A new 1-megawatt (MW) solar power plant opened just 330 feet from the site of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, confirming rumors that the site of the nuclear meltdown will have a second life with green energy. The project opened on October 5 and incorporates 3,800 solar panels, which can supply enough electricity to power about 2,000 homes, according to an article from Reuters. This is much-needed electricity for Ukraine, since the Russian annexation of Crimea cut off the country’s access to 170 MW of solar power.
More Chernobyl solar power projects are in the works.
In 2013, two European power companies—Ukraine’s Rodina Energy and Germany’s Enerparc AG—formed Solar Chernobyl, a new company dedicated to starting and running the solar farm. The infrastructure to carry power was still in place from the old power plant, so Solar Chernobyl was able to connect solar panels to the United Energy System of Ukraine power grid.
The 1 MW solar farm cost $1.2 million. Low land costs and high electricity prices, including feed-in tariffs guaranteeing certain prices for power, served as incentives for the project. The Ukrainian government will pay a premium for solar power generated at the site, which could be as high as 50 percent above the European average, according to an article in Fortune.
Solar Chernobyl plans to expand the project and eventually produce 100 MW of renewable energy. The solar farm currently occupies 4 acres, but Ukrainian authorities have offered investors over 6,000 acres for use. At the time of the disaster, Chernobyl’s four nuclear reactors could produce up to 4,000 MW.
Dozens of power companies are interested in developing the area, according to an article in Bloomberg. French and Chinese companies, GCL System Integration Technology Co. Ltd. and China National Complete Engineering Corp., have expressed interest in building solar farms on the site. Additionally, France’s Engie SA has plans for a 1.2-gigawatt solar project on the site. The company tested the feasibility with Tractebel Engineering SA and concluded it is “doable,” according to an article in PV Magazine.
Solar Chernobyl focuses on renewable energy projects in the territories that were affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The joint solar consortium has worked on solar energy projects totaling more than 200 MW in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine, according to its website.
Ukraine has increasingly been investing in renewable energy. Just this year, between January and September, the country added over 500 MW of renewable power capacity, twice the amount as in 2017. The country no longer purchases natural gas from Russia and is working to expand its electricity generation.
Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant has been inactive since 2000; after the 1986 meltdown, the other reactors continued operating until then. The old nuclear power station is encased in a giant sarcophagus designed to block radiation. Scientists say it’s not safe for humans to inhabit the exclusion zone, a 30-kilometer restricted area where radiation remains high, for 24,000 years. But the infamous site gets a new chance to produce power, this time with solar energy.