One year on: How the Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven and damaged renewables
Following a year of isolation from Russian power supplies, governments across the globe have decided to invest in renewables. Smruthi Nadig investigates.
he Russian invasion of Ukraine disrupted global energy imports, resulting in a sudden price spike, and drew widespread condemnation from an international community hesitant to see war in Europe. In retaliation, many countries decided to ban supplies from Russia, leaving the country’s vast supplies of oil and gas unused, and forcing other countries to look elsewhere to meet their power needs.
Some countries used energy stored for emergencies, and some were forced to explore renewable options to produce power and electricity, as traditional power supply chains were disrupted. Natural gas prices in Europe increased by almost 70% following the invasion, and some countries imposed sanctions on Russia, which led to the latter country halting gas exports to EU member states. This fuelled an energy security crisis across Europe.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that the Russian energy supplies traded globally could fall from 20% in 2021 to 13% by 2030, raising questions as to how Russian and Ukrainian energy could be used in the future, and how Europe as a whole could be affected.
Rise in renewables
The IEA’s Renewables 2022 report said the global energy crunch has led to a global rise in renewable power installations. It estimates that the growth could double in the next five years, surpassing coal as the largest source of electricity generation.
Al Jazeera reported that research by think tanks E3G and Ember showed the growth in renewable power which helped European countries avoid massive amounts of gas costs during the war, with savings as high as $1bn.
Solar and wind energy powered a quarter of the EU’s electricity from March to September 2022, making it the highest recorded level, and around 19 EU member states recorded a sharp rise in renewable use. France’s use of renewables increased by 14%, Italy’s by 20%, Poland’s by 17%, and Spain’s by 35% since February 2022.
"Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth."
Faith Birol, IEA executive director said: “Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth as countries seek to capitalise on their energy security benefits. The world will add as much renewable power in the next five years as it did in the previous 20 years.
This is a clear example of how the current energy crisis can be a historic turning point towards a cleaner and more secure energy system. Renewables’ continued acceleration is critical to help keep the door open to limiting global warming to 1.5°C.”
Green attracts governments
UK-based law firm Ashurst survey showed that more than 20 major economies saw the energy crisis as an opportunity to speed up transitioning towards greener and cleaner energy. While the ban on Russian natural gas supplies has increased the demand for coal to produce heat and power generation – with Reuters reporting that this hampered the investment in solar and wind energy – this could prove to be a short-term consequence.
The report said that photovoltaic solar’s (solar PV’s) installed power capacity could potentially surpass coal by 2027. The forecasts show that the cumulative solar PV capacity could also triple to 1.5TW over the period, surpassing natural gas as the most significant power supplier by 2026, and coal by 2027. It also estimates an annual increase in solar PV capacity for the next five years.
"The cumulative solar PV capacity could also triple to 1.5TW over the period, surpassing natural gas as the most significant power supplier by 2026, and coal by 2027."
Utility-scale solar PV remains the least expensive option for generating electricity across many countries despite higher investment costs due to inflation. The IEA’s annual world energy outlook report said the investment in global clean energy could rise more than $2tn a year by 2030, equivalent to half of the current levels.
“Distributed solar PV, such as rooftop solar on buildings, is also set for faster growth due to higher retail electricity prices and growing policy support to help consumers save money on their energy bills,” the report reads.
Pushing the limits
European governments have committed $500bn to subsidise the energy industry and consumers, and while this is an impressive figure, there are concerns that governments will struggle to keep up this rate of investment into the future. Jonathan Stern, professor at the Oxford Institute for energy studies told Al Jazeera that European governments would not have enough money for more significant investments in renewable energy.
Stern said: “The lesson of the $500bn is that when governments become scared that people will lose their energy, they are prepared to commit almost any sum to prevent that.
“Ambitions need money, and one of the problems is that it looks like investments in renewables are slowing down, at least in many European countries. The way to fix that is for governments to go in and put the money to ensure it happens, but governments are short of money.”
"IEA forecasts show that the renewable capacity can expand up to 25% if governments across the globe address climate change, make policy changes and create funds for the same."
IEA forecasts show that the renewable capacity can expand up to 25% if governments across the globe address climate change, make policy changes and create funds for the same.
A number of countries within the EU have revised their government policies in order to meet climate targets, and finance a smoother transition towards going green. According to the previous year’s reports, Germany increased its spending on renewables by 30%, while Spain committed 60% more money to clean energy projects.
Germany increased its renewable electricity targets by introducing improved remuneration for distributed PV while reducing permitting timelines. At the same time, Spain granted permissions for setting up solar PV and wind plants, and also increased grid capacity for new renewable energy projects.
Renewables recovery in Ukraine
After the first three months of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the latter country’s electricity demand has continuously fallen. IEA data revealed that the size of the Ukrainian electricity market had dropped 40% since “with no sign of recovery,” as supply and demand have both been disrupted.
In retaliation, Ukraine suspended a gas route to Europe as Russian military forces had occupied parts of the country. Spanish news agency Reve reported that the war destroyed 90% of Ukraine’s wind capacity, and somewhere between 45%-50% of solar power.
Ukrainian minister of energy German Halushchenko said: “Green energy is probably the most affected sector because we have most of the capacities in the south of Ukraine.
“We had a strategy that envisaged by 2030 a share of ‘green’ energy in Ukraine’s energy balance of at least 25%,” he said.
"We had a strategy that envisaged by 2030 a share of ‘green’ energy in Ukraine’s energy balance of at least 25%."
In December 2022, Ukraine signed a two-year programme with the IEA “to help the country's energy system recover from the destruction” after what the Russian forces put the country through.
According to the IEA statement, the programme focuses on Ukraine’s short and long-term energy priorities. It aims to include hydrogen, renewables, power-system security and biogas, and cross-border initiatives such as these could prove to be critical as Ukraine looks to rebuild its energy infrastructure.
Galushchenko, concluded: “The transition to carbon-free energy is the cornerstone of the recovery of Ukraine's energy sector. Even as the war rages on, we are not discarding our original plans to develop renewable energy and contribute to the global push towards a green transition.”
// Main image: Snow in Ukraine. Credit: Savchuk Iryna via Shutterstock