In EU, Ukraine

By Alena Zadorozhnaya,

Published in Vzglyad*, Nov 24, 2022:

In this article from the Russian daily Vzglyad, Alena Zadorozhnaya describes the stark realities currently facing Ukraine’s energy transmission system and the request by Kyiv to European countries for the delivery of high-voltage transmission equipment. She questions whether the European Union has what Ukraine needs. The translation to English is by New Cold War.

Click here to read the article in Russian

Ukraine has a new request to the West. Following the large-scale strikes during the past week by Russia against Ukraine’s energy transmission system, reducing the unified power grid into separate segments, the relevant Kyiv minister is asking European countries for deliveries of high-voltage transmission equipment. But does the European Union have what Kyiv needs?

On November 24, during telephone conversations with European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson and the US Department of Energy, Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Galushchenko requested the supply of high-voltage equipment to restore the energy system. TASS reports that Kadri Simson, at a meeting with ministers of the EU countries on behalf of the European Commission, called for sending large supplies of high-voltage transformers and electric generators to Kiev.

In turn, the head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic, Josef Sikela, who presides over the EU Council, has also conveyed a message to Galushchenko “on the critical state of the country’s energy infrastructure”. Earlier, the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak, acknowledged that blackouts in the country could last for weeks.

There were  large-scale power outages across Ukraine on November 23 as a result of Russian military strikes on the electricity grid. Large cities were left without electricity. Many thermal power plants, hydroelectric power stations and all nuclear power plants remaining under the control of the Kyiv regime – Khmelnytsky, South-Ukrainian and Rivne – were also de-energized.

According to experts, this time the highest voltage substations (750 kilovolts), which are responsible for transferring electricity between the regions of the country, were put out of action. The unified energy system of Ukraine effectively ceased to exist.

On November 24, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities.

That evening, the largest Ukrainian energy company, DTEK, announced the restoration of the operation of its power plants. “Power supply to all critical infrastructure facilities – hospitals, water utilities – has been restored in all regions where the company’s specialists work. There is a gradual connection of household consumers,” TASS quoted a message on the company’s website.

Be that as it may, to date at least 50% of energy infrastructure facilities in Ukraine have been damaged, economist Ivan Lizan tells VZGLYAD newspaper. “Especially large damage is recorded at hydroelectric substations, which provide current from the power plants and also ensure the flow of electricity between different regions of the country,” he explained.

Earlier, nuclear energy specialist Aleksey Anpilogov drew attention to the fact that the Ukrainian substations with the highest voltage – 750 kV – were becoming the target of Russian missile strikes. “Until now, Ukraine has boasted that these substations were not disabled, saying that missiles did not strike their targets. But the fact is that the previous missile strikes were sparing; they disabled 110 kV and 330 kV substations,” the analyst explained.

There are less than ten substations with a voltage of 750 kV in Ukraine. “But the failure of each of them is actually the loss of several regions at once, because it is these substations that are responsible for the transfer of electricity between regions,” Anpilogov said.

“The unified energy system of Ukraine is actually divided into islands, explained Ivan Lizan. “Of course, they will try to restore the system in the near future, but with each new blow, the damage becomes even greater. And with each such shelling, a large amount of power equipment catches on fire and there is simply nothing to replace it.”

“The biggest problem is the transformers. They operate with open switchgear (ORU). The difficulty with them is that they are gigantic, weighing some 200 tons, and are also filled with oil. These burn brightly and intensely when hit, burning everything around them. Extinguishing them is also not easy, requiring huge volumes of special foam.”

“There are factories in Ukraine where these transformers used to be made,” Lizan said. “The Zaporozhye Transformer Plant was one of those. Until recently, it belonged to the oligarch Konstantin Grigorishin and had orders for its transformers, including from Russia and other foreign countries. However, the plant became unprofitable and in 2019 it filed for bankruptcy. The Ukrainian authorities seemingly did not care about its production.”[1]

The Ukrenergo company [the state-run electricity transmission system operator in Ukraine and the sole operator of the country’s high-voltage transmission lines] preferred to buy foreign equipment, especially if they were provided with loans, the source said. Therefore, their own manufacturer, the Zaporozhye Transformer Plant, was discriminated against at the auction. “Grigoryshyn and the management of the plant complained about this, but it was not possible to correct the situation. And after the start of the Russian military operation, a rocket flew into the plant and there was a powerful explosion. There are no guarantees that production will be restored,” Lizan said.

“There is another transformer manufacturing plant at the All-Union Institute of Transformer Engineering (VIT) in the Zaporozhye region. It was built in 2012. But the problem is that since 2006, VIT has been owned by the Russian holding Elektrozavod. That is, HIT was built into the cooperative chain with Russia. In the current conditions, it is unlikely to produce anything. The same applies to other enterprises that were once in Ukraine,” the interlocutor notes ironically.

Lizan believes it is theoretically possible to revive production in Zaporozhye, but not under the current government. “Now Ukraine can only beg for equipment from the West. But it does not seem to be taking into account the voltage classes of the transformers. Throughout the post-Soviet space, there are transformers for 750 kV and 330 kV lines, while in Europe these are 400 kV and 220 kV. So it simply won’t work to install, for example, Siemens equipment.”

Lizan emphasizes that Zelensky can solve the problem only through negotiations with Russia.

According to Aleksey Anpilogov, Ukraine will not be able to restore the energy balance within a reasonable time. He cites problems with the installation of new or replacement transformers for substations. These are piece-by-piece installations, with equipment manufactured over a period of several months to several years. “Difficulties may also arise with the delivery of this equipment once it is produced.”

Notes by editor/translator:

[1] News of the current state of the electrical transformer manufacturer Zaporozhtransformator (formerly the Zaporozhye Transformer Plant) is sketchy. The plant is located in the city of Zaporozhye and was once one of the largest manufacturers of transformers in the world.

[2] Ukrainian media has reported that some supporting countries in Europe are scrambling to help repair damaged electricity transformers in Ukraine. A report in the anti-Russia The Guardian on November 29 states that appeals for replacement parts for transformers have been issued by Ukraine but the newspaper reports no results. It also writes, “Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief, a government-controlled volunteering association, said it was planning to deliver a further 100 generators to Ukraine in the coming two weeks, on top of about 150 it has shipped to the country to date.” Here, too, The Guardian provides no detail, but it appears it is writing of portable generators, that is, nothing close to replacing the lost or damaged capacity of network transformers. The Guardian article notes that Ukraine’s electricity transmission standards are those of the former Soviet Union and are different from Europe. (This is also true of railway locomotives and wagons; these have a wider (Soviet era) railway gauge than in western Europe.) Kyiv Independent as well as Reuters reported in late November that European Union countries are mobilizing to provide portable generators to Ukraine, enough to power a hospital, for example. But Western media reports are creating the false impression that network transformers can be repaired or replaced.

*Russian daily newspaper


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