"Under heavy stress." What happens to Ukraine's energy system after Russian missile attacks?

December 14, 2022

What will happen to electricity, gas and heat supply in Ukraine this winter? How big is the safety margin of the country's infrastructure, and can citizens get ready for current and future power outages? Radio Liberty's "News of Azov" project spoke about all this with Volodymyr Omelchenko, Razumkov Centre’s energy programmes director. 

— It is clear that after these strikes it (the energy system — ed.) cannot be 100% stable and reliable, but it proved that it can recover and showed its strength. It is also necessary to stress that no other European energy system probably could withstand such powerful 8 waves of missile strikes on critical infrastructure facilities, as the Ukrainian energy system did.

The expert notes that there are no problems with stocks of energy resources in Ukraine, the problem is with the damage to the energy infrastructure itself. 

— Regarding stocks of natural gas, today we have about 13.5 BCM of gas in underground storages. Given that our consumption has fallen by 40% this year, if we compare November last year and November this year, the gas surplus is about 30-35%. Additional purchases are being discussed. Therefore, I do not expect major problems with gas supply.

— As for electricity supply and coal stocks, things are not so bad here either. In principle, stocks are about 20% bigger than last year. That is, we see that the main problems are associated not with energy reserves but rather with damage to the energy infrastructure. The thing is that today, we do not have a lot of capacities, this is primarily the ZNPP — the largest in Europe, with 6 nuclear units. Its share in Ukraine's energy supply reached 30%. The Luhansk Thermal Power Plant and Zaporizhia Thermal Power Plant do not work either.

"ZNPP will not work in the Russian Federation"

According to Omelchenko, operation of the nuclear power plant is extremely dangerous, while the occupiers are there. He is also convinced that Russia will not be able to make the station to work in its interests.

- No one will let them do this, they want to but they can't, because no one will give it to them. First, Ukraine will not allow it to be done, and second, the IAEA will not give permission for it. The IAEA has made it clear that the ZNPP was, is and will remain the property of Ukraine, under the Ukrainian control, i.e. of the Energoatom company. But it cannot work and provide power to the power grid today, because this may cause additional risks, accidents. When a unit operates under load, it is much more dangerous than if it is shut down to cold reserve.

— We see that only two units are working now, but they work for internal needs and the needs of heat supply to parts of the city of Enerhodar.

"Arteries" under fire

The expert also points out that 90% of the entire Ukrainian solar energy infrastructure, which was located mainly in the south of Ukraine, was destroyed by the war.

— Now, a significant part of the wind generation is either under occupation or completely destroyed. We lost more than 12 GW of power due to either these strikes or the occupation, I think — much more. This is certainly a big problem for Ukraine.

— Today, the average electricity consumption is around 13 GW, but we lost 12 GW. Well, in peak time, a bit more is produced — up to 16 GW. I think that with heavy frost it can reach 17 GW. Therefore, as you can see, this is a very serious problem.

Another serious problem is that they (the Russian military — ed.) target not so much generation capacities now, as the "arteries" — high-voltage transmission lines, distribution systems, transformers, substations, the devices that ensure electricity transmission from generation to the consumers. They have chosen a more cunning way, they hit transportation. The bottlenecks. 

"Quick recovery is impossible"

The Razumkov Centre expert claims that the energy sector is currently unable to repair all the damaged lines and fully provide the population with electricity.

— Today, it is really impossible to do this, since we do not have an emergency reserve, the equipment, primarily circuit breakers, automatic transformers, and it is impossible to order them somewhere and quickly have them manufactured, since the voltage class of our power system is different from that the EU power system, the equipment is different. This especially refers to high-voltage transformers, and takes time.

Once again, energy engineers work quite skilfully there, trying to switch and connect the energy system in a different way, that is, to bypass the bottlenecks and supply electricity to consumers. But this system does not work in the designed mode, that is why there is no stability.

The expert also gave his forecast regarding the shortage of electricity until the end of winter

— My forecast is very simple: by the beginning of spring, we will have a stable deficit of electricity at a level of 15-20%. Plus an additional deficit will be created after such massive strikes as on December 5 or November 23. That is, this deficit can reach 40% or more for a day or a day and a half, up to two days.

In principle, I think that our air defence system is working better and better. Power engineers have learned to reconfigure the energy system after these strikes, they already know approximately where to expect the strikes. Also, Russia is running out of missiles, and as a result of all this, the Ukrainian system, despite anything, will endure, this is my basic forecast. The more Putin hits us, the stronger we become. 

The expert calls the work of Ukrainian energy workers, especially in the south, "heroic."

— As far as I know, on Sunday (December 4 — ed.), Kherson was provided with electricity by more than 50%. It is really a heroic act of our energy workers, in such a difficult situation, when everything is broken — all power grids, transformers, they provided the city with electricity in such a short, tight timeframe. However, shelling of Kherson continues — in revenge for its return under the Ukrainian control.

"Emergency shutdowns will continue"

Omelchenko does not rule out further shelling by the Russian Federation, therefore, he says, power outages, both emergency and planned, will continue.

— On the one hand, I don't want to paint a rosy picture, but on the other, I don't wish to produce an apocalyptic scenario. I have already said that we will be permanently in a state of electricity shortage at a level of 15–20%, which means that there will be planned outages all over the country until the beginning of spring. That is, people will be disconnected for 3–4 hours, this will be normal, everyone should understand where we are — in a state of war, where the infrastructure is constantly being shelled.

There will be a schedule of emergency shutdowns, the deficit can exceed 40%, and the period of emergency shutdowns can reach up to 2 days — not more. Again, it won't be like this all the time, maybe just once or twice a month. Scheduled shutdowns will alternate with emergency shutdowns after massive strikes. This is my forecast for next spring, but I hope and believe that there will be no apocalypse.

The energy system of Ukraine in the current conditions can be helped by electricity imports, the expert says. According to him, thanks to the current synchronization with the European energy system, Ukraine can already get about 500 MW of power, and in the future — up to 2 GW or more.

— This can be a very big help for the Ukrainian energy system. But what is the problem? The main problem is that our electricity market is inconsistent with the market model of the EU energy system. Prices in Ukraine are two to three times lower than in the EU countries. And today there are no commercial prerequisites for someone to engage in electricity imports to Ukraine, because no commercial, state or non-state company will do this to its own detriment.

— As far as I know, the Ministry of Energy is dealing with this in order to somehow compensate the difference between the prices in the EU and in Ukraine — at the expense of some loans, grants, help from European partners, other sources. That is, the mechanism is being developed.

At the same time, Omelchenko considers the idea of using mobile, floating generation platforms as unlikely due to risks, since this requires a "security corridor", like the "grain corridor". In addition, the cost of this electricity for the population will be 5 times higher, the expert says.



Volodymyr Omelchenko

Director, Energy Programmes

Born in 1967 in Kyiv

Education: Kyiv Politechnic Institute, Department of Chemical Engineering (1992)

Author of over 50 scientific works and op-ed publications. Took part in development and implementation of international energy projects and scientific research in international energy policy


1992 – 1996 — worked in different positions in the mechanical engineering industry

1997 – 1998 — Head Expert of the Division of Oil, Gas and Petroleum Refining Industry of the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine

1998 – 2003 — Naftohaz Ukrayiny National Joint-Stock Company, in Charge of Oil Transportation Section

2004 – 2007 — Chief Consultant at the National Institute of International Security Problems of Ukraine’s NSDC

since February, 2007 — Leading Expert, Razumkov Centre. Director of Energy Programmes since 2013

(044) 206-85-02