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A visit to the Dnipro Hydroelectric Station – Past, Present and Future Champion of Sustainable Development in Ukraine

April 16, 2009

In April 2009, a World Bank team led by the Country Director, Martin Raiser and the Lead Energy Specialist, Dejan Ostojic, visited the Dnipro Hydroelectric Station (or Dnipro HES). Dnipro HES, situated on the Dnipro river in Zaporizhia, is the largest hydroelectric power station in Ukraine. It is also one of main objects included in a large Hyrdropower Rehabilitation Program, partially financed by a World Bank loan, and at the core of Ukraine’s strategy for greater energy security and environmentally sustainable energy production. The program is implemented by Ukrhydroenergo (UHE), a state-owned enterprise celebrating its 15th birthday this year. Enough reasons for a senior Bank team to travel to Zaporizhia and inspect the progress made at first hand.

You cannot miss Dnipro HES as you drive into the city of Zaporizhia. The dam, which holds back the might Dnipro river to generate hydroelectric power, stretches 800 meters across the Dnipro right in the center of the city, and is currently 61 meters high. Over its long history, Dnipro HES was hailed as one of the biggest achievements of Soviet industrialization programs. It was planned to provide electricity for several aluminum production plants and a high quality steel production plant that were also to be constructed in the area .The construction of this heavyweight began in 1927 and the plant started to produce electricity in October 1932. Generating some 650 MW, the station became the largest Soviet power plant at the time and one of the largest in the world.

“I had heard about the history of the Dnipro HES”, says Martin Raiser, “now it was time to look at this impressive engineering achievement myself. The Dnipro HES was a huge and ambitious undertaking when it was started over 80 years ago. But it is equally a project of the future, supporting secure and clean energy supply for Ukraine for generations to come.”

During World War II, the strategically important dam and plant was dynamited. The dam suffered extensive damage and the powerhouse hall was nearly destroyed. Both were rebuilt and power generation was restarted in 1950. In 1969-80, the second powerhouse was built with a planned production capacity of 836 MW. The construction of Dnipro HES was the basis for the establishment of large industrial complexes (aluminum, steel, chemicals) in this part of Ukraine and the development of Zaporozhia, Kryvy Rih and Dnipropetrovsk. The city of Zaporozhia was built at the same time as the hydropower plant. Zaporozhie was very much an 'engineering city' during Soviet times. The construction of the Dnipro HES was the first step in developing the 1000km long hydropower cascade on the Dnipro river which now comprises six major dams and represents one of the largest hydropower systems in the world. Today, Ukraine obtains around X percent of its total power supply from hydropower, which is particularly valuable as it helps reduce carbon emissions and can be used as a source of peak power supply, thereby stabilizing the entire power distribution system.

But the dam wasn’t only designed to generate power. When it was first constructed it raised the level of the Dnipro in Zaporizhia by 37 meters, flooding the rapids upstream and making the Dnipro navigable to commercial ships, when before only the daring Cosacks had been able to successfully negotiate the fast currents and rapids around Zaporizhia (indeed there is an island just across from the dam that was the seat of the Cosack Sich – the “capital” of the Cosack lands). Furthermore, the dam ensured protection from floods and stable supply of water for millions of people living along the Dnipro river. Today, more than 30 million people use the Dnipro river water. For Ukraine, the Dnipro river is often considered as its life line, where more than 50 large cities, over 10,000 industrial enterprises, over 2,000 rural, more than 1,000 public utilities, and over 50,000 irrigation systems are provided with Dnipro water. The reservoirs of the Dnipro cascade system are multi purpose built and the water resources are used for: (i) supply of urban, rural and industrial water, (ii) hydroelectric generation, (iii) irrigation, (iv) fisheries, (v) navigation (water transportation), and (vi) recreation.

“The Dnipro Hydropower Cascade serves multiple economic and social needs with practically zero emissions of CO2.” says Dejan Ostojic, “In a multi-year cooperation program with Ukrhydroenergo that started more than 10 years ago and is expected to last through 2017, our objective is to ensure this unique resource is properly maintained and upgraded to ensure it delivers up to its full potential.”

The main objective of the World Bank Hydropower Rehabilitation Project is to improve efficiency of hydropower generation, enhance dam safety, and improve environmental performance through substitution of equivalent production from coal-fired plants. The project will help increase the installed capacity of the Dnipro Hydropower Cascade by about 400 MW and its production by about 500 GWh which is equivalent to building a major new hydropower plant. The project also pioneered the concept of Carbon Financing in Ukraine as it was the first Joint Implementation Project under the Kyoto Protocol in the country.

But plans do not stop here. The reservoirs and banks of this large cascade are also potential sites for the development of several hundreds of MW of wind power generation which would further increase and diversify the renewable energy potential of the Dnipro cascade. By using pumped storage technology, such as the existing Kiev pumped storage plant, the non-dispatchable wind power generation can be converted to highly valuable hydroelectricity suitable for the most demanding operating regimes of the national power grid. Such potential of the Dnipro Hydropower Cascade ensures that it will continue to be at the forefront of sustainable development in Ukraine and the whole region.