24th Sep 2023


Ukraine's 2035 coal phase-out needs concrete plan now

  • Much of Ukraine's coal infrastructure lies in ruins. Plants have been destroyed or damaged, and many mines in territories occupied or shelled by Russia since 2014 are flooded (Photo: Yaroslav Maltsev)
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In June, at a side event to the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London, Ukraine's deputy minister of energy, Yaroslav Demchenkov, restated the country's determination to close all of its state-owned coal plants by 2035.

The plan was first announced in 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow — just months before Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

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Russia has since pounded Ukraine's energy infrastructure, exposing deep vulnerabilities to its centralised power system.

According to the Energy Charter Secretariat, "no European power system has ever suffered, endured and withstood such large-scale destruction, including during the first and second world wars''. As of February this year, the cost of damage to Ukraine's energy sector was estimated at $10bn [€9.2bn].

Much of Ukraine's coal infrastructure lies in ruins. Plants have been destroyed or damaged, and many mines in territories occupied or shelled by Russia since 2014 are flooded.

Given the extent of the damage, and Ukraine's historic dependence on Russia for coal, gas and nuclear fuel, rebuilding Ukraine's soviet-era energy infrastructure is out of the question.

Ukraine's energy minister German Galushchenko recently told Bloomberg Green: "It is very important to decentralise our power generation. The obvious solution is renewables."

Rapid investments in solar, wind and heat pumps present the most cost-effective, short-term and future-proof solution. Small-scale solar can be installed in a matter of days, and grid-scale projects can be online within one to two years. Incredibly, Ukraine has installed more onshore wind than England in the last year.

Several examples demonstrate the impact of these systems. When the heating system of the Horenka village hospital near Kyiv was severely damaged by a Russian shell, a group of NGOs installed solar panels, providing 60 percent of its power, and a heat pump, reducing heating costs by 80 percent.

A clinic in Zhytomyr Oblast also installed solar panels to power ventilators in its intensive care units, reducing the risk of power outages during life-saving treatments.

By rapidly installing solar, wind and heat pumps, Ukraine can simultaneously plug the holes in its energy supplies now, and establish the basis for a decentralised, fully renewables-based power system fit for the future.

This approach needs to be combined with a focus on energy efficiency.

Ukraine's economy is far more energy-intensive than the EU average, proving a big drag on precious energy resources during a time of war. Boosting energy efficiency across all sectors should be a central focus of its reconstruction.

In contrast, charting a strategy based upon fossil fuels or nuclear projects would be far too slow, extremely costly, and would scare off potential backers, fearful of investing in vulnerable assets with high potential to become stranded.

Post-coal roadmap needed now

Ukraine's government now needs to set out how it plans to exit coal.

This will demonstrate to European partners — many of whom recently approved Kyiv's application for EU candidate status — that it is serious about alignment with EU sustainability principles, climate targets and regulation, and will also enable local authorities to begin planning projects in detail.

Thankfully, Ukraine isn't working from a standing start.

Discussions about a just transition beyond coal have been ongoing since 2019, and local authorities are very aware of the need to plan the closure and rehabilitation of their coal plants and mines, and to provide alternative education and employment opportunities, and safety nets for workers. Some projects are underway, while many more are in the planning. Now they need detailed national decarbonisation plans to align with.

Key to this is a well designed National Energy and Climate Plan with just transition as a key pillar. Ukraine should complete this by mid-2024. This requires proper open consultations with local authorities, civil society organisations and key experts.

While Russia's invasion has exposed the weaknesses of Ukraine's centralised power system, the rapid distribution of solar, wind and heat pump technologies is helping to keep Ukraine in the fight.

Quick to install, cost-effective and future-proof, green reconstruction based upon renewable systems and energy efficiency is the right plan for the climate, Ukraine's national security, its economic recovery, and integration with the EU.

By aligning itself with the 23 other European nations that have already committed to phasing out coal, Ukraine is signalling to the world that it intends to play its part in climate action, while also signposting to investors that Ukraine is open for green business, and that it sees its future as a green energy superpower, supplying clean power and sustainable energy technologies to partners in the EU.

Author bio

Anna Ackerman is a board member of Ecoaction and policy analyst at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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