Renewable Energy in Ukraine: A Solution for European Energy Security and for Shifting the EU GND Eastward
Ukrainian EU candidate status and the EU energy security crisis are simultaneous phenomena spurred by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The EU needs to—as fast as possible—move away from Russian gas and oil as primary energy sources. This involves the prospects of other sources of natural gas as well as the increased use of green energy.
Although the EU is vastly expanding domestic green energy production, it is still not developing fast enough to meet the goals set by the Fit for 55 or European Green Deal 2050 roadmaps, hence why the EU and its member states are analyzing the prospects of developing energy sharing networks with neighborhood countries such as Morocco.
However, another current neighborhood country with significant renewable energy potential is Ukraine. If we make two general assumptions, namely 1) that Ukraine is victorious in defending against the Russian invasion and 2) that the war is over within a year or two—a huge rebuilding project will begin. Furthermore, now that Ukraine has been given candidate status, investors in the EU and the US will be more likely to view investment in Ukraine as a valuable asset. The EU could then use investment in the rebuilding project to rapidly grow the high potential renewable energy sector in Ukraine and simultaneously aid in the EU’s quest for energy security.
The EU’s Energy Dilemma
Currently, the EU is experiencing its worst energy crisis since the oil embargo by OPEC countries in the 1970s. The previous crisis of the 70s caused soaring inflation and economic stagnation. Today, there are indications that the energy crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s subsequent dishonest dealings may cause a European-wide recession. In the past two months, Russia has publicly stated that it has been reducing gas flows (and eventually completely stopped them) due to scheduled “repairs” and missing parts conveniently being serviced in Canada. Yet, this is widely accepted to be a smokescreen for Russia attempting to punish Europe for its support of Ukraine. Europe has arrived at an energy and potential economic crisis much as it did in the 1970s—by over relying on an unreliable supplier. With Europe once again looking to completely restructure its energy portfolio—this time by cutting off its reliance on Russian gas and oil—it will need to formulate short-, medium-, and long-term solutions, where should not be the main sources of energy imports.
A central problem of this change in planning is that Russia was originally seen as one of the central fuel providers of the transition era. As Europe fully phased out coal, Russian natural gas was seen as a slightly cleaner fuel that would have been one of the primary sources used in the next 10-15 years to allow the EU to reduce carbon emissions while also providing more time to build the necessary infrastructure for renewable energy. Given that this is no longer the case, medium term solutions have taken upon a new urgency.
In the long term, Europe, of course, sees renewable energy as the source of energy independence. However, in its current state, the EU simply does not have the required level of solar and wind capacity to become completely energy independent. Because of this, member states have begun to agree to energy networks with third states, such as the green hydrogen-based agreement between Germany and Morocco. Yet, the deal has already proved to be unreliable, with Morocco pulling out and subsequently reentering the deal within the past year. Furthermore, two of the EU’s most significant challenges in its green energy future are energy storage and transport. Developing technologies are anticipated to aid in rectifying this issue but diversifying where and how green energy is produced within the union is one way to circumvent the issues of storage and transport in the first place.
How Ukraine Can Help Solve it
When Ukraine joins the European Union, it will have the largest land mass of any member state and have the bloc’s fifth largest population. The significance of the sheer scale of land that will be added to the union should not be underestimated. This land can be used for solar, biomass, and wind energy generation. It is estimated that Ukraine’s potential energy generation stands at 667GW, 251GW coming from offshore wind. To give context, today, the total installed power generation capacity of Ukraine is around 60GW, of which only 6.5GW is renewable. It has the capacity to export 3-4GW of energy with its power infrastructure at normal levels—enough energy to power 3 million homes. Although Ukraine will be using more energy when rebuilt, clearly there is still massive potential for the export of energy to member states.
Biomass / Biomethane
The most under-discussed green energy source in the EU’s renewable energy portfolio is biomass. It already powers 50 million homes in the union and encompasses 20% of the EU’s current renewable energy generation. Ukraine, due to its strong agrarian sector, can significantly contribute to the EU’s biomass energy industry. By 2050, Ukraine could develop up to 14 additional GW of biomass energy production at competitive prices.
There are several different kinds of biomass energy, the most powerful being that produced from wood. However, in Ukraine, the potential lies in its crops. Biomass can be produced from crops such as grain, sunflowers, and rapeseed—all crops grown in Ukraine en masse already. Moreover, this does not need to come at the expense of food crops designated for export if certain technologies are implemented. For instance, consider dual use solar panels. These panels are hoisted 14 feet above the ground by steel beams over the top of crops. They provide multiple practical uses. They protect crops from harsh sun by providing partial shade, they provide solar energy, and they make efficient use of space that would otherwise need to serve one purpose or the other. Several crops have proven to grow larger when the panels are constructed and lessen the chances of destruction due to extreme heat.
Furthermore, biomass can also be turned into biomethane through gasification. Biomethane is particularly interesting as a potential Ukrainian export because its makeup is very similar to that of natural gas. Therefore, much of the infrastructure already used for natural gas transportation to Europe through Ukraine could be used for biomethane energy.
Wind is the most substantial and promising source of renewable energy that Ukraine could add to the EU energy mix. Ukraine’s windswept territory could add 320GW of onshore wind energy and up to 251GW of offshore wind energy. Currently, the EU is falling behind on its wind energy commitments within the fit for 55 framework. The EU needs between 433-452GW of wind energy to meet its goal, but currently is only on track to 360GW of energy. Ukraine could help to fill that approximately 75GW gap, and in the years between 2030-2050 truly develop its potentially massive wind industry. Before the war, it was evident that the Ukrainian government needed to fully commit to incentivizing investment in wind energy if the renewable technology is to take off, and this should be taken into consideration once the war has concluded.
Ukraine’s solar capabilities are also exceptional and were standing at 60GW of potential by 2030 before the war had started. Ukraine had already installed 6.3GW of solar energy by the start of the war. Currently, many Ukrainian homes and small towns are using solar energy to keep the power on, since other electricity systems have been cut off by Russian military actions. Development can continue once the war is concluded, and since Ukrainian energy companies already have experience in building and implementing solar energy, it may be the most immediately available renewable energy for Ukraine to use and export.
Furthermore, a rush of investment into Ukrainian renewable energy can furnish the opportunity for emerging renewable technologies to be implemented at scale, such as the previously mentioned dual use solar panels. With the construction of Ukraine coming at a time where Europe is beginning to rapidly move towards renewables, there is a natural opportunity for emerging renewable energy technologies to have a chance at implementation. The adding of notable sources of green energy from Ukraine to the EU’s energy mix also aids in rectifying the issue of weather impacting energy farming. If energy transport services are developed, the impact of a significant weather event in Western Europe would be lessened by Ukraine’s ability to harvest energy and transport it to the west.
Ukraine as a candidate and eventual member state is a much more reliable partner in the long-term than partner states with no true prospect of membership or third states with undemocratic governments. If energy producers within its own territorial bounds misbehave or encounter a crisis, the EU has tools to confront the problem. A third state with malign intent, such as Russia or the OPEC states in the 70s would no longer be able to threaten Europe’s economy with a shutoff of supplies.
How to Fit Ukraine into Short- and Long-Term EU Energy Frameworks
Fit for 55
Now that the new taxonomy bill has been passed through the European parliament and includes both natural gas and nuclear energies, it is even easier for Ukraine to help the EU with its transition in the short and medium term. In order for Ukraine’s export of nuclear energy to reach its short-term potential, cross-border capacities need to be increased. This includes the synchronization of Ukraine’s energy network with the ENTSO-E (European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity.) However, these energy sources should not be the long-term solution. The EU Fit for 55 program states that the EU’s carbon emissions will be at 50% of 1990 levels by 2030. Currently, the EU is not developing renewable energy in key sectors fast enough to reach that goal. In the wind energy sector, the EU is on pace to fall 20% below its targeted production capacity. If a quick bidding and permitting process is enacted, by the end of the decade Ukraine can begin to close that gap. The same can be said for solar energy. In the meantime, Ukraine can continue to export nuclear energy to member states.
Ukraine also has the second most abundant natural gas deposits in Europe, behind Norway. Due to the past transport of Russian gas through Ukraine, much of the infrastructure needed to transport this gas to Europe is already constructed. Although these gas reserves pale in comparison to those of Russia, they would help Europe fill some of the gap left by Europe’s abandonment of Russian gas as the fuel of the transition era.
European Green New Deal 2050
The EU aims to be completely carbon neutral by 2050. Where Ukraine can become a game changer in the EU’s long-term plan is with its wind energy. By 2050, the EU plans to have 300GW of installed offshore wind energy to reach its current targets. Ukraine’s Black Sea offshore wind energy potential of 251GW almost reaches that goal on its own. Ukraine’s onshore wind potential is also a complete gamechanger. The 320GW of onshore wind generation is enough for the EU to change their overall strategy when it comes to the development of wind energy in the union.
Moving the European Green New Deal 2050 Eastward
As talk surrounding reconstruction of Ukraine has gained steam, Ukrainians themselves have started to use the prospect of green energy to garner interest and investment. This is critically important, as it will help push a narrative of moving the EU GND eastward.
In general, Eastern member states have been less committed to making quick drastic changes for the green transition. Often, this is framed as a strategy for their development; they want to burn cheap fossil fuels in order to develop to the level of the western member states. However, this is slowly changing. The introduction of and recent agreement to increase the EU Just Transition Fund has proved that the EU is willing to help finance CEE countries’ more difficult transitions. Countries such as Poland have rapidly increased their renewable energy development. However, there remains an issue of ownership over the transition. The move towards green energy needs to be viewed as something that all corners of the EU are invested in together, instead of something that western member states are forcing on their eastern neighbors. Renewable energy development in Ukraine could be a solution to this problem.
Despite warnings of “Ukraine fatigue,” the support for Ukraine throughout Europe is still strong and widespread. This is especially true in eastern member states, where support for Ukraine is expressed by vast majorities of the populations (beyond the usual exceptions of Hungary and Bulgaria). A green postwar reconstruction of Ukraine in which workers in eastern member states contribute by building the infrastructure to make the energy exports most effective would be one way to give eastern member states more ownership of the green transition. This infrastructure could then also be used to support the increased green energy production of the eastern member states themselves, giving more incentive to build solar, biomass, and wind energy farms.
Creating a narrative of using green energy to construct a more prosperous and independent Ukraine after the conclusion of the Russian invasion could prove invaluable for the EU’s future energy security. Mobilizing the eastern member states by creating a crux of focus for the European Green New Deal on Ukraine could become a serious accelerator towards realizing the EU’s desire for energy security and carbon neutrality.
Ukrainian renewable energy development does not solve Europe’s problem of energy security alone, but it would mean a giant stride towards making it a reality. The vast windswept territory and its Black Sea coastline offer an enormous source of wind energy that can help power Europe. Ukraine’s solar and biomass potential can also add significant energy resources to the union. Overall, swift renewable energy development in Ukraine helps the EU solve two fundamental problems of its transition. First, is the pure lack of land to develop the necessary energy for independence. If Ukraine’s energy potential is realized, the EU would be less vulnerable to countries outside its borders threatening to divert solar or wind energy. Second, it can convince eastern member states to become more committed to a faster green transition. If Ukraine continues to vocalize its desire to center green energy in its development, then it is likely eastern member states will follow suit and support Ukraine’s desires.
In order for this to become a reality, the European Union and its member states must take significant steps before and during postwar construction of Ukraine. The following are a set of recommendations that would aid in making the potential outlined in this policy brief a reality.
- The European Commission needs to make a formal written statement on the renewable energy potential of Ukraine.
- The Ukrainian government should publish materials for policymakers that show how the renewable potential for the EU changes when Ukraine is included.
- The Ukrainian government and European Commission should jointly work on the creation of promotional materials and information for green investors.
- Framing matters, and the postwar construction of Ukraine needs to be framed as just that---a “construction”---not a “reconstruction.”
- Western member states and the European Commission should engage with eastern member states to encourage them to be on the frontlines of promoting a green construction of Ukraine.
- The Ukrainian government, with the help of the EU, should develop streamlined, transparent bidding and permitting processes for both foreign and Ukrainian companies to build renewable energy farms and infrastructure in Ukraine.
*authored by Joseph Fraley
 Leonard, Mark, et al. “The Geopolitics of the European Green Deal.” European Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 2021.
 IRENA, Joanneum Research and University of Ljubljana (2017), Cost-Competitive Renewable Power Generation: Potential across South East Europe, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Abu Dhabi.
 Kustova, Irina, and Christian Egenhofer. “How Black Sea Offshore Wind Power Can Deliver a Green Deal for This EU Region.” CEPS, 9 Oct. 2020, https://www.ceps.eu/ceps-publications/how-black-sea-offshore-wind-power-can-deliver-a-green-deal-for-this-eu-region/.
 Ukrainian Wind Energy Association, “Wind Power of Ukraine 2021.”
 GLOBSEC Trends 2022