Chernobyl's exclusion zone to be revived with solar

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30 years after the Chernobyl accident, the Ukrainian government aims to give a new renewable life to thousands hectares of the exclusion zone in the northern part of the country. While long-lasting radiation makes the area unfit for human habitation, agriculture or forestry, its cheap land and remaining electric transmission facilities can be used for solar power generation.

“Land and transmission line connection are the most expensive parts of any solar project, and we have both of them here,” general director of the Chernobyl plant Igor Gramotkin told local news outlets in April, when the country was commemorating the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster.

At the end of June, Ukraine’s minister of the environment and natural resources Ostap Semerak presented country’s plans for the revival of the exclusion zone at Canada-Ukraine Business Forum in Toronto. After the forum, he announced that a number of Canadian investors are looking at developing solar and biofuel power plants near Chernobyl.

Semerak also noted that the implementation of such projects requires new legislation in terms of allocation of land in the exclusion zone. “We expect that this issue will be fully settled by the end of the current session of Parliament. In early June, the corresponding bill already passed a first reading,” the minister said.

In a recent interview Semerak has confirmed that the ministry of environmental and natural resources was already negotiating with two U.S. investment firms and four Canadian energy companies interested in the Chernobyl’s solar potential. Ukrainian developers plan to install a 4 MW project at the site by the end of the year, Bloomberg reports.

According to the ministry of environmental and natural resources, 34 solar power plants with the total capacity of over 120 MW are scheduled to be completed in Ukraine in 2016. Despite the political and economic difficulties facing the country, Ukraine is aiming to increase the share of renewables in its energy mix up to 11% by 2020, the ministry reports.

As recent developments demonstrate, after several years of stagnation, international solar developers have begun showing renewed interest in Ukraine. Yesterday, a 4 MW PV plant was successfully connected to the grid in Vysokopillya, a southern part of the country. According to the developer, the German-based Work Team, heavy rainfall, snow, and freezing rain have frequently posed challenges for solar developers in the area. China-based PV-inverter manufacturer Sungrow supplied its SG60KTL inverters for the PV plant.

Belarus’ PV plan for Chernobyl

Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor, has its own solar plans for the land affected by the Chernobyl disaster. In April this year, the telecommunications company Velcom, a subsidiary of the Austrian company Telecom, announced an investment of more than €23 million ($ 25.3 million) for a 22.3 MW PV plant in Brahin district, located at the Ukrainian border, next to the nuclear wasteland.

Velcom is planning to sell the generated electricity, as well as use it for the company’s needs. “We expect the solar plant to cover about 50% of the company’s energy needs and pay itself off in four to five years”, Velcom CEO Helmut Duhs said at a press-conference in Minsk. He added that the company had chosen this particular area not only because of its southern location but also because of the cheap price land prices.

According to the company, the solar facility in Brahin district will be comprised of 85,000 PV panels installed across the area of 56 hectares. The construction works are scheduled to be completed by the end of this summer.