated $8 billion fortune and owner of the Shakhtar Donetsk soccer team, has spoken up to defend his country and his company.
Although Akhmetov himself is Russian-speaking, was briefly a member of the pro-Russian Party of Regions and is still highly critical of Zelensky, he has shown himself since 2014 to be a staunch supporter of Ukrainian independence and unity. In a recent interview with Forbes, he clearly stated that the only possible solution to the conflict was “a total ceasefire, complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, and full restoration of the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine. That includes Crimea and Donbas.” Asked whether he was thus helping Ukrainian President Zelensky, Akhmetov diplomatically glossed over the issue, saying generically that “first of all, we are helping Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and (…) our army.”
The consortium of companies that is part of the Ukrainian Renewable Energy Association has already announced that it intends to take the Russian authorities to the competent international courts to demand compensation for the damages suffered: “Damage caused by the Russian occupiers to all Ukrainian and international businesses on the territory of Ukraine must be compensated through international litigation,” the organization said.
Furthermore, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in addition to the problem of supplying raw materials, has now raised another problem: that of finding a source of energy which, in addition to being safe and reliable, also has an inherent potential for resistance such that its destruction would be physically difficult to implement and morally hard to accept.