Blackouts and generators again? What Ukrainians should expect in the fall in case of new Russian attacks on the energy sector

Russians are getting closer to winter and may launch new attacks on the energy system. In such a case, Ukrainians should prepare for potential challenges, and the situation may be more complex than the previous heating season, as described below in the material by RBC-Ukraine.

Currently, we are already in the middle of summer, and it may seem like there are still three full months left until the beginning of the heating season in Ukraine. However, it can already be predicted that the energy system will not be fully restored in time after the Russian attacks of last winter.

Sources of the RBC-Ukraine (media outlet) in the Ukrainian government and experts in the field affirm that the country will enter the heating season with significantly reduced capabilities in the energy sector. Even public figures confirm this.

According to data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), after the winter attacks, the power generation capacity decreased almost by half, from 37.6 GW to 18.3 GW.

Thermal generation, which serves as a maneuvering reserve, decreased by 68%, reaching 4.6 GW. Nuclear power generation decreased by 44% due to the loss of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and now stands at 7.7 GW. Hydropower capacity reduced by 29%, currently at 4.7 GW, and the capacity of renewable sources decreased by a quarter, down to 6.2 GW.

Almost half of the 94 high-voltage transformers have been destroyed. Over 40% of the main power grids of Ukrenergo have been damaged. Overall, the losses, according to the World Bank, exceed 10 billion US dollars and continue to grow.

Power generation capacities are already limited at the moment

Reconstruction work on energy facilities intensified towards the end of winter, after the intensity of attacks decreased somewhat in February. At that time, the system experienced a surplus of electricity, and later, it even began exporting it in small quantities.

However, exporting is not on the agenda now. Due to increased consumption in summer, the generation barely suffices to meet the demands and often results in shortages. The threat of electricity shortages will persist until the end of summer if the high temperatures continue.

Currently, the number of power stations capable of generating electricity is limited due to active repairs. This significantly affects the provision of electricity to consumers, especially during the evening hours when solar generation decreases.

Due to the heatwave, the period of peak consumption has increased. While in May, the peak hours were from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM, now the peak consumption hours extend from 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM. It is during this period that the public is urged to conserve electricity since the maximum possible import of 300 MW is insufficient to meet the demand.

“For example, to cover the increasing consumption needs during the evening peak hours, it would be necessary to mobilize a capacity equivalent to the output of one nuclear power unit and several thermal power stations,” noted the company Ukrenergo.

In the operator’s view, last winter, conservation efforts helped reduce consumption by 10-15%, which is equivalent to the capacity of a large thermal power station or hydropower station, or 1.5 nuclear power units.

Main power grids

Currently, Ukraine’s energy system has been partially restored. The increase in available generating capacities and partial restoration of electricity transmission and distribution networks have improved the operational security of the energy system and reduced the risks of experiencing shortages, as reported by the UNDP. However, after the seasonal flooding and in case of several nuclear power unit shutdowns for maintenance, the energy system may still face electricity shortages.

Ukrenergo has accelerated the pace of restoration works by 5-6 times compared to peacetime. Over 1,500 specialists are involved in the repair efforts. For instance, while previously, replacing a high-voltage autotransformer took several months, it is now accomplished within one or two weeks. Additionally, the company highlights that work on high-voltage lines of 330-750 kV is being conducted without voltage disconnection, enabling the continuous energy supply to consumers.

Before the new heating season, the aim is to create conditions in which the system can handle peak winter loads. Currently, Ukrenergo has completed nearly 60% of the planned volume of works on main power grids. The functionality of 80% of the damaged substations has been partially restored.

To achieve this, repair and replacement of high-voltage autotransformers are being carried out. More than half of the required transformers have been procured, and a significant portion has already been contracted, as stated by Ukrenergo. Networks and substations are undergoing diagnostics and replacement of outdated equipment. Implementation of backup power systems and ongoing efforts to passively protect facilities, such as relocating them to safer locations, are being undertaken to reduce the risk of damage. Over 900 million euros in credits and grants have been utilized to fund the entire complex of works.

New high-voltage transformers have already begun to be imported into Ukraine. By October, there may be 7-8 units, according to Olexander Kharchenko, the director of the Energy Research Center, in an interview with RBС-Ukraine (Ukrainian news website). However, specific details are not officially disclosed for security reasons.

Despite all the efforts, it is unlikely that all the necessary new equipment will be delivered and installed before the start of the winter season, according to the UNDP. The issue lies in the manufacturing time for complex equipment like transformers, which can take up to 6 months.

See also: Sophie Lambroschini: “The destruction of critical infrastructure, in a sense, equals the destruction of civilization”

“In general, this means that the system remains highly vulnerable to a wide range of threats, including continuous attacks on the energy infrastructure, droughts leading to decreased hydropower generation, prolonged maintenance of nuclear power plants, as well as rapid demand recovery,” notes the UNDP in its latest assessment of the damages to Ukraine’s energy system.

Thermal generation is being intensified in preparation for winter

By the end of winter, there was not a single thermal power station or large combined heat and power plant on the territory controlled by Ukraine that had not suffered damage to some extent due to attacks. However, now all 9 thermal power stations and the largest combined heat and power plants, located in the controlled territory, are operating with partial loads, thanks to the high pace of restoration works. The available capacity for thermal power generation has been increased from 4.5 GW at the end of December 2022 to 6 GW by the end of March 2023, according to the UNDP.

Thermal generation facilities have been preparing for the next winter for 5 months.

“Since the end of this winter, we have been intensively preparing for the next one,” said DTEK (the largest commercial energy operator in Ukraine), as reported by RBC-Ukraine.

During this time, they have conducted 7 scheduled repairs of thermal power station units, and 7 more are still in progress. For these repairs, 1.5 billion UAH has been spent in the first half of this year. In total, they plan to allocate 3.5 billion UAH to bring 27 energy units into proper working condition. Additionally, the company needs to invest another 7 billion UAH in restoring equipment damaged by attacks.

Nuclear generation

The volumes of electricity generation from nuclear power plants decreased compared to the corresponding period in 2021, from 29 TW⋅h to 19.5 TW⋅h, representing a 32.8% decline. The absence of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the system is partially compensated by increased generation from three operational plants. The schedule for repairing nuclear power plant units is designed to ensure that all units of the nuclear power plants under Ukraine’s control will be operational during the heating season, according to Energoatom.

There should be enough fuel reserves for nuclear power plants.

“We have reserves for 5-6 years,” the company stated.

Among the reserves, there is still Russian fuel, which was gradually accumulated and will be used until they fully transition to American fuel from Westinghouse.

There should be enough gas

As for gas supply, there should not be any problems next winter either. The gas transportation and distribution systems have not suffered significantly from attacks. Gas extraction has decreased by about 6-7% due to some territories with gas fields temporarily going out of Ukraine’s control.

In April 2023, the average daily natural gas extraction amounted to 47.8 million cubic meters, which is 5.3% less than the previous year. Naftogaz even predicts that there will be no need to import gas this year. Problems with gas supply may arise if the transit from Russia is discontinued. However, a mechanism for delivering gas from storage facilities in the western regions to the eastern regions has been worked out as early as 2009.

Main risks

Even with the pace of energy infrastructure restoration and relatively mild winters, it can be expected that there won’t be significant issues with energy supply. Kharchenko believes that restoring the infrastructure by 15-20% will meet the electricity demand for the next winter.

“This will be enough to cover the current needs in the Ukrainian energy system for electricity transportation,” he stated.

However, there is one quite serious risk that can fundamentally change the situation — the resumption of attacks on energy facilities. Konstantyn Mashovets, the coordinator of the Information Resistance group, believes that this is exactly what will happen.

“In my subjective view, it is not only possible, but they [Russians – ed.] will do it,” he stated in an interview with RBC-Ukraine.

The potential for attacks by Russia is only increasing, as mentioned by Yuriy Ignat, the spokesperson for the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. This can be evidenced by the construction of factories in Russia for manufacturing drones that were used in conjunction with missiles to target energy infrastructure. Russia is also ramping up production of Lancet drones and reportedly plans to assemble Shahed drones in its territory.

“The fact that Rusian will try to cause trouble again, perhaps with some targeted strikes on certain fuel and energy sector objects — this possibility cannot be ruled out,” Yuriy Ignat remarked in a comment to the publication.

In the event of such a scenario, the situation will be challenging, but there won’t be a large-scale blackout, according to Hennadii Riabtsev, the director of the Psyche Center.

“The probability of a total blackout in Ukraine will be extremely low. Even powerful attacks by Russia on critical energy infrastructure cannot lead to a complete and prolonged shutdown for the majority of consumers,” the expert noted.

Although the situation may be even more complex than the previous winter when the entire country lived with scheduled power outages and learned to use generators and chargers, “the reliability of the energy system is now lower than in the previous heating season, as the energy balance is precarious, and there are fewer reserve capacities compared to the previous year,” mentioned Riabtsev. If last year the maneuvering capacities, mainly thermal generation, were mostly intact, now, after repairs, they may not be as robust and could fail.

On the other hand, a large number of consumers, both industrial and residential, have already prepared for the heating season, equipping themselves with devices for alternative generation.

And importantly, over the past months, Ukraine has managed to strengthen its air defense system by deploying the latest Western defense systems to protect against Russian attacks. Additionally, allies have promised to supply more systems, raising hopes of deterring Russian missiles and drones during the winter and safeguarding the energy system.

Originally posted by Yuri Doshchatov on RBC-Ukraine. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: War experience: How Ukrainian operators learned to quickly restore mobile and Internet communication

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