Expert: EU can help bring energy efficiency to Ukraine

Rybak Elena2.jpg

Better communication between Ukrainian government authorities, the EU, international institutions and the  business community can help bring efficiency to one of Europe's most energy-intensive countries, Elena Rybak, CEO of the European-Ukrainian Energy Agency, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Elena Rybak holds a degree in business administration, and has previously served as country manager for the Swedish-Ukrainian Business Club and programme coordinator of the Swedish Government Business Development Programme in her country.

She was speaking to Georgi Gotev.

Your agency, which is presented as a platform for joint EU-Ukrainian action to promote sustainable development, efficient use of energy and environmentally-friendly technology transfer, is rather recent. You are hosting the 'First European-Ukrainian Energy Day' in Kyiv, on 31 May-1 June. What brings you to Brussels, and can you tell us about your plans and ambitions?

This is our second visit to Brussels: the first one was in March, when we introduced ourselves to the Commission, to the various departments dealing with Ukraine and with energy-related issues, in particular energy efficiency and renewables. This time, we participated in a meeting, organised under the European Commission's Eastern Partnership, where we introduced our position paper on energy efficiency in buildings. We are also indeed preparing for our big event on 31 May-1 June.

Let me say that the European-Ukrainian Energy Agency was founded last year, with the goal of promoting energy efficiency and renewable energies in Ukraine, integrating European technologies into the Ukrainian market, and helping Ukraine to set the right priorities in addressing those issues.

Our goal is to become THE platform for communication between the government authorities of Ukraine, relevant EU and international institutions, donor organisations, IFIs, and our members, representing the business community. We understand the priority need to adapt Ukrainian legislation to EU standards, in order to create a market economy within sectors, and we aim to voice the opinion of all the mentioned stakeholders to the Ukrainian government.

You must have a huge task ahead. A friend of mine who visited Ukraine recently said that there were no thermostats on radiators and when it became too hot, people just opened the windows, as they did in the former Soviet Union when everybody thought energy had no price, without any concern for the environment…

Exactly. We all know that Ukraine is one of the most energy-intensive countries, and we understand that this is an enormous amount of work given the country's scale.

We are now setting priorities within our agency in a problem-solution-action approach. In the scope of our activities, we witness a significant amount of work being done in Ukraine by donor organisations, by development agencies of different EU countries, also by the Ukrainian authorities, together with the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development], the World Bank and so on.

At this stage there are a few action plans in process or already prepared, strategies being developed etc., but what we are noticing is that a lot of efforts are being duplicated. Therefore we see the need to coordinate efforts between the donor community and to identify priorities as to what needs to be addressed first.

Are you trying to lobby the government in drawing up its priorities?

We try to share the vision of our members, experts and partners as to what steps need to be taken by our government in order to get the energy-efficiency market functioning.

In any European country, when you set up a priority target until 2020 to reach a particular goal and decrease energy consumption, you start from step one.

And when Ukraine writes its strategy, we attempt to start from step seven already. When we hear that Ukraine is not moving in a particular direction, this is often for this same reason.

But you also have a new government. We read that a lot of legislation is being changed. Do you think that the business climate is good?

The international donor community and IFIs in Ukraine have initiated a number of programmes for Ukraine. There is an EBRD programme for 250 million euros, a World Bank programme for 300 million and together with a Swedish initiative, we are talking about something close to one billion euros that are supposed to be invested in energy-efficiency programmes in Ukraine. If we take only buildings and district heating, leaving aside renewable energy, the situation is such that if we don't take action now, we risk ending up with a collapsed infrastructure within five to ten years.

Even if we take all the money that is being allocated, some already has been disbursed, a lot of processes are currently ongoing with our government on confirmations of action plans and priority projects that are going to qualify.

Still, this is not enough to address the issue on a global perspective. We understand that a market system needs to be created within the energy efficiency, to promote private investment. Among our members, we see a lot of interest about Ukraine, but also they see risks, and the lack of legal prerequisites to enter the market. So our priority for working with the Ukrainian government is to address the very particular issues our members are interested in.

What kind of support does your agency need from the EU? Are you interested in projects under the Eastern Partnership?

The EU has a lot of projects in Ukraine. Some will be presented during the 'First European-Ukrainian Energy Day', like the one on energy-efficient cities, which covers several cities in Western Ukraine. Then there are a number of programmes which involve experts for pre-feasibility studies. This is very important in Ukraine, because if you take industry in Ukraine, all of them are energy-intensive and consume 40% of the energy in the country: you see that there is huge potential for energy-efficiency projects.

But when it comes to pre-feasibility studies, to apply for financing from IFI,  the respective companies need most probably an international expert, as we lack people certified according to EU standards who can provide particular expertise. And those pre-feasibility studies cost money. With the difficult situation for industries in Ukraine, that's a big investment.

Providing technical support for project identification and preparation could be very helpful technical assistance on the EU side. But again, for the projects to be sustainable and work, the market and legislation have to be in place.

How do you see your agency and your country five years from now?

That's a very political question [she laughs]. I am for sure optimistic. And for a simple reason: all the attention and efforts that have been put into energy-efficiency and renewable-related issues, not just by international donors, IFIs and the world community, but quite a few Ukrainians who understand their country's needs.

With the functioning governmental system, we for sure would be moving much faster. I do believe that our government will take the needed actions in order to gradually lead Ukrainian society to the next step –integration into the European Union and to energy independence. There is no other way.

Where is Russia in all this? A lot of your energy comes from there, but your partner for energy efficiency is the EU. Who comes first?

I think we should keep a partnership and friendly relations with both the EU and Russia. The question is how masterly our government will be able to do that, given the different interests on both sides and the conflicts of interest within Ukraine in this regard.

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