Energy is key to Ukraine’s response to climate change

UNDP Eurasia
May 19 · 7 min read

by Dafina Gercheva, Resident Representative at UNDP Ukraine

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Animation: Sera Sezer / UNDP

Editor’s note: As we move from immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic to talking about recovery, we are given a chance to return with a greener, more sustainable future — one that will require all hands on deck, from the citizen to the business to the government. UNDP Ukraine has been working on just such an initiative for renewable energy and it can serve as a lesson for others to take as they start looking towards post-crisis response.

New inequalities are being triggered by technology and climate change, and they are increasingly determining people’s opportunities in the 21st century. These two seismic shifts, if left without a response, could undermine democracy and jeopardize sustainable development.

Climate change does not respect borders and affects every living creature on earth. It’s easy for individuals to feel overwhelmed at the sheer scale of this phenomenon.

But just as the climate crisis was created by companies, individuals, communities and countries doing (damaging) things, the key to solving it means all sides doing (better) things as well.

Ukrainians are well aware of climate change issues: According to social surveys, 80 percent consider climate change a serious problem for Ukraine. However only one in five rank this problem higher than other environmental issues like air and water pollution, waste management, or deforestation. But international climate movements have found support from local NGOs and young people who share their values, organizing campaigns on climate change and renewable energy.

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Energy efficiency measures are among the most popular eco-conscious actions Ukrainians say they are likely to take, or already have taken. In 2018, one in five Ukrainians said improving energy efficiency was one of the main environmental actions that should be taken. In 2020, this number had risen by 50 percent, and now almost a third are open to insulating their houses and installing heating meters, energy efficient windows and lightning systems (although the main incentive for doing this is probably to reduce energy bills).

Solar power is also a hot topic. Ukrainians are not only starting to install solar panels, but are also investing in small-scale solar power stations to generate electricity for their own use, as well as to make income from selling their extra electricity back to the grid.

Renewable energy cooperatives are also now a reality in Ukraine. Last year, the first of three solar power stations was installed in the town of Slavutych by the Solar Town energy cooperative, funded through crowdfunding. All of the stations’ shareholders are ordinary people from Slavutych and other regions. The price of a share in the project was about $500 — quite a reasonable sum for a private investment in solar energy in Ukraine.

Recognizing these trends, as UNDP in Ukraine takes a multi-pronged approach to tackling the issue of climate change, we are looking at energy as an entry point.

We’re focusing on enhancing energy security through promoting investments in energy efficiency in public and private buildings and encouraging the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind power and biomass for generating heat and electricity.

Ukraine is among the top ten most energy-intensive economies in the world — the amount of energy used to generate a dollar of GDP is three times higher than the average in the EU. Compounding that problem is the fact that so much of Ukraine’s energy is generated from fossil fuels — 70 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy sector. Moreover, high energy intensity coupled with aging and inefficient heating systems and heavy dependency on imports of gas and oil poses a real threat to energy security.

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Over the past decade, Ukraine has made some progress in enhancing energy efficiency in public and private buildings. And one way we’re contributing to that is to mobilize Ukrainian homeowners and motivate them to improve energy efficiency in the buildings where they live. Our HOUSES project (Home Owners of Ukraine for Sustainable Energy Solutions, in partnership with the EU) supports the creation of Home Owners Associations*, which will develop energy efficiency improvement projects and apply for financing to the Ukrainian Energy Efficiency Fund, recently established by the Government.

Effectively, the project created links in an organizational chain stretching from individual homeowners to the level of the state, and since this chain has the aim of improving energy efficiency it helps in tackling multiple problems — Ukraine’s inefficient use of energy, its energy dependence and the need for infrastructure improvements, which in turn impacts the over-arching problem of climate change.

Over the lifetime of the HOUSES project, nearly half-a-million Ukrainians should benefit financially from incorporating new energy efficiency measures, and over one million will better understand efficiency issues and the choices we can make. That’s a lot of individuals, their actions linked together by one project, who together WILL make a difference.

But what about public buildings, where ownership (and responsibility) does not belong to a single person or entity, but is in essence shared by the public through the medium of the state?

Here we, along with the Global Environment Facility support, are taking a different approach, through using what is called the “ESCO” modality. We’re facilitating the collaboration between energy service companies (that’s what ESCO stands for) and the state to increase energy efficiency in public buildings. Energy service companies receive commercial loans to implement energy-saving projects. The benefit for the building owners is that they don’t invest in retrofits; the investments are made by ESCO companies, who are then repaid from the energy savings achieved. Newly established energy monitoring systems will gauge the results and ensure that gains are retained.

The project is vital because it’s estimated that 50 percent of the energy that goes to heat Ukraine’s 78,000 public buildings is simply wasted due to poor insulation, out-of-date heating systems, and the like, according to the State Agency on Energy Efficiency and Energy Saving of Ukraine data hence the immense potential to generate savings, protect the people and the planet, and ensure better use of public money.

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And it’s not just heating energy that’s the target of savings — Ukraine’s building sector consumes an estimated 25 percent of all the electricity used in Ukraine, so even measures such as replacing old lighting with new, energy-efficient bulbs falls under the project’s remit. That’s where the energy monitoring systems come in — they are used to identify leakages of energy, from unnecessary continuous lighting to poor wall insulation to draughty windows and doors.

Through simple energy savings measures, done via private investment (by ESCOs), the project is achieving impressive savings both in terms of money for local budgets and in savings on emissions of greenhouse gases. For example, through one such project, the town of Chortkiv lowered its electricity consumption in public buildings in 2018 by 111.5-megawatt hours, or 4.9 percent, which translates into a reduction of 26.1 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Such savings, replicated across Ukraine, would soon add up, and translate into a measurable impact on Ukraine’s energy use and economic statistics. But with similar efforts from other countries, this will start to have an impact on climate change. Part of the purpose of the ESCO project is indeed to blaze a trail for others to follow, introducing a replicable approach for towns and cities across the country to implement.

With just these two examples from our work from here in Ukraine, you can see how the actions of individuals can indeed make a difference — it just takes a bit of organization to get people, companies, organizations and governments working together towards the same goals. Climate change is not irreversible, and we know what we have to do to limit its effects.

It’s time for us to act now, since time is of essence!

* UNDP Ukraine used this network — which includes 24 coordinators, 344 local authorities and nearly 4,000 homeowners’ associations — to help fight the COVID-19 virus and get urgent health information to nearly 2 million people.

If you liked this story, check out another one about solar power in the Turkmenistan desert.

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