An Integrated Ukraine and a Clean Energy Europe
Since the February 2022 invasion, Europe’s energy landscape has changed dramatically as Western leaders impose sanctions on Russian exports and scramble to find alternate energy supplies. As Europe transitions away from Russian gas and oil, Ukraine is in a favorable position to integrate itself with the European market and strengthen its economy via energy exports to Europe. Moreover, part of the integration process might include expanding nuclear energy.
Integration with Europe
Just as the war broke out, Ukraine disconnected itself from Russia’s energy grid. The partnership was an artifact from the Soviet era, but meant that Russia could still control Ukraine’s electricity. During the first weeks of the war, Ukraine was an “electricity island” and unable to import additional electricity if needed. This was risky because it meant that if enough of its infrastructure was damaged, Ukraine would not have had enough electricity to power its country, nor be able to import electricity from abroad.
On March 16, Ukraine joined Europe’s continental power grid, which is the world’s largest synchronous electrical grid. The EU’s European Commissioner for Energy stated, “This will help Ukraine to keep their electricity system stable, homes warm and lights on during these dark times.” The action furthered Ukraine’s integration with Europe and increased grid integrity, meaning that national blackouts are less likely.
Since the outbreak of the war, Ukraine’s demand for electricity has decreased. In late June, Ukraine began to export excess electricity to ENTSO-E via an interconnection with Romania. This is a monumental feat for all of Europe because it delivers cheap, cleaner energy to Europe and separates Europe from Russia. Energy trade with Europe also provides Ukraine with a steady source of revenue. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shymhal predicts that energy trade has the potential to bring in more than 70 million hryvnia (2.3 million dollars) per year and become a key “driver” of postwar economic recovery.
Global Energy Crisis
This past year, the cost of energy in Europe has increased dramatically. The war has exacerbated energy shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent supply chain disruptions, further increasing the cost of energy in a ‘global energy crisis.’
Historically, Europe has been dependent on Russia for sourcing its energy. Russia, an energy superpower, has the world’s largest gas reserves, second largest coal reserves, and eight largest oil reserves in the world, and is heavily financially dependent on energy exports. Putin maintains that Europe cannot function without Russian energy, predicting “catastrophic consequences” on the global energy market.
Many experts consider divestment from Russian energy an opportunity for Europe to accelerate its transition towards clean energy. The European Union’s External Energy Strategy proposes to increase the use of solar and wind energy
Ukraine’s Energy Portfolio
Ukraine has four nuclear power plants, with a total of 15 reactors. They provide about half of Ukraine’s electricity. While nuclear energy is not 100% ‘clean,’ it is considered a much cleaner source of energy compared to fossil fuels, like coal or oil. Nuclear reactors do not produce carbon dioxide emissions.
Additionally, Ukraine is home to one of the largest natural gas deposits in Europe, second after Norway. The consumption of natural gas creates significantly less carbon dioxide and pollutants than other fossil fuels, but its extraction via fracking still disrupts the environment. Natural gas wells also can leak methane.
Renewable energy is also rapidly growing in Ukraine as the country becomes less reliant on coal and oil.
Future of Clean Energy in Ukraine
In 2017, Ukraine set a goal to expand its share of renewable energy to 25% by 2035. Many speculate about how the war will affect Ukraine’s transition to renewables. Some policy analysts have proposed that Ukraine should approach war reconstruction as “a historic opportunity” to build a “more-sustainable” Ukraine, fighting climate change through electric vehicles and solar panels. It is unclear as to who might fund such an endeavor, however.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear agency, recently signed a deal with the U.S. nuclear company Westinghouse that would supply Ukrainian power plants with American fuel. The plants previously relied on Russian uranium to operate. Westinghouse also plans to build up to nine new nuclear units and an engineering hub in Ukraine after the war ends, increasing Ukaine’s nuclear output. Energoatom President Petro Kotin said, “We will not only write a new chapter in the history of Ukraine’s nuclear energy, but also make an important contribution to the energy independence of Europe.”