Expert gives five reasons why Ukraine’s energy system is withstanding Russian attacks

8 January, 05:40 PM
An electrician repairs a power line in Kharkiv Oblast damaged by Russian shelling (Photo:REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

An electrician repairs a power line in Kharkiv Oblast damaged by Russian shelling (Photo:REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

Before the New Year the pace of the restoration of Ukrainian energy infrastructure caught up with the amount of damage being done to it by Russian attacks, says Volodymyr Omelchenko, Director of Energy Programmes in the Razumkov Centre think tank.

There was no significant damage to the Ukrainian energy infrastructure in the aftermath of two days of Russian mass missile and drone attacks during the New Year's holidays. Moreover, the threat of full blackout of the country seems to have receded a little.

Still, the enemy won't stop its strikes, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Military experts assure us the Ukrainian air defences are capable of intercepting Shahed flying bombs and Kalibrs cruise missiles effectively.

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But is the energy infrastructure really now adapted to functioning despite constantly being damaged? NV discussed these questions with Volodymyr Omelchenko, Director of Energy Programmes in the Razumkov Centre.

Why has the government's narrative on the threat of blackout changed? It seems to be more "soothing." For example, the Minister of Energy recently said that a total blackout was unlikely. What are the reasons behind this? After all, if anything the attacks have intensified recently.

There are some reasons that allow us to suggest the risks of a full blackout or loss of control over the energy system have significantly decreased. The reasons are as follows:

The first reason is the strengthening of the air defense in the past months. Our soldiers are more experienced now. We received modern systems from our partners.

The second reason is the Ukrainian Armed Forces have learned to attack the enemy deep inside its territory, targeting the military airfields and other supporting facilities in particular.

The third reason is Ukrainian energy engineers have adopted more flexible and effective working protocols to limit the scale of damage. This concerns the electricity transmission system operator Ukrenergo. Before Dec. 5 they worked according to the damage caused by attacks, but starting from Dec. 5, they have worked differently and learned to act proactively. This significantly mitigated the impact of the strikes.

The fourth reason is the higher volume of energy equipment supplied to Ukraine by its partners, as well as the funding providing for emergency needs. This also matters.

The fifth reason is the depletion of Russian missile stocks, so they are no longer able to launch a hundred missiles against Ukraine in a time, for example. They began to use so-called inviolable reserves. It also reduces our risks, but doesn’t mitigate it completely. Russia still has missiles, but it can't use them at the same scale.

So, just before New Year we crossed the point and now the pace of Ukrainian energy infrastructure repairs is faster than the pace of it being damaged. The probability is high that the system will increase its reliability.

What do you mean by saying " learned to act proactively"?

They’ve applied new ways of reacting to Russian missile attacks. This information cannot be disclosed. It concerns a certain off-loading of the system to maintain the standard frequency in the power system so that it does not split into separate "islands."

You've also mentioned energy equipment supplies. Do you mean something in particular?

For example, 52 transformers shipped from Hitachi Energy. The Baltic countries, Poland and other countries from the so-called socialist camp supply us with energy equipment. This is important, because our standards don't correspond with modern European standards, but these Central European countries have already modernized their equipment.

We work with old Soviet times infrastructure. It causes problems with the replacement of equipment and matching the voltage.

In regard to the financial issue, the EBRD has allocated EUR 300 million ($320 million), half of which is for purchasing equipment for emergency repairs to our power system. The Netherlands has allocated over EUR 70 million ($74 million). Ukrainian energy engineers are looking for the required equipment throughout the world, and they’re finding it. Also, part of it will be manufactured on our plants.

Besides, new power supply circuits that allowed us to change from high voltage lines to lower voltage lines were developed. Although their capacity is smaller, there are more lines and substations, so it is harder to destroy completely, unlike 750 kV-powerlines and their autotransformers, many of which have been destroyed.

Do power engineers apply other methods of energy supplying or some new ways, don't they? How did they managed to supply power to most of the country on holidays?

As I've said, they used reserve ways of power suppl,y with lower capacity high voltage power lines. It was one of the reasons. The other one was that people's needs had priority over industrial needs.

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The extremely warm weather also was in our favor. Increasing the temperature by 5 degrees can save up to 1 GW (gigawatt) of power. This is like one nuclear reactor’s capacity. And we had almost 10-15 degrees above normal, we saved more than 2 GW due to weather conditions alone.

Energoatom (national nuclear operator) announced today that one power reactor is scheduled for repair. Thus, eight power nuclear reactors will remain in operation on the territory controlled by Ukraine. How significant can the electricity shortage become?

This is a scheduled repair, there is nothing special here — the reactors need to be periodically repaired and inspected, checked for the integrity of the casing, plus reloaded with fuel. Yes, it impacts significantly — it is about 7-8% of the capacity of the entire power system that is currently operating. Therefore, this may affect the shortage of electricity, but I think it will not be noticeable as long as the weather is warm.

When the temperature is be below zero, it will certainly lead to the need for stricter electricity consumption limits, which Ukrenergo imposes on the regions.

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