Espreso. Global

What is state of Ukraine’s energy sector and why does Russia attack gas storage facility?

27 March, 2024 Wednesday

Why Russia began to target Ukraine's energy infrastructure again and struck a gas storage facility for the first time, and what to expect next

What the text is about:

  • What is the state of the Ukrainian energy system after the Russian attacks?
  • Should Ukrainians count on electricity imports from the EU?
  • Why did Russia decide to attack the energy system now?
  • Why did Russia decide to attack a gas storage facility for the first time?

What is the state of Ukrainian energy system after Russian attacks?

On March 22, Russia launched a massive attack on Ukraine's energy sector. In particular, enemy missiles hit Ukraine's largest hydroelectric power plant, DniproHES, and destroyed the largest thermal power plant, CHP-5, which is the largest in the Kharkiv region and generated not only heat but also electricity. There were hits to energy infrastructure in the Khmelnytskyi, Dnipro, and Odesa regions.

According to Ukrenergo, Ukraine's national power company, as of March 26, the power system is operating stably, with no shortages expected. In the Odesa region, the periods of power supply restrictions have been reduced. There, Ukrenergo specialists have restored some equipment at one of the affected substations. As a result, the capacity of high-voltage grids to transmit electricity has been increased and the periods of consumption restrictions have been reduced. About 50% of electric transport in the city is working, and hourly outage schedules are in place for household consumers.

There are currently no consumption restrictions in Khmelnytskyi and Kryvyi Rih. However, if consumption increases, power companies will be forced to apply blackout schedules. 

The situation in the Kharkiv region remains the most difficult. Power companies are working to gradually supply power to consumers using backup schemes.

"If we talk about DniproHES, more than half of its capacity has been lost. This is more than a thousand MW. As far as I understand, even the management of DniproHES is not yet fully aware of how long it will take to restore it. DTEK also says that it will take years, not months, to restore the power plant," former Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan told Espreso.

DTEK, which owns Ukraine's largest coal-fired power generation, has previously stated that it has lost about half of its capacity. Before the full-scale invasion, DTEK's share in Ukraine's generation was estimated at more than 20%. In total, thermal power plants accounted for about a third of generation, nuclear power plants for half, hydroelectric power plants for 5-7%, and renewable energy for the rest.

Should Ukrainians rely on electricity imports from the EU?

Ukrenergo announced record electricity imports to cover the market deficit. In particular, the company plans to import a total of 18,649 MWh per day from Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Moldova, with a maximum capacity of 1,537 MW in some hours.

"Today, prices in Western Europe are quite attractive in terms of electricity imports. Therefore, it is possible to import this energy. However, the question is whether we will be able to deliver it to where it is needed, because Russia is targeting the electrical infrastructure, the networks of Ukrenergo. They are targeting such single points as Kharkiv to completely destroy everything there and to organize a blackout," says Yuriy Prodan.

However, despite favorable prices for imported electricity, it is possible that Ukraine will have to revise electricity tariffs, as the restoration requires significant resources. However, according to the former minister, the decision to revise tariffs is considered exclusively by the National Energy and Utilities Regulatory Commission.

Why did Russia decide to attack the energy system now?

Last year, everyone was preparing for Russian attacks on energy facilities in the fall and winter, but the winter passed quietly. Why did Russia decide to destroy the Ukrainian energy sector now?

Military expert Viktor Yahun believes that this is due to the potential arrival of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

"Russia understands that in the next two months Ukraine will have a powerful counterforce in the form of F-16s, so they are trying to do as much damage as possible so that they can wait a little longer. And the situation at the front is different now," he told Espreso.

According to Yahun, the frontline areas are the most at risk, as they are within the range of S-300 missiles.

"In the frontline regions, the Russians have the ability to use anti-aircraft missiles, which they convert into ballistic missiles - these are S-300s. Therefore, the biggest risk is Zaporizhzhia, the Kremenchuk reservoir and further upstream," he says. "They are not hitting dams - a dam cannot be destroyed by external influence - it is absurd. If they had fired rockets at the Kakhovka reservoir dam, they would not have been able to destroy it. It was blown up from the inside: they brought about 20 tons of explosives into the engine room, which is located below the water level, and blew it up there. This destroyed the dam, and the water did the rest. If we talk about other hydroelectric power plants, they can damage the engine rooms that are visible from above, possibly damage the concrete, water spouts, but the dam itself cannot be destroyed. But they can cause damage, just like at DniproHES.”

Both Viktor Yahun and Yuriy Prodan agree that no other defense against simple Russian attacks on infrastructure but strengthening air defense will work.

"Russia probably assumes that Ukraine, not having sufficient assistance from its partners, expects that our air defense is weakened, so it decided to attack the infrastructure. In turn, attacks on energy infrastructure seriously affect our economic potential, especially our defense companies," says Yuriy Prodan. "We hope that with the help of our partners we will be able to repair some of the equipment before the fall and winter. But we can expect that Russia will prevent this from happening with its insidious attacks.”

One of the options to save Ukraine from blackouts is to install mini-CHPs, cogeneration units, mini-solar stations, i.e. many small objects that cannot be destroyed in one blow. At the same time, they can provide electricity to a certain area.

"This is not a way out of the situation, because such distributed generation cannot quite provide the necessary volumes and reliability for our large industries. But it is necessary to do this in order to survive in this situation," says Yuriy Prodan, "because today the main thing is to strengthen air defense so that Russia cannot attack our important energy facilities. This is the main thing that will help us prepare for the fall and winter period.”

Why did Russia decide to attack a gas storage facility for the first time?

Two days after the massive attack on the electricity infrastructure, on March 24, Russia attacked the gas infrastructure. The head of Naftogaz, Oleksiy Chernyshov, confirmed that Russia had attacked an underground gas storage facility in the Lviv region.

"As a result of an enemy attack in western Ukraine, the ground infrastructure of one of the underground gas storage facilities of Ukrtransgaz, the Ukrainian gas storage operator, was hit and technological equipment was damaged. We are currently working to localize and eliminate the consequences in accordance with the scenarios of the Emergency Localization and Response Plan," he said.

The attack on the gas storage facility on March 24 was the first targeted strike on gas infrastructure since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. So far, Russia has not dared to attack gas infrastructure.

“The first strike on the oil and gas storage facility is aimed at reducing the confidence of our partners, who are still pumping gas into the storage facility to store and prepare for the fall and winter periods. Russia will try to disrupt the injection into the storage facilities,” says Yuriy Prodan. “This strike is one of the elements of the fact that Russia is going to play the long game and is waiting for the next winter to destroy our energy sector as much as possible.”

"The Russians realized that Ukraine was not going to extend the contract for gas transportation and decided to undermine our ability to earn money from Western companies for storing gas in our storage facilities during the off-season. The off-season will start in a month, Western companies have already signed contracts and they need to store this fuel somewhere," says Viktor Yahun. "In fact, it is very difficult to damage such things as underground gas storage. Even if the equipment is damaged on top, you can use the storage facility nearby - there are enough of them in western Ukraine and it is not pleasant to pump gas from place to place, but not critical.”

At the same time, according to Viktor Yahun, the Russian Federation has enough missiles with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers that can hit infrastructure in western Ukraine, so it is likely that it will repeat its attempts to attack gas storage facilities and other energy infrastructure. So, again, all hope is in modern air defense systems and a sufficient number of missiles for them.

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