How Ukraine copes with second Russian assault on its power grid

French company to start building modern power grids in Ukraine
French company to start building modern power grids in Ukraine

In March, Russia launched its largest attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in six months. What’s the current state of the Ukrainian power grid?

No country in the world has yet faced energy challenges like those Ukraine is dealing with. Therefore, the issue of energy stability and security is a priority in discussions about the future of the country’s energy industry. Although there was a decrease in the number of attacks on energy facilities this past heating season, it was merely a pause. In late March, Russia launched the largest missile attack on Ukraine’s energy sector in at least six months. Ukraine’s power grid is currently intact and stable, but the second “wartime winter” wasn’t exactly “smooth.”

The main conclusions have been drawn now that the winter is over. Their discussion took place during the first Energy Security Talks and is included in the DiXi Group review, which covers open-source data on the state of each type of generation, distribution, and transmission networks. I’ll cover key takeaways.

The renewable energy sector (RES) continues to develop

The overall trend, given the scale of Russian occupation, has a positive dynamic. Green generation facilities are currently the most distributed across Ukraine of all types of generation, which is an important condition for ensuring the stability of the power grid. Since the first days of the full-scale war, green generation has ensured the availability of electricity even for those consumers who would be otherwise left without it due to attacks on transmission lines.

More than 146 MW of wind and 500 MW of solar generation (together with domestic solar power plants (SPP)) were additionally introduced in 2023, representing an increase in Ukraine’s RES sector of more than 6% in two years.

In early 2024, the installed capacity of RES crossed the 10 GW mark, but about 2.5 GW, which is about 24% of the capacity, are in occupied territories, of which 5% were destroyed or damaged. Some 13% of SPPs and 70% of wind energy facilities are still under Russian occupation. The first de-occupied facility, namely the Tryfonivska SPP with a capacity of 10 MW, resumed operation last year. The Orivska and Dnistrovska wind power plants (WPP) were put into operation. This year, the Tylihulska WPP with a total capacity of 500 MW is to be expanded.

Ukraine has 36 WPPs with a total installed capacity of 1.9 GW, according to the Ukrainian Wind Energy Association. With the exception of one market participant, WPPs have entered the free market and have been selling electricity since October 2023. Ukraine’s wind energy industry is now attracting the attention of international investors interested in working in our market after the end of the war.

Nuclear and thermal generation performed at full capacity

More than 11 GW out of 17 GW of available thermal generation capacity was damaged or under occupation by late April 2023. As of the end of summer 2023, 24 power units were repaired or under repair. About 70% of the thermal power plants (TPP) had already been repaired, while another 30% of available capacities were completing their repair works. According to DTEK Energy [Ukraine’s largest power utility company] CEO, 1.4 GW of thermal generation was down at the end of last winter due to damage from missile attacks. At the same time, the company managed to restore 10 power units and recommission two more. The company invested almost UAH 4 billion ($101.9 million) in scheduled repairs across its power plants, with 26 being complete in 2023.

Due to the significant need for regulation in case of a shortage of electricity in the current autumn-winter period, TPP power units worked more hours in total than in previous periods. Of course, this led to a decrease in coal reserves, especially in December and January. Relatively warm weather made it possible to get through the winter steadily.

Nuclear generation remained stable. All power units in the Ukrainian-controlled territory worked through the winter. Last year, nine nuclear power units increased the supply of electricity by 12.8%, while the utilization rate of the installed capacity of reactor units reached 100%, according to Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom.

The demand was covered by the entire available generation fleet

We’ve had almost no power outages this winter. When they did occur, it was mostly due to damage related to attacks or weather conditions in December and January. Despite the loss of more than 17 GW of installed capacity, over two years of the full-scale war, all consumers, both household and industrial, were able to consume the required amount of electricity this season. Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s national grid operator, indicates they’ve recorded an extremely high consumption since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, which was covered by the entire available generation fleet with some emergency imports [from the EU] during peak hours.

It was possible to balance the power grid thanks to hydroelectric power plants (HPP). Sufficiently high water levels made it possible to load HPPs to their maximum capacity.

According to Ukrainian hydropower operator Ukrhydroenergo, HPPs and pumped storage power plants were properly prepared for winter and had a total of 3.75 GW of capacity. Of them, about 2 GW could be in operation for a long time. Another 1 GW of capacity is expected to be restored in H1 2024. Thanks to high water levels in the Dnipro and Desna rivers, energy production at HPPs exceeded similar indicators in previous years.

Restoration and protection of energy facilities reached a new level

A significant challenge is the restoration of power transmission systems, as well as the provision of physical protection of energy facilities. Although the intensity of [Russian] attacks has decreased this winter, the enemy doesn’t stop attacking energy facilities. We have a difficult security situation on all frontline areas, where we record damage almost every day. The situation at the [occupied] Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant also remains difficult.

Currently, Ukraine’s State Agency for Restoration and Infrastructure Development implements a program for physical protection of energy facilities, which includes three layers of protection. Physical protection was installed on all types of power plants. The most valuable equipment, which ensures the facilities’ operation, was protected by gabions. Work is underway to install the second level of protection, namely anti-drone countermeasures. Construction of the third level of protection is expected to take place at 22 substations by late 2024.

The greatest achievement can be considered an unprecedented repair campaign when the Russians hit everything, except the nuclear power plants (NPP), last season. By winter, as planned, 1.7 GW were added to the power grid, and we had 2.2 GW at the end of it. Today it’s about 3 GW. According to DiXi Group’s approximate estimates, the available capacity of transformers is more than 65% of the available capacity before the beginning of Russian attacks on energy facilities. In the summer of 2023, at the height of the summer repair campaign, Ukrenergo announced the restoration of 56 transformer units at substations with a total restoration plan of 63 units.

Restoration and ongoing repairs are also carried out at distribution networks. Those regional energy companies that are close to the front line are obviously facing the most difficult tasks. Often, significant destruction demands a complete network redesign. For example, an ambitious energy infrastructure renovation project is being implemented by Mykolaivoblenergo [Mykolyiv regional energy company], namely switching to the 20/0.4kV transformer class, which can be scaled to other regions.

Humanitarian assistance with energy equipment from our partners made a significant contribution to the repair campaign. The Ukraine Energy Support Fund, which has already received EUR 400 million ($432 million), helps to purchase the most critical equipment. The total amount of aid received and distributed is 14,000 tons, according to the Energy Ministry.

Given the fact that Russia resumed its terrorist attacks on the energy infrastructure in late March 2024, bolstering air defenses remains the priority for Ukraine’s energy sector. Without air defense around energy facilities, no repair and restoration work could guarantee energy security.

Integration with the EU power grid

The Ukrainian side is actively working on expanding Ukraine’s opportunities for importing and exporting electricity. Even now, the capacity of imports can reach 1.7 GW. The export capacity has also been increased to 550 MW since March. The increase in the export capacity limit took place on time, as we record growth in Ukraine’s energy exports to neighboring countries. This is another tool that helps keep the Ukrainian grid balanced.

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