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The changed geopolitical situation in Ukraine has led to an energy crisis, and the country is now at a crossroads: sticking with coal and nuclear power or investing in renewables?
It is transition time in Ukraine. While Sweden is deciding on its green energy mix by 2040 and Switzerland is to hold a referendum on decommissioning of all nuclear units, Ukraine is struggling to step away from the traditional track and move toward a greener future, together with the rest of the world.
All the conditions seem to be perfect for change: the coal crisis that came with the occupation of the Donbas region (the country’s main source of “domestic” coal) in Eastern Ukraine undermined secure access to coal and at the same time helped Ukraine to get rid of multi-billion subsidies to the sector; the ageing nuclear power fleet which is dependent on nuclear fuel produced in Russia had mostly reached the end of its design life; struggles to meet demand for natural gas and oil; ageing of all the energy system infrastructure and a need for total reconstruction. There could be no better time to start tackling all these problems with one simple solution – 100 per cent domestic renewable energy sources. This solution would also address other vulnerabilities: economic restructuring and development, employment, and the social and natural environments.
It is difficult to believe, but the Ukrainian energy ministry is acting as if the events of recent years are insignificant – as if there is no problem obtaining nuclear fuel and as if Donbas is still a secure source of coal.
Admittedly attempts have been made to find alternative sources of coal for import (e.g. South Africa), to find other sources of nuclear fuel assemblies (e.g. from Sweden) to achieve a diversification level of at least 50 per cent, and to keep natural gas imports from Russia to zero. These would be acceptable solutions if there were no alternatives and there were no problems with the existing generating facilities. But there are! The country cannot rely on existing generating capacities as they are too old and unsafe. Besides, changing the source of imports does not make the country’s energy system secure. This is especially true for nuclear power, since it is not clear when Westinghouse will be able to manufacture enough nuclear fuel to replace the Russian fuel.
The alternative is clear and more achievable than ever before. Ukraine can become energy independent by turning to renewable sources. Even if this is not done for environmental reasons, the simple struggle to achieve energy independence should be good enough reason to put every effort into restructuring the energy system.
The Ukrainian government’s own actions could set a fine example of the dramatic changes that happen once tough policy decisions are made. The country has finally started to act to improve its energy efficiency. In 1995 the Ukrainian president officially proclaimed energy efficiency to be the priority for energy sector development. But nothing happened until last year when the government (under international pressure) finally decreased subsidies for the energy sector, so that saving energy made finally some economic sense.
What could Ukraine’s energy future look like?
Scientists have shown that a transition toward 100 per cent renewables by 2050 for Ukraine is possible. According to the latest research by NeoCarbonEnergy (2016), within 20 years solar and wind energy sources could dominate the country’s power mix, with all coal generation capacity phased out.
The government does not yet consider setting such a long-term goal and taking the first steps to achieve it. It is still struggling with meeting its energy community obligation to provide 11 per cent from renewable energy by 2020. However, ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement, a range of international obligations which Ukraine undertook, as well as the costs of renewables in the world are stimulating the country to implement more environmentally-sound policies and draw attention to the issues of energy efficiency and the need for renewables.
The circumstances are putting the current energy system and its owners under pressure: to modernise and to change. It’s only a question of time before all the drawbacks of conventional energy sources are carefully evaluated and the goal to phase out conventional energy sources will become a confirmed national target. The question is: How much more time and money will we lose before the mind shift will happen?
National Ecological Center of Ukraine
Case study: Trypillia coal-fired power plant
The 1,800 MW Trypillia coal-fired power plant, 40 km south of Kiev, is the fourth largest in all of Ukraine. Greenpeace has studied and calculated the impacts of the pollution emissions from the power plant on local and regional air quality and health using US EPA and WHO guidelines. The emissions from the power plant elevate the levels of toxic particles, SO2 and NO2 in the air over entire central Ukraine, with some of the worst impacts felt in Kiev due to prevalent wind patterns. Exposure to these pollutants increases the risk of diseases such as stroke, lung cancer, heart and respiratory diseases in adults, as well as respiratory symptoms in children. This can lead to premature deaths from these causes. SO2, NOx and dust emissions contribute to toxic particle exposure. Importantly, the modelling system is capable of simulating the chemical transformation of SO2 and NOx emissions into secondary PM2.5 pollution in the atmosphere, a very important impact pathway that is usually neglected in Environmental Impact Assessments and regulatory processes.
The estimated health impacts due to PM2.5 exposure are 1,250 premature deaths per year. The estimated number of babies born with a low birth weight due to the emissions is 440.
For PM2.5, which is the biggest health concern, the largest impacts take place to the east and to the northwest of the power plant – in the direction of Kiev. Because of the large population exposed, increases in pollution levels over Kiev have significant implications for health.
In the most-affected locations, the emissions from the Trypillia coal-fired power plant can increase daily average PM2.5 levels by up to 15 μg/m3, or 70 per cent above annual average levels, in worst-case conditions. Local SO2 and NO2 levels can be affected very dramatically during unfavourable wind conditions, with daily SO2 concentrations of up to 80 μg/m3 and NO2 concentrations of up to 10 μg/m3 projected within 10 kilometres of the power plant, and SO2 concentrations of up to 20 μg/m3 within 20 km. The SO2 levels in particular can cause respiratory symptoms.
Air quality and health impacts of the Trypillia coal-fired power plant near Kiev http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/Global/eastasia/publications/campaign...
Average PM2.5 levels in Ukraine (μg/m3)1. No official PM2.5 measurement data was available in the study region, but satellite-based observations indicate that average PM2.5 levels in and around Kiev are among the highest in Ukraine and substantially exceed the World Health Organization guideline of 10 μg/m3.
1 Visualized from: van Donkelaar, A., R.V Martin, M.Brauer, N. C. Hsu, R. A. Kahn, R. C Levy, A. Lyapustin, A. M. Sayer, and D. M Winker, Global Estimates of Fine Particulate Matter using a Combined Geophysical-Statistical Method with Information from Satellites, Models, and Monitors, Environ. Sci. Technol, doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b05833, 2016.