Solar energy not only helps keep the lights on in Ukraine, but also plays an important role as part of Europe’s energy transition and clean energy economy.
The European Electricity Review 2023, published by the clean energy think tank Ember, states that the production of solar electricity in the EU increased by 24 percent to 203 terawatt hours last year, compared to 164 terawatt hours in 2021. This increase raised the share of solar energy in the EU’s electricity mix to 7.3%. . The European Union increased the solar energy generation capacity from 103 GW in 2018 to 209 GW in 2022. The capacity could increase this year by 54 GW in the medium-term scenario, or up to 68 GW.
Solar power in Ukraine mirrors the European trend, albeit at a slower pace. In 2019, pre-pandemic and before the latest attack, Ukraine was among the top five fastest-growing solar markets in Europe, adding 4 GW of solar annually. Electricity projects almost stopped last year when the war started, but rooftop solar power is growing.
The chart below does not accurately reflect the reality of the solar energy industry in Ukraine. The Secretariat of the Energy Charter study estimates that at least 15 percent of Ukraine’s solar power plants—about 1 GW of capacity—are damaged, destroyed, or in use. Some projects have been targeted by theft.
There have also been targeted missile strikes on mines placed on solar power plants and solar projects in the recently liberated territory of Ukraine.
Attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure have caused more than $10 billion worth of damage, leaving more than 12 million people without or limited access to electricity – and disrupting water and heating systems. This was a comprehensive energy damage assessment carried out by the UN Development Program and the World Bank.
With regular power outages throughout the country, renewable energy often becomes the only local source of electricity for municipalities and residents. Significant growth in residential construction can be seen with autonomous or hybrid solar electricity, the latter combined with household battery storage systems. Ukrainian companies are also following the trend and installing solar roofs to generate their own electricity for consumption.
Ukraine is reaping the benefits of renewable energy technology in the country’s darkest hour. And the Ukrainian government recently started rolling out a solar net billing subsidy system – instead of feed-in tariffs – for pro-consumers.
At the same time, the reconstruction process of Ukraine has already started and energy has a central place in these initial stages. In the Kherson and Kharkiv regions, already damaged solar power plants have been renovated. Some have been completely renovated and have started supplying electricity again. It is very important that Ukraine’s power system has decentralized sources of energy, as it has been suffering from power shortages since October 2022. Traditional power plants damaged by strikes in Russia can be replaced with renewable energy.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal says the government plans to actively exploit the potential of renewable energy, including solar, wind, hydro and green hydrogen technologies. Shmyhal says Russia’s attacks are pushing Ukraine toward radical reforms by steering a decentralized energy system.
“Then it will be less vulnerable to enemy attacks,” says the prime minister. “We are talking about creating mini power plants and small production plants in the existing energy system.”
The Solar Energy Association of Ukraine estimates that under its “energy transition” scenario, the country’s installed solar capacity should reach at least 17 GW by 2030. The plans are to reach up to 20 GW of installed solar capacity in residential buildings and municipal facilities. buildings by the end of the decade.
Ukraine has very favorable conditions for the development of solar power plants and opportunities for the production of green hydrogen. The country has already started commercial electricity exports to European countries after synchronization with the European Electricity Transmission System Operators network last year.
One of the most important directions for Ukraine’s future development is the introduction of self-sufficient microgrids. The power outages caused by numerous missile attacks and the resulting power outages in the fall of 2022 have raised the issue of microgrids based on renewable energy sources. Microgrids can include solar power plants, small wind farms, bio and small hydro plants, and storage systems.
Microgrids are nearly impossible to remove with missiles if there are several thousand of them in a country the size of Ukraine. The technology has huge potential for local and foreign investment as part of the reconstruction of Ukraine.
Despite the war, Ukrainian solar energy companies are helping EU countries achieve energy independence. Ukraine is also involved in the European solar industry, for example in the production of installation systems. Ukrainian design, procurement and construction services companies have significant experience in installing solar energy plants, having built more than 5 GW of production capacity in Ukraine, the Baltic region and elsewhere in Europe.
Read more about the Solar Energy of Ukraine Association and its members in pavilion A3.153 at the Intersolar exhibition on June 14-16, 2023.
About the author: Artem Semenyshyn is the director of the Solar Energy Association of Ukraine and a consultant on renewable energy sources, energy transition and sustainable development. Semenyshyn, who holds a doctorate in commercial law and a bachelor’s degree in international management, is an energy transition advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, a visiting lecturer, a senior researcher and a volunteer member of the board of directors of the charitable foundation RePower Ukraine.