What does blackout mean, and how to prevent it? Key risks for Ukraine this winter

November 22, 2022

May we expect a blackout in Ukraine, and how to avoid it — in the column of energy market analyst Maksym Bielawski for RBC Ukraine.

Let's start with the definition. A blackout means complete loss of controllability of the power system, when dispatcher commands or physical switching of equipment do not lead to restoration of power supply.

It is important to understand that only specialists who have access to a large array of current information and special simulation programmes can predict such a moment. Therefore, any predictions of loss of the power system controllability from persons who are unfamiliar with the current state and intricacies of the power system operation should be disregarded. It is better to follow the official information from NEC "Ukrenergo" and the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine.

Let's go further. Planned outages are not a blackout, but a purposeful restriction of electricity supply for a certain group of consumers to minimise the risks of accidents and maintain a stable frequency in a certain area of ​​the power system. When scheduled power outages are insufficient, so-called emergency outages are introduced. Massive activation of automatic frequency load shedders leading to simultaneous disconnection of more than 100 thousand users is usually called a brownout.

Current status. Despite the unprecedented scale of damage to Ukraine's energy system, we quite successfully passed the test of the first frost (during the night of November 19–20), otherwise emergency shutdowns might have happened. It was not the case, because people work round-the-clock to restore the energy system, and every action of electricians and gas technicians takes place with thoughts about the consumer.

I am sure of it, because I am familiar with such feelings, when comfort in hundreds of thousands of families depends on your work and dedication to the job. We repair and restore power supply very diligently, and it is highly important that consumers remember this and do their best to use electricity sparingly.

Now, about how other countries overcame emergency situations. I analysed more than 130 incidents in over 40 countries in the past 55 years. For convenience, I classified the measures taken at three levels.

1. Micro level: installation of generators and electric batteries (lithium-iron-phosphate) at critical infrastructure facilities (water treatment plants, pharmacies, grocery stores), replacement of incandescent light bulbs in low-income families, limiting the number of lightboxes and city lights, a ban on street garlands during Christmas holidays.

Speaking of generators and batteries, it is important to offer tax or other incentives to domestic manufacturers, because it is highly important to reduce the share of imports and keep foreign currency in Ukraine. If there are funds in regional budgets, it makes sense to adjust expenditures and, say, purchase a solar power plant and a battery system with a total capacity of 50 kW for local dispensaries, which will cost approximately UAH 700,000.

2. Meso level: installation of new distributed generation capacities (from 0.5 to 5 MW each), for example, unfreezing the frozen projects of wind power plants, installation of systems that produce electrical energy based on the principle of pressure drop, gas generation, cogeneration and geothermal plants, especially in the western regions of Ukraine.

3. Macro level, in terms of infrastructure and resources: restoring domestic generation capacities (damaged by terrorist attacks), de-occupation of Zaporizhia NPP and unlocking the throughput of power grids of 22 to 750 kV, in particular, using reactive power compensation units. Special attention should be paid to electricity imports from the EU: for this, it is necessary to make contracts for at least the minimum volumes for the 1st quarter of 2023, which will make it possible to balance Ukraine’s energy system, if necessary.

I want to separately mention the financial state of the energy market – it is the next element in the chain of Ukraine’s energy security, after the sufficiency of resources and reliability of the infrastructure. It is important to understand that after the unprovoked aggression, the volume of funds and the rate of payments decreased significantly, while the expenses went up due to the need for repairs – this creates a cash gap, experienced by all economic entities of the energy market in Ukraine.

Response measures should include raising the price cap in the day-ahead market segment or indicative price setting for the intraday market; repayment of debts for services on the balancing market, reduction of fines for alternative energy operators, as well as linkage of the price of imbalance to the day-ahead market.

Due to the disproportionality of retail electricity prices with generation costs, generating companies suffer heavy losses, which, in the conditions of outstanding debts for the previous period, creates serious challenges for their financial sustainability.

Speaking about the amount of funds required for operators of transmission and distribution systems to restore infrastructure, it is enough to calculate the system average interruption duration index (SAIDI), it will grow at least three times according to the results of the second half of 2022, that is, the financing of operators through the tariff should be raised accordingly next year. 

Under such circumstances, there can be no talk of cancelling RAB regulation. By the way, after the implementation of this technique, the duration of power outages decreased, at the expense of investments.

In conclusion, a few words about gas supply. The risks of interruption of gas supply for domestic consumers are close to zero due to the structural features of the infrastructure and the tricks of the equipment operation, which our heroes of the energy front are very good at.

From the point of view of resource sufficiency, there are currently no problems, but it is necessary to make medium-term contracts for gas supply from the EU in the first quarter of 2023, at least up 2.5 BCM for the entire period. These volumes may be purchased as part of the energy lend-lease, using the funds of our allies or international financial institutions.

I will comment separately on the attack on gas production facilities. First of all, it was an unprecedented terrorist attack that continued the long list of crimes we observe for 8 years now, but for which the aggressor will definitely answer. Now it is extremely important to document and record all the damage. Secondly, the enemy chose such targets in order to limit our resource capabilities of gas generation. However, he strongly miscalculated the willpower and motivation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, energy and gas workers.

We will surely overcome, rebuild and demonstrate leadership to others. Because we deserve it, and we are free!



Maksym Bielawski

Leading Expert, Energy Programmes

Born in 1986 in Zhytomyr oblast


Zhytomyr State Technological University (2008)

Ph.D in Technical Science (2010)

Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University of Oil and Gas (2012)

Author of 17 patents and 100 scientific works

Work Experience:

2008 – 2011 — Operator of Gas Infrastructure Units, Controller of Gas Transmission System in Rivne Division of PJSC "Ukrtransgas"

2011 – 2017 — Leading Engineer, Deputy Head of Press-Service, Head of Public Relation Department of PJSC "Ukrtransgas"

2017 – 2018 — HR Director of PJSC "Maine Gas Pipelines of Ukraine", Advisor to the Minister of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine

2021 — Director of Integrated Communications of NJSC "Naftogaz of Ukraine"