Recharging Chernobyl: Solar power brings new life to old land

The Chernobyl disaster is widely recognised as the worst nuclear power station disaster. More than thirty years on, however, the site is back producing energy for Ukraine.

This time, the electricity is being generated by solar power instead of nuclear.

An emergency power unit of the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear station, metallic and rusty against a blue sky.

Thanks to an ambitious project by Rodina, the site of the former nuclear power station is being repurposed for renewable energy generation. The initial project is a 1 MW installation, comprised of 3,800 photovoltaic panels.

The project is the start of a proposed 100 MW worth of renewable generation capacity to be built on the disused site. The company behind the project operates a larger solar farm in neighbouring Belarus which also falls inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

At the heart of the Exclusion Zone sits the former nuclear powerplant. Around it lies approximately 1,000 square miles of land that is otherwise unusable due to radioactive contamination. It is uninhabitable for an estimated 24,000 years and cannot be used for agriculture.

However, Chernobyl is an ideal location for renewable energy generation.

An aerial view of residential buildings in the uninhabited exclusion zone around Chernobyl power station. A forest has grown up around abandonded apartment blocks.

The project is just the latest example of the growth of renewable energy in Ukraine. In 2017, just 1.2% of the country’s energy came from renewable sources. It is aiming for 11% by 2020, and 19% by 2030.

Ukraine already has several hydropower generators, as well as a growing solar power, biomass and fledgling wind power industry.  You can see a map of some of the country’s installed renewable energy capacity on the Ukrainian Association of Renewable Energy website.

Research carried out by Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences has even suggested that it would be possible for the country to get 90% of its energy from renewable sources, according to a report in the Kyiv Post, an English-language Ukrainian newspaper.

As such, there is plenty of room for improvement, and there are plans in place to get to a cleaner future.

Roadmap to 2050

Ukraine’s action to reduce its environmental impact has been labelled “critically insufficient” by Climate Action Tracker, a scientific consortium which tracks global warming. As such, Ukraine is looking to shift away from gas and nuclear towards flexible renewable energy.

A deserted building with broken windows in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, against a clear blue sky. The surrounding area is overgrown with trees and greenery.

A Deloitte report notes that the government has implemented a strong Feed-in-Tariff to encourage investment in renewable energy, which is slowly helping to increase the amount of energy generated by clean sources.

It is hoped that this, and a wider range of policies promoting sustainable generation, will lead to a “substantial intensification of renewable energy sources”. Additionally, a 2015 report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has demonstrated the extent to which Ukraine could benefit from renewable energy sources.

The path for the future is clear and reinventing the lands around the former Chernobyl power station is the first step along the way.