Solar on the steppe: Ukraine embraces renewables revolution

From Nature:

Fernando Moleres/Panos

The wasteland around the shuttered Chernobyl nuclear site is set to be home to a solar power plant.

Wind and solar power are wallflowers in oil- and gas-rich Russia. Not so in neighbouring Ukraine. With fears about Russian hegemony at a peak, the former Soviet republic is ready to join the renewables revolution.

“Energy independence has become a matter of national security for Ukraine,” says Sergiy Savchuk, head of the state agency on energy efficiency and energy saving in Kiev. “That’s why renewable-energy development is now a priority issue for the Ukrainian government.”

In July, Ukrainian environment minister Ostap Semerak unveiled plans to build a large solar power plant and a biogas facility in the wasteland around the former Chernobyl reactor.

The announcement came just two weeks after parliament reopened the state-owned exclusion zone around the shuttered nuclear site to development for business and science.

The Chernobyl energy project will cost around US$1.1 billion, a sum that means substantial foreign investment is required. It is part of Ukraine’s broader ambition to step up renewable-energy capacity. According to the National Renewable Energy Action Plan adopted in 2014, the government aims to almost triple capacity for electricity production, transport and heating by 2020 — from its current level of around 9.3 gigawatts to more than 26 gigawatts. Renewables would then supply about 11% of all energy consumed in Ukraine.

“Energy independence has become a matter of national security for Ukraine.”

Despite the traumatic Chernobyl reactor meltdown in 1986, which contaminated large parts of Europe and tempered Ukraine’s nuclear ambitions, the country continues to produce about 50% of its electricity from a fleet of 15 Soviet-built nuclear reactors.

Ukraine also depends heavily on oil and natural gas imported from Russia. But political turmoil over Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2013 and ongoing pro-Russian unrest in the eastern Donbas region led to …

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