The wastelands around Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant are about to begin their transformation into a large-scale solar power farm, capable of generating half the energy that Chernobyl did.
Solar power generation is the only way the no-go radiation zone around the disaster site can be used productively, as the land will not be fit for farming or anything else over the next few hundred years. Luckily, there is abundant sunshine in the area, making it easier to convince finance providers to fund such a project.
Initially, Ukraine’s Ecology Minister Ostap Semerak announced plans to turn Chernobyl into a solar farm in the middle of last year, saying 4 MW of solar power should be installed by the end of 2016, to bring the country’s total to over 570 MW from 453 MW as of end-June. Eventually, installed solar capacity should reach 1 GW, which would require US$1.1 billion in investments.
Now, Semerak has told VOA that a Ukrainian-German joint venture has made the first private investment—US$1.1 million—in the Chernobyl solar power project, planning a small installation of 1.5 MW which should be completed by the end of this month.
“The appearance of the first, albeit small, power plant evidences that the project is alive and may be followed by powerful investors, who are more inert and less mobile,” the minister said, probably referring to earlier announcements about the number of companies interested in the project. In January, the ministry said there were 39 potential bidders, of them 13 international firms. Now, Semerak says the number of bidders has grown to 50. Related: The Oil Crisis: An Ice Cream-Flavored Asteroid?
The area is attractive for investors: there is power transmission infrastructure in place and a feed-in-tariff system to be in effect until 2030, which stipulates a fixed price per kilowatt. The price is reduced annually, and for projects that go live this year it will be US$0.18 (0.17 euros). In addition, Ukraine has lowered the rates of renting state property in the area around Chernobyl by as much as 85 percent and has made the renting process simpler.
In short, Kiyv is doing everything it can to motivate investors to enter the Exclusion Zone around Chernobyl, which 31 years ago caused one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history, causing the deaths of several thousand people and rendering vast swathes of land unusable until the renewable energy option came along.
This option could, when fully realized, produce as much as 2.5 GW of electricity, Semerak told VOA. This equals half of what Chernobyl used to generate and will effectively reduce Ukraine’s dependence on Russian energy, which is a top priority for the country where corruption and an ongoing conflict with Russia have been its two defining characteristics over the last few years. Related: Tech Breakthroughs May Save Deepwater Oil
Changing from this into a potentially major renewables producer would only do Ukraine good, as long as the economic incentives for foreign investors work. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is another source of funding for renewables project, but the banks are wary of paying for a project in the no-go zone – after all, the solar farms there must be installed by people and then maintained by people.
This is a big challenge, since workers can only spend a limited amount of time in the radiation area, so shifts will be short. This means a larger workforce and higher expenses for the labor. Once the challenge of installing and operating the farms is solved, Ukraine could safely say it has took a step on the path to a major energy overhaul that will increase its independence from Russia.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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