Weekend reading: Keeping the lights on in Ukraine



In the first half of 2023, the Ukrainian solar energy market has recovered as some power plants restarted operations, including in newly liberated areas. Demand is also picking up among industrial consumers who want to be less dependent on the common energy grid in case power outages return, it reports. Ian Skarytovsky.

Ukraine’s solar industry has suffered huge losses in the 15 months of intense hostilities that have followed the Russian invasion, including near-daily rocket attacks, kamikaze drone attacks and artillery fire.

About 13 percent of Ukraine’s solar power production capacity is in areas controlled by Russian forces, while about 8 percent is considered damaged or completely destroyed. This is what Oleksiy Orzhel, the recently appointed chairman of the Renewable Energy Association of Ukraine, says, referring to official statistics.

The position is not new for Orzhel, who had served as the chairman of the association even before 2019, but left the office to become the Minister of Energy and Environment of Ukraine. He returned to the renewable energy association in February after his successor as chairman, Oleksandr Kozakevych, joined the armed forces to defend his country on the battlefield.

Working in the field of renewable energy is especially important for Ukraine, because clean electricity helped the country survive the cold and dark nights of last winter, Orzhel recalls the times when power outages lasted for several hours, sometimes days, and it seemed that the stability of the energy grid depended on a thread.

At the time of writing, Ukraine was preparing for a long-awaited military counteroffensive, the importance of which for the country’s future was hard to overestimate. The owners of solar projects, whose assets remained in Russian hands, were also expecting a big rise.

“We hope that the Ukrainian counteroffensive will start soon and that it will be carried out with the least destruction of renewable energy facilities,” Orzhel said. “Currently, positions near the front in unmanned areas suffer the most from constant artillery fire.”

Big hopes

This hope seems more than justified, as there are already examples of how solar power plants have returned to operation in liberated areas. For example, Ukraine’s largest power generation company DTEK has recently restarted the 10 MW Trifomovskaya plant at 50 percent production capacity. The solar power plant is located in the Kherson region.

When Ukrainian forces occupied the west bank of the Dnypro River, the Trifomovskaya solar project was an unfortunate sight. Many solar panels were damaged and some of the power generation equipment required replacement.

In addition, the plant does not have the possibility to completely restart its operations, because the local energy network has also deteriorated. Before the repair of the local substation, the project could feed only 2 MW of its production capacity into the grid.

However, there was never any doubt as to whether the plant should be put back into operation. The threat of power shortages in Ukraine is not over. Alexander Selishev, general director of the renewable energy department of the electricity company DTEK RES, says: “Our task is to ensure that the country and consumers receive more green electricity in the conditions of the enemy’s energy terror (tactics).”

Several other solar power plants have returned to operation in Kharkiv and Kherson regions, although it would be wrong to say that this process went completely without problems.

“At the same time, investors whose facilities have suffered from bombings or have been in use and looted cannot replace the destroyed equipment and continue to operate at full capacity,” Orzhel said, explaining that according to the current law, the replacement of equipment with different technical characteristics, This leads to the reduction of feed-in tariffs for revision or loss, which in turn leads to problems with creditors.

“It is simply impossible to find identical equipment to replace the damaged one – often its production has already been discontinued for more modern equipment,” Orzhel said, adding that site owners want government agencies to act faster to meet this challenge, as the current obstacles make rebuilding solar power plants a difficult task.

Second wave

Meanwhile, demand for solar power from industrial customers has increased in recent months. Oleksandr Loboda, director of Ecosphere Energy, a Vinnytsia-based company engaged in the design, construction and maintenance of solar power plants, said. pv magazine that the demand comes primarily from two types of companies.

“The first are those who have already invested in stations to sell electricity to the grid,” he said. “They understand this business and opportunity very well and want to continue investing. The second includes production companies with significant electricity consumption and whose motivation is to reduce the cost of purchasing grid electricity.

During the first quarter of 2023, Ecosphere Energy received 10 requests to calculate the parameters for the construction of solar power plants – as many as in the whole of last year, according to Loboda.

Other industry insiders agree that demand has recovered. For example, the Cherkasy-based Solar Garden company estimates that demand will have collapsed to zero in March 2022. Now the company is well on its way to signing three contracts for the construction of solar power plants and six more are under evaluation, said director Serhii Pronenko.

The demand for solar energy is primarily driven by fears of energy independence. Ecosphere’s Loboda says that it takes about a year to start up a facility that sells electricity to the energy grid. Building the power generation capacity takes from one to four months, and the rest of the time is needed to go through the bureaucracy. However, building a solar power plant for your own consumption is simple and you can get considerable benefits from it.

On average, Ukrainian companies pay about 5.50 UAH/kWh ($0.15) for electricity. During the outages, this figure almost doubled, so the case for investing in alternative power generation sources is as clear as ever. Last summer, the construction company Dobrobut located in Cherkasy installed a solar power plant to meet its energy needs. With an investment of $18,000, the company managed to cut its electricity bills by 20%, company co-owner Valeri Didenko told the local press. Dozens of companies across the country have followed the same path.

A matter of survival

However, establishing solar power capacity for Ukrainian companies does not mean saving electricity bills. the main goal is to survive.

“Anyone who wants to keep their business alive builds independent power sources,” said Orzhel, president of the Clean Energy Association. “After the difficult winter of 2022/2023, after the bombing of the energy infrastructure, most companies did not receive electricity and had to stop their operations completely or operate according to the electricity delivery schedule. A long-term absence of electricity actually means a stoppage of technical processes and (leads to) the death of the company.

This contributes to the decentralization development of the Ukrainian energy industry. Orzhel said the winter missile attacks primarily targeted centralized generation and power supply facilities, such as grids and substations.

Ukrainians are trying to adapt to this tactic in many ways. They bring production closer to customers and reduce the size of solar power plants to such an extent that the costs of hitting them would be higher than the possible damage.

However, it is too early to say that there is demand in the solar industry, admitted Ecosphere director Loboda, who added: “The main task of 2023 is not to lose what has already been achieved in the past, before the war. year; First of all, these are people, such as designers and builders. Trends give hope for fulfilling this mission.”

David is a passionate writer and researcher who specializes in solar energy. He has a strong background in engineering and environmental science, which gives him a deep understanding of the science behind solar power and its benefits. David writes about the latest developments in solar technology and provides practical advice for homeowners and businesses who are interested in switching to solar.

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