On February 24, 2018, Ukraine gained full membership of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an organization that accumulates the best international experience and possesses a unique knowledge base on new technologies and trends in their introduction in the field of renewable energy. What prospects does this open to our state? Will it be possible to rely on significant loans to develop this promising area? What is the situation with the Chornobyl zone? Ukrinform spoke about these issues with Gurbuz Gonul, Acting Director of Country Support and Partnerships at IRENA.
Ukraine became a fully-fledged member of IRENA. Can you please tell if the organization often welcomes new members? In general, do you think that the popularity of IRENA in the world is growing with its ambitious plans to combat global climate change?
The Agency’s growth, since establishment, has been remarkable. With Ukraine now a member, our total membership is 155 countries (154 plus the European Union), with a further 25 states in accession, and we are expecting to welcome two further members in the next few months.
This growth is representative of the importance of renewable energy to the future of sustainable economic development around the world. It’s clear that we are living through a time of extraordinary change that is reshaping the way we think, live and work, and bringing new and transformative opportunities that will revitalize economies and lift people out of poverty. The pace of this change will only accelerate, as technology improves and the urgency to decarbonize the energy system in line with the Paris Agreement gathers momentum. Navigating such profound change requires careful planning and smart forward thinking policy-making, which is why countries are increasingly turning to organizations such as IRENA to help them chart a pathway to long-term prosperity.
According to the latest figures, only 1.5% of the general capacity of electric generation in Ukraine is produced from renewable energy sources. Besides, almost 1% comes from hydropower which is more of traditional generation in Ukraine. Therefore, what is the category in which IRENA can place Ukraine, if such a categorization in general exists among IRENA-members? What are the consequences?
Every member of IRENA is equal regardless of the size of their economy or of their progress in the field of renewable energy. The rights and benefits a member with an established and mature renewable energy industry has the same rights and level of involvement as a country with little or no existing renewables experience. In that respect, Ukraine is no different to any other member, and we welcome them to the Agency with great enthusiasm because the country has tremendous potential to deploy vast amounts of cost-effective renewable energy. In addition, please note that a core component of IRENA’s work is building tailored support programs with countries that address its specific needs and development goals.
When we talk about the realistic goals of Ukraine acquiring membership in IRENA, specialists from IRENA have already made some significant work when they wrote the REMAP 2030: Renewable Energy Prospects for Ukraine in 2015. Why were so many efforts made in the analysis of a country that is not even a member of IRENA?
The Agency has already enjoyed a promising level of engagement with Ukraine, even before it became a full member. Following the REmap, IRENA also included Ukraine in a report “Cost-competitive Renewable Power Generation: Potential across South East Europe”. In addition, in 2017, representatives from Ukraine participated in the workshop on renewable energy auctions organized jointly with the Energy Community Secretariat in Vienna, and in the wood energy statistics workshop in Budapest, in 2016.
IRENA does actively engage with a number of non-member nations from time to time and often at the request of current members – which is a demonstration of the Agency’s unique ability to serve as the principle platform for cooperation and dialogue on energy transformation.
A renewable energy roadmap in Ukraine at the time served as an important strategic assessment of the country’s ability to support a number of social and economic development pillars at a national level, whilst strengthening energy security and promoting energy independence.
In the context of Ukraine's joining the IRENA organization, people often talk about the access to the Abu Dhabi funds that finance "green" projects in member countries. But can we expect a big impact from the financial means amid absence of a coherent policy on supporting the projects of renewable energy sources at the national level? Or, are we too harsh and the "green" tariff that is currently working is already a sufficient condition for further development in the sector?
IRENA’s partnership with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development is designed to address one of the primary barriers to renewable energy development currently – access to financing, which often stifles the growth of renewable energy in developing countries despite the vast resource endowment many of these countries enjoy. Ukraine included.
Connected to that is the importance of stable, predictable and enabling policy and regulatory frameworks, because they provide important investment certainty and promote capital flows. In Ukraine today, the high cost of capital is significantly and adversely impacting the competitiveness of renewable energy and is a consequence of the need to strengthen the framework of policy support. For instance, our analysis shows that Ukraine has the cost-effective potential to deploy nearly 120 GW of wind power, despite the high cost of capital and it possesses further potential for up to 320 GW of wind and 70 GW of solar PV by 2030 if more stable frameworks are provided and borrowing costs come down. The tariff is a good start, however support measures such as well-designed PPAs, improved grid capacity and the establishment of a long-term stable framework, are equally important steps.
As far as we know, IRENA has two headquarters – one in the UAE and a technical one in Germany. Does the organization consider its expansion? What does Ukraine need to do in order to have an official representative office in Ukraine?
IRENA is headquartered in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with offices in Bonn, Germany – the home of the Agency’s Innovation and Technology Centre, and New York. The agency conducts its operations with member countries through focal points, either within a Ministry – often the Ministry of Energy, or through an Embassy. IRENA has no plans to establish any further offices outside of this.
When we talk about switching problems to opportunities, the Ukrainian government does a lot (and talks a lot more) with regard to the use of significant potential in the area near the Chornobyl nuclear power plant as a site for development of solar energy. Do the IRENA's member countries have similar situations and how realistic it is to expect success from such an idea? Can experts from the organization analyze the advantages and disadvantages of such an experiment?
Ukraine’s plans to explore the potential of renewable energy on the Chornobyl site appear to make sense for a number of very practical reasons. Firstly, because the area around the site is unsuitable for almost anything else, so the land is inexpensive and utilizing it for renewable energy power generation is seen as a positive and productive use of the site. The land also has much of the grid infrastructure still in place, which would again support its suitability to further power generation. Finally, it would offer the country a chance to reframe its energy narrative, and chart a positive, practical and safe future for its power production and for that site, in particular. Japan has stated similar ambitions for its Fukushima site and plans are underway to upgrade its grid infrastructure in order to transform it into a pioneer for renewable energy.