With Russia’s intention to destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, a network of NGOs is taking on the challenge of donating small and mobile energy supply solutions. Astrid Schneidera member of the clean energy nonprofit Eurosolar, shares the story of small solar kits making a big difference, in this month’s edition of pv magazine.
On February 24, the unthinkable happened. Russia invaded Ukraine. Immediately people think, how can we help? What can we do? About a week before the start of the war, when tensions were running high, I ordered a small survival tool: a solar powered radio with a crank. It came a day before Russian tanks crossed the border. I have some small relief. No matter what happens, I’ll have a light on and charge my phone. Then I thought, this is exactly what Ukrainians need today.
Russia has begun destroying Ukraine’s civil infrastructure to drive people out of the country, cutting off electricity, water, and now heating. It was not clear that this would be a strategy when we started our efforts to help but we knew that being able to charge phones, communicate, access information through the internet, radio and TV, and watch Looking at maps is very important. Not to mention the basics with night light and dark bunkers, too.
On March 1, we held our monthly Eurosolar Berlin-Brandenburg Zoom meeting. Our guest, booked earlier, is Helmut Wolman, who runs a project with Ukrainian NGOs to build a network of energy cooperatives in Ukraine through the open-source software digital communities provider WeChange.de . Helmut plans to address this event, starting last summer. WeChange visited Ukrainian cities and Ukrainians came to Berlin to discuss decentralized renewables as a bottom-up movement.
It quickly became clear that we have a perfect aid distribution network in Ukraine. After that, everything went quickly: we discovered trucks from Berlin going to Poland and our contacts in Ukraine could collect goods there. I contacted sponsors including Jörg and Ute Müller, from the renewable business Enertrag AG; Paul Grunow, founder of solar manufacturer Q Cells and solar testing organization PI-Berlin; and trade body SolarPower Europe. The next challenge is to find reliable solar devices as soon as possible.
Oliver Lang, from the off-grid solar company Sonnenrepublik, in Berlin, has spent decades developing mobile solar charging devices. He had some systems working and on March 5 the first packages were shipped. The first load contains 10 folding, lightweight, 50 W solar modules with 24,000 mAh (milliampere-hour) power banks and several small devices.
On March 12, the delivery reached Ukraine. The partner organization and local environmental NGO Ecoclub Rivne received and distributed the goods. Our Ecoclub contact, Dmytro Sakalyuk, is a consultant in energy management and planning systems in more than 200 cities in Ukraine, so we have direct municipal contact with people on the ground. Ecoclub visits communities and delivers aid directly or through its contacts, with other supplies delivered along with solar charging kits.
A comment from Ecoclub in Rivne
“Since March, Ecoclub has given about 400 solar chargers and power banks to communities in the east of the country, [including to] doctors and volunteers. The opportunity to be in touch, learn news, contact relatives is invaluable. For this, we and everyone who uses the received equipment are grateful to our friends and colleagues from Germany who have been looking for all kinds of opportunities to support the Ukrainians since the beginning of the invasion. We sent equipment to communities in Zelenodolsk, in Dnipropetrovsk oblast, to the community and hospital in Selydove (Donetsk), in Novohrad-Volynskyi (Zhytomyr), in Kharkiv and in Sumy oblast, and to the hospital in Myrnohrad, in Donetsk oblast.”
On March 23, our second delivery arrived in Zelenodolsk, in southern Ukraine. To expand our supply chain, we contacted the Austrian mobile solar company Sunnybag. It has its own fundraising activities and uses us as a distribution channel in Ukraine. Like Sonnenrepublik, Sunnybag offers us favorable purchasing conditions.
We have moved our fundraising to the donation site betterplace.org (and you can make your own contribution to our efforts here). Helmut is on the board of Ideen³ and the platform of ideas enables us to issue donation receipts for contributions to our page “Ukraine needs freedom forces”. We have received more than €23,000 ($23,600) from private sponsors, to whom we would like to express our gratitude.
Our next step is to integrate systems with 160 W folding modules and power stations with inverters, to provide AC power. Several smartphones and a PC can be charged at the same time from such standalone systems.
Feedback from Ukraine on both systems has been overwhelming. When one of our main sponsors heard that the Ukrainians started to collect money themselves, so that we could send more systems, he was convinced that this was the necessary help.
We know that our help is just a drop in the ocean of help that is needed and we are stepping up our efforts. Our contacts in Ukraine say they need power banks, power stations, and anything that can provide such equipment and electricity. Liliya Gnatyuk, a professor from Kyiv who visited Berlin at the Wandellab event we hosted as part of our effort, said that she and her colleagues are desperately trying to continue teaching their students remotely. , while doctors in Lviv operate on the heart without electricity.
In winter, solar chargers are slower but still effective – especially in southern Ukraine, near the Black Sea, more than in the north. Even bicycle-powered chargers help: they use a dynamo to charge a power bank instead of bicycle lights. We plan to add some dynamo-based systems and even some small wind turbines to complement the solar panels and power stations – scaling them to micro, but versatile, systems of electricity. The systems can also help power small homes, whenever reconstruction begins in Ukraine. For these reasons, every donation to support our efforts is welcome and helps not only immediately but to work as a model case for rebuilding Ukraine.
About the author: Astrid Schneider is an expert in building-integrated photovoltaics. He specializes in research, design, and architectural applications for solar modules and works as a lecturer, consultant, and architect. At TU Wien he worked on the “BIM4BIPV – Building information modeling for built photovoltaics” research project at the faculty of architecture. He cooperates as a volunteer with Eurosolar, WeChange and Ideen³ to support Ecoclub Rivne with mobile solar-charging solutions to overcome the problems of electricity supply due to the war in Ukraine.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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