Ukraine's Power System: Peace and War
On 16 March, Ukraine was synchronised with the electricity grid of continental Europe, bidding a permanent farewell to the systems of Russia and Belarus. The connection took place in an urgent and emergency procedure. This is an important step towards sustainable cooperation with the European Union. But today, in Ukraine, there is first and foremost a warfare, as well as an energy war, which is no less important for the lives of the civilian population of Ukraine and Europe as a whole.
(an overview map of power plants in Ukraine in pdf file can be downloaded here)
Key energy data :
- Ukraine is one of Europe's largest energy consumers. In 2020, primary energy demand was 86.4 Mtoe, which, by comparison, was 90% of that in Poland.
- Ukraine's energy mix is diversified, with the share of none of the energy sources exceeding 30%. In 2020, coal covered 26.4% of energy needs, natural gas 27.5% and nuclear power 23.1%.
- Dependence on imports of energy resources is not high, at 35.56% in 2020. Ukraine extracts all fossil fuels used in the energy sector, producing in 2020. 2.5 million tonnes of oil, 12.7 Mtoe of coal and 15.8 Mtoe of natural gas.
- Nuclear power is an important source, with 154 TWh produced in 2019, more than half of all electricity.
Ukraine's power system before Russian aggression
Ukraine is one of the largest electricity systems in Europe. In 2020, the installed capacity was 54.5 GW. Nearly half of this capacity is thermal power plants. Most of them use hard coal, mainly Donetsk coal. A small proportion of thermal power plants also burn gas and mazut.
Ukraine is characterised by a large fleet of nuclear power plants, with 15 units located in four power plants in operation. Their total installed capacity is 13,835 MW, which ranks Ukraine third in Europe (after France and Russia).
Ukraine is also developing renewable energy sources. Eight run-of-river hydroelectric power plants operate on the Dnieper and Dniester rivers. Photovoltaic power plants, biogas plants and wind farms are growing in importance. The country also has three pumped storage power plants.
Nuclear and coal
More than half of the electricity produced in Ukraine before the war came from nuclear power plants. The existing nuclear power plants in Ukraine are located in different parts of the country.
The Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant and the South Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant are located in the south. The Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant (Zaporizhia Oblast) is the largest not only in Ukraine, but also in Europe. The installed capacity is app. 6 GW in six VVER type reactors. The South Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant (Mykolayiv Oblast) accounts for 10% of all electricity produced in the country.
The other two nuclear power plants, Rivnenska and Khmelnitska, are located in western Ukraine and provide electricity not only for domestic use but also for export.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was shut down in 2000.
Another large source of electricity generation in Ukraine are thermal power plants. The largest of these are located in the eastern and central parts of the country (Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Dnipro and others). Some thermal power plants have come under the control of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics.
In terms of geological reserves of hard coal, Ukraine ranks first in Europe and eighth in the world, estimated at approximately 34 billion tonnes, or 3.5% of global reserves. 11.3% of Ukraine's deposits are anthracite. However, the vast majority of Ukraine's anthracite reserves, 92.4%, are located in the Donetsk coalfield, which is now partly located in republics that Ukraine does not recognise.
Renewable energy sources
Year after year, the share of electricity produced from renewable sources has been increasing in Ukraine. According to the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine, in 11 months of 2021, 11 TWh of energy was generated from renewable energy sources.
The largest wind and solar power plants are located in the south of Ukraine (Mykolayiv, Kherson and Odesa regions) due to favourable natural conditions.
Since 2018 in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone there is a large solar farm "Solar Chernobyl", it is a joint project of Ukrainian Rodina Energy Group Ltd. and German Enerparc AG. This 1 MW farm is only a hundred metres from the sarcophagus. It consists of 3800 photovoltaic panels located on an area of 1.6 ha. The energy produced by this power plant is enough to cover the needs of a medium-sized village or about 2,000 homes.
On 7 November 2018, the Government of Ukraine decided to allocate land plots in the Exclusion Zone for the construction of wind energy facilities with a total area of 7 hectares. Thus, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine was to enable the implementation of 60 applications of investors from Denmark, USA, China, Germany, France, Japan for the allocation of land in the Exclusion Zone for the implementation of renewable energy projects.
An important component of Ukraine's energy system is gas, both domestic and imported. There is domestic production, transmission and transit of gas. Ukraine also consumes the raw material itself. From January to October 2021, the volume of gas produced in Ukraine amounted to 16.4 bcm (for comparison, Poland now consumes around 20 bcm).
For many years Ukraine was the largest transit country for Russian gas. Transit of natural gas through Ukraine in the 10 months of 2021 amounted to 35.3 bcm, with an average daily volume: 115.9 mcm. Slovakia received 80% of the gas transited through Ukraine, i.e. 22.4 bcm, Hungary - 6.8 bcm, Poland - 3.2 bcm, Moldova - 2.4 bcm Romania - 0.4 bcm.
Ukraine has been one of the largest consumers of Russian gas over the years. In 2013, it consumed 50.4 bcm of gas, of which nearly 60% came from Russia. In subsequent years, a deliberate policy led to a reduction in gas consumption to less than 30 bcm and the complete elimination of imports from Russia.
The Ukrainian energy sector under the invasion of the Russian Federation
The start of the war marks the beginning of the shelling and seizure of key Ukrainian energy facilities by Russian troops. On 24 February 2022, the first day of the war, Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it had effectively lost control of nuclear and radiation facilities in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and radiation levels had risen.
Such aggressive actions by the Russian Federation are in direct violation of Article 56 of the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949: "Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population". Russia has repeatedly, even before the war with Ukraine, violated the norms of international law and was not accountable to anyone or anything.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has stopped receiving mandatory data from the safety monitoring system on the territory of the Chernobyl power plant. Radiation is now normal, according to SEE "Ecocenter", the state-owned company responsible for monitoring radiation in the Exclusion Zone. Excessive levels of gamma radiation dose have been registered there, but these are related to the disturbance of the upper soil layer due to the movement of large amounts of heavy military equipment and the raising of contaminated radioactive dust into the air.
But officially there are more than 22,000 fuel assemblies under the sarcophagus in the ISF-1 and ISF-2 spent fuel storage facilities. If the Russian leadership decides to somehow decommission this sarcophagus, then a significant amount of plutonium-239 could turn into a nuclear bomb.
On Saturday, 12 March, Rafael Mariano Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that Russia plans to establish permanent control by Rosatom over the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. According to official information from the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, Rosatom representatives are already on the territory of this power plant.
Conventional thermal power plants are located in the areas where active military operations are currently taking place (Zaporizhia and Kharkiv regions). The situation in the power plants and thermal power plants is constantly changing, some of them are under fire and there are fires that can cause great damage to human life and health and to the environment at any time.
Today, the most dangerous situation is in Ukraine's biggest cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, where big thermal power plants are located. A large thermal power plant, Trypilska, is located in Kyiv, where fires periodically occur as a result of shelling by Russian troops, but for the time being the situation is under the control of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.
It is now extremely important for Ukraine to obtain a large amount of coal to ensure the operation of power plants and the production of electricity to supply the population.
That is why, for Ukraine, the question of uniting the country's territory is not only a political issue, but also a question of energy security - the main thermal power plants are located in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and deposits of high-calorific coal (anthracite) are located in territory not controlled by Ukraine. The first step towards ensuring the functioning of Ukraine's energy system is to preserve the unity of all regions.
Today, dozens of cities and towns in Ukraine with hundreds of thousands of customers are without gas supplies, including small towns near Kyiv (where the tightest battles with the enemy are currently taking place) and in eastern Ukraine. The staff of the Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine continue to serve heroically and resume gas supplies where possible at the first opportunity.
Due to damage to the electricity infrastructure, as of 16 March 2022, more than 1,679 Ukrainian localities remained without electricity - that's about 928,000 consumers. The worst situation with electricity supply is in Sumy, Chernihiv, Mykolayiv, Kyiv and Donetsk regions.
The main strikes by Russian troops in the first minutes of the war were directed at both military and energy facilities. This demonstrates the high importance of the correct functioning of the energy system to ensure the country's viability. Therefore, Ukrainians get information about the war situation from official websites and official social networks. The basic data comes not only from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and State Emergency Service of Ukraine, but also from the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine, whose activities today are extremely important for the civilian population of Ukraine. So there is both military action and energy warfare going on in Ukraine today, which is no less important for preserving the lives of the civilian population of Ukraine and Europe as a whole.
Russia's aggression against Ukraine coincided with preparations for disconnection from the Russian and Belarusian electricity systems and connection to the ENTSO-E European grid. Synchronisation was to take place in 2023. On the day the war broke out, the Ukrainian system was operating in isolation from the Russian and Belarusian systems. Such a test was to last 24 hours. The Ukrainians chose not to reconnect, and already on 27 February they applied to ENSTO-E for an urgent and emergency synchronisation with the European system. By synchronising Ukraine and Moldova with continental Europe, our European partners have made every effort to make the electricity industry an area of lasting integration!
Author: Dr Olha Sushyk, Deputy Director of the Centre for European Studies at the Educational and Scientific Institute of Law, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.
Publication date: 17 March 2022
 Source: own compilation based on data from the State Statistics Service of Ukraine, http://www.ukrstat.gov.ua/operativ/menu/menu_u/energ.htm.