Ukraine’s perspective in green energy substitution for the European market and European divestment from the Russian fossil fuels

09 February 2023 /

6 min

An overview of Ukraine’s role in the green energy substitution of the EU market

The Russian war in Ukraine has highlighted the European States’ dependency on Russian fossil fuel production. In fact, it led to the ongoing energy crisis which asserted its impact throughout the continent and extended even beyond. This current scenario has led to several discussions concerning the European energy market, and whether there is an existing solution to the substitution of the ramped-up fossil fuel production (to lower the prices) with green initiatives. On 17th November 2022, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyi reaffirmed that at the end of the Russo-Ukrainian war, Ukraine is capable of becoming a key partner of the European Union for the purposes of decarbonization. Thus, Ukraine has a lot of potential in the advancement of renewable energy, a solution that seems to be feasible and meets every involved actor’s needs. 

EU’s dependence on Russia’s energy and its effects

The EU’s dependence on Russian energy sources was already an evident issue even before the beginning of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The rising criticism and concerns over energy dependence of a totalitarian regime were ignored by several European governments and raised several questions in relation to the EU countries’ national security issues, decisions  that have ultimately aided in the escalation of the current conflict.

In the wake of the energy crisis, the goals set by the European Commission through the European Green Deal have been breached by some Member States in an attempt to circumvent  their dependence on Russian energy sources. The best example of such infringement can be observed with Germany, which reverted to the usage of the coal-based plants in order to reduce its consumption of Russian natural gas. “To reduce gas consumption, less gas must be used to generate electricity. Coal-fired power plants will have to be used more instead” declared  the German Economy Minister, Robert Habeck, back in June 2022. This decision goes against the goals laid down by Germany to become coal-free by 2030, without even mentioning the decarbonization efforts set by the Green Deal. 

The threat of Russia pulling the energetic plug on Europe brought a great amount of uncertainty on stable and cheap energy supply to Europe, which in turn made European economies search for, not necessarily cheaper, alternatives. In some sense, this plug  had been already partially compromised through the sabotage committed on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Of course, countries can pursue the same practice employed by Hungary by signing a new deal with Gazprom, which  does not seem to bring cost-efficiency advantages for the country in the longer term, according to several independent sources. Additionally, the EU can always turn towards more stable and less threatening partners to increase the imports of fossil fuels, such as Norway and Algeria even though  it does not guarantee the internal stability of countries that are so profoundly connected to Russian pipelines. 

Is there a divestment plan?

It can be stated that the EU has not done enough to create a timely energy diversification strategy from fossil fuels, which contributed to global perturbations. The first attempt at a diversification effort had been only made in May 2022 with the introduction of the REPowerEU PLAN which essentially proposed a plan on energy saving and diversification of the EU’s energy supplies three months into the Russo-Ukrainian War. The EU claims to be at the forefront of innovation-seeking in terms of clean/green energy advancement, however, tardiness in the arrangement and implementation of diversification strategies has proven that the EU is way behind on its own agenda. Consequently, the ongoing war only fuels this uncertainty over the sustainable energy flow and its security of supply.

One can wonder then what could be a solution to the current scenario. A quick switch to decarbonization cannot be achieved instantaneously, as the EU cannot really rely on fossil fuel imports even if it is not from Russia, but from other more stable partners, while keeping in mind that Russia still largely controls the price lever on the energy resources through supply cuts in cooperation with the OPEC+ members (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). Hence, one of the solutions could lie precisely in Ukraine. In terms of renewable energy production, the potential of the country is promising, as will be explained further next in this article. As such, the possibility that Ukraine could serve as a point of divestment from Russian fossil fuels is one that the EU must take seriously into account. 

The undiscovered potential of Ukraine

With a population of around 43 million, coupled with the fact being the country with the largest square kilometers of territory in Europe, Ukraine possesses enormous potential in terms of the energy market. Apart from being one of the biggest agriculture exporters, the country has been a consistent exporter of energy to its neighboring countries due to its nuclear energy production capacities (even though nuclear energy has not been unanimously accepted as green energy, with a still ongoing debate on its status, it has been labeled by the EU institutions as a sustainable source of energy).

However, the unexplored potential of Ukrainian renewable energy is vast in terms of bio, hydro, solar, and wind outputs. As per the International Renewable Energy Agency, Ukraine’s onshore wind potential could go up to 320 gigawatts (GW), while solar up to 70 GW by 2030. As per the CEPS Policy Insights report, Ukraine’s floating and fixed offshore wind potential may extend up to 251GW in total. With the potential provided by the bio and hydro resources, Ukraine’s possibilities in providing renewable energy are immense. For comparison, Ukraine’s pre-war total power generation was measured at 60GW, of which 6.5GW was generated by renewable means.

Looking at these numbers, it can be said that Ukraine’s renewable energy production potential could be the main solution for the EU in order to reach its goals in the decarbonization effort, as has been highlighted by Zelensky. But the Russian destruction of Ukrainian energy infrastructure during the war put at stake the possibility of a fast recovery and installation of means of renewable energy production. 

What has to be done?

If the EU regards Ukraine’s key role in the process of the green revolution it has to make investment decisions as soon as possible. Yet, it would require not only an ordinary financial investment into the renewable energy sector of Ukraine but also a military investment. Military support would aid in a quicker recovery of the territory by Ukraine from Russian occupation. Indeed, the full energy potential of what is described on paper cannot be achieved in a country engaged in a full-scale war with a nuclear state. The recovery of the territory is ongoing and is unprecedentedly quick, even though it carries a high price at stake – human lives.  

According to the Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine, the current perspectives indicate that the war can end by the spring of next year in the form of a Ukrainian victory. It is a possibility that depends greatly on the input of military aid for Ukraine. Within this context of the situation, the given estimation gives a time frame for the EU and Member States to draft the plan of action concerning the decarbonization initiative for Ukraine and its implementation. As far as the implementation efforts are present, Ukraine can become a steady European partner in the decarbonization and divestment efforts as well as a steady producer of renewable energy on the European continent. 

This article was first published in the issue 37 of the magazine

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