“You have to start very early if you want to create an awareness of how much energy is being consumed”

Name: Olena Gushul
Lives in: Kiev (Ukraine)
Country of origin: Ukraine
Period in Germany: 2010 - 2012
Education and research institution: Trier University
Profession: Junior Professional / Management assistent at the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) 

Increasing energy efficiency is a high priority in Ukraine. Practical information is therefore important - for citizens as well as for professionals. After studying in Germany, Germany-Alumna Olena Gushul today contributes to education on environmental issues and energy efficiency.

Ms Gushul, you studied economics at the University of Trier on a DAAD OSI scholarship from 2010–2012 and are now part of a project on energy efficiency at GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit). From the DAAD’s point of view this means you’ve had something of a perfect career: the underlying goal of our joint scholarship programme with the Open Society Institute (OSI) was after all for graduates to work in a societally relevant field afterwards. In light of rising energy prices that many Ukrainians struggle to afford, the topic of energy efficiency is societally highly relevant. How did you come to work on this topic?

I have been exploring it since my first degree. I was lucky that the Economics programme in Trier offered the option to specialise in environmental and energy management. I had already written the final paper for my Master's degree at the University of Trier on the subject, relating to the Ukraine by the way: it examined why people aren’t investing more in energy efficiency in Ukraine. 

And why aren’t people investing more in energy efficiency?

For a long time there was simply no need: energy was so cheap because it was highly subsidised by the government. So no one worried about how much they were using. 

Now such investments are of course becoming increasingly necessary due to the aforementioned gas prices, which are to be raised to market levels following pressure from Ukraine’s international financiers. If people are no longer able to pay their heating bills, that could potentially spark social unrest. Speaking only of private consumers, is it even possible for them to invest in energy efficiency if their heating is controlled centrally?

It is precisely private consumers we need to educate: after all, it’s not just about heating, you also save money if you turn the light off when you leave a room, or if you buy an attachment for your tap that reduces water consumption. You can for example conduct what are known as energy audits that analyse where there are problems with your consumption and what you can do about them. 

How much electricity does a person use every year? Our infographics on power consumption will let you in on some interesting details about both worldwide and German consumption and makes an international comparison.

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But with big expenses such as heating, does it do any good if I’m the only person in an apartment building to invest in energy efficiency?

No, but the joint ownership association can decide – and that does indeed happen when there are financial incentives to do so. Energy efficiency measures are now supported for example with what are known as “tepli kredity”, very low-interest loans for energy-oriented refurbishments. 

Of course everyone has to agree first.

Yes, it’s often easier out in the country, where people have their own houses. Interestingly, people were particularly likely to make changes where they were not connected to the central gas supply. In those places people often resort to alternative energy sources, be it biomass or solar energy. And that can really pay off; for example, the “zelenyj tarif”, the feed-in tariff, allows you to sell off any excess energy you produce. Of course you also have to take the initiative yourself and submit an application. 

Energy was so cheap because it was highly subsidised by the government.

People will first of all have to develop an awareness of the many ways they can save money. Is educating consumers part of your work?

Currently not so much. It was a key part of my previous job at Odessa National Polytechnic University, where I first worked at the Centre for Technology Transfer, and where we established a Centre for Energy-Efficient Technologies. We worked a lot with school and university students there; you have to start very early if you want to create an awareness of how much energy is being consumed and how much is being wasted. 

You’re from Kiev, aren’t you? How did you end up in Odessa?

When I returned from Trier, I applied for a reintegration scholarship from the CIM (Centre for International Migration and Development, a consortium of the GIZ and the German Federal Employment Agency). That’s a scholarship for people who have studied in Germany and want to return to Ukraine. It supplements the fairly low salary that for example a Ukrainian university can afford to pay. The programme also includes job postings, and the job in Odessa was very interesting to me. The scholarship was of course time-limited. For me it was a stepping stone: the experience and contacts I gained there got me my current job. 

Interview: Gisela Zimmermann and Oksana Schwaika, DAAD Information Centre in Kiew.

February 2019

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