Eastern Europe holds the key to maintaining Ukraine’s power

  • Eastern Europe has electricity grids compatible with those of Ukraine
  • Russian attacks on infrastructure cause extensive damage
  • Ukraine has sent a list of the hardware it needs from abroad

VILNIUS/WARSAW, Dec 21 (Reuters) – In Lithuania, a giant disused electrical transformer built in 1980 in present-day Ukraine has been dusted off and prepared for shipment. It will travel by sea to Romania and then back to Ukraine, possibly in the next few weeks.

Rokas Masiulis, head of Lithuania’s power grid, said his company was searching warehouses for anything else Ukraine might need to repair the damage caused to its power system by repeated Russian missile attacks.

“Ukrainians say they are fine to receive anything, including things that don’t work or are broken, as they can fix the equipment themselves,” he told Reuters.

As the West scrambles to replenish Kyiv’s stocks of arms and ammunition, countries in Europe and beyond are also in a race to supply transformers, switches and cables, as well as the diesel generators needed to light and heat the country in winter.

Ukraine has shared a list with European countries of some 10,000 items it urgently needs to maintain power.

Former members of the Soviet Union and the former communist bloc have an important role to play based on their proximity and the fact that some networks in the region still have hardware compatible with Ukraine’s.

Masiulis said the greatest need was for auto-transformers, such as the one destined for Ukraine. Worth approximately 2 million euros ($2.13 million), it weighs almost 200 tons and took two weeks to disassemble and drain the oil for transport.

“We are in the process of upgrading our network, and everything we dismantle we send to Ukraine,” he said. Latvia, Lithuania’s northern neighbor and also part of the Soviet Union, said he was sending five large transformers to Ukraine, two of which were due to move soon.

Since early October, Russian forces have attacked Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing blackouts and forcing millions of people to endure freezing temperatures with little or no heating.

Moscow says the attacks are justified as part of its “special military operation” to degrade Ukrainian forces. Kyiv and the West see the bombing as a cynical attack on civilians to break their spirit and weaken the enemy.

European regional bodies and countries like Azerbaijan, France, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland and individual companies have already sent thousands of equipment to Ukraine.

“We are looking around the world for replacements for equipment destroyed during the attacks,” Yaroslav Demchenkov, Ukraine’s deputy energy minister, said in early December.

Ukraine managed to avoid a “total collapse” of the power distribution system, he said, but the outages are significant. Some 80% of the Kyiv region was without power for two days this week after Russian missile and drone attacks.

It is impossible to estimate the full value of the support, given the fragmented and rushed nature of the response, but tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transformers and generators have been dispatched.

Challenges include finding the right hardware to meet Ukraine’s needs. As a former member of the Soviet Union, its power system is not always compatible with other countries, including its northern neighbors.

The supply of generators cannot match the demand, company officials said, especially as some of the most needed deliveries can take months.

“Unfortunately, the high-voltage transformers, which we need the most, are not yet available,” Oleksandr Kharchenko, director of the Kyiv-based Power Industry Research Center, said on Ukrainian state television on Wednesday.

He said there were some in the world that could be shipped, but he didn’t expect them to arrive before February at the earliest.

GIANT TRANSFORMERS

Lithuania’s transmission grid operator has already shipped hundreds of smaller transformers, which step down voltage as it travels from the power station to the end user, and its gas network has supplied spare parts to Ukraine.

The Polish state-owned company Tauron said last week it had shipped 21 kilometers (13 miles) of cable, nine drums, 129 insulators, 39 transformers and 11 overhead circuit breakers, which spokesman Łukasz Zimnoch described as gifts.

Some deliveries are in response to requests from Ukraine, while private companies request alternative supplies to keep businesses running.

Jerzy Kowalik, commercial director of Polish power generator maker EPS System, said the company was receiving many orders from Ukraine, some for dozens of large units at a time.

“There is a problem with the availability of the engines we use in the midst of a global generator boom fueled by the energy crisis,” Kowalik said. His company of about 100 employees cannot meet the demand and is turning down some applications from Ukraine.

Volodymyr Kudrystski, chairman of the board of directors of Ukraine’s grid operator Ukrenergo, said the supply of urgently needed transformers was complicated by the fact that Ukraine’s standard power transmission lines are 750 kilovolts and 330 kV. . Those of neighboring Poland, for example, are 400 kV and 220 kV.

Switches, disconnectors and circuit breakers are also crucial, as some 70 Ukrenergo repair crews, or about 1,000 people, work around the clock to restore power and subcontractors have been hired.

LONG TERM SUPPLY PLANS

During peak hours, Ukraine consumes about 16 gigawatts of electricity. It can import up to 10% of that from neighboring systems, although lines linking it to Poland have been damaged in recent attacks before being restored and Romania is only a marginal source so far.

That means Ukraine is drawing on its own reserves of equipment, built in anticipation of a possible invasion, and shipped in from abroad.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said this month that Ukrainian companies had imported 500,000 smaller generators, but the country needed 17,000 large or industrial generating units to get through the winter.

Those were particularly important for critical infrastructure like hospitals and water pumping stations.

One of the bodies that oversees energy support in Europe is the Secretariat of the Energy Community, an international group established by the European Union and eight member states that aspire to become members of the EU.

Its director, Artur Lorkowski, said more than 60 private companies in Europe from 20 countries participated, with 800 tons of equipment already shipped and dozens more deliveries planned.

As reserves of state-owned European power grids dwindle, Lorkowski expected the private sector to become more important in meeting Ukraine’s power infrastructure needs.

Talks are underway through the G7 to leverage companies in the United States, Canada and Japan, he added.

“This would give us the scale that would make a difference in Ukraine,” Lorkowski told Reuters.

A first batch of $13 million worth of US electrical equipment has been shipped to Ukraine, officials said, and two more planes were due to leave shortly. Ukraine has also been in talks with Japan.

Lorkowski and a few other officials predicted that the hardware might have to be designed and built from scratch, although such a change would take time and money.

Ukrainian officials who want to integrate Ukraine’s economy with Western Europe are considering a major overhaul of the energy sector, although the priority for now is repairing the current grid.

Some imported equipment has been donated, while countries and international credit agencies are also providing loans and grants to help Kyiv pay for repairs.

Olena Osmolovska, head of Ukraine’s energy ministry’s reform support team, said that fully restoring the energy system would cost tens of billions of dollars.

($1 = 0.9406 euros)

Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius and Riga, Marek Strzelecki in Warsaw; Additional reporting by Olena Harmash and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Written by Mike Collett-White; Edited by Mike Collett-White and Barbara Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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