Support Us

Russia continues to destroy the Ukrainian energy infrastructure. What should Ukraine expect without thermal power plants?

Friday, 12 April 2024, 09:13

What did the Russians destroy?

On 11 April, the Russians carried out the third large-scale attack on Ukrainian energy infrastructure since the beginning of the year: thermal generation and transmission facilities were attacked in Odesa, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Lviv, and Kyiv oblasts. 

It is already certain that the Trypillia Thermal Power Plant (TPP) of PJSC Centrenergo, a major electric and thermal energy-producing company in Ukraine's centre and east, was utterly destroyed in Kyiv Oblast. Significant damage has also been inflicted on two power stations of Rinat Akhmetov's DTEK, Ukraine's largest private energy company, and substations of Ukrenergo, Ukraine's national energy company.



What is left of thermal generation in Ukraine?

Three companies own thermal power plants in Ukraine: before the full-scale invasion, about 80% of coal generation was controlled by Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov's DTEK group. Second was the state-owned Centrenergo, which operated three stations; the smallest producer was Donbasenergo, owned by Maksym Yefimov and Eduard Bondarenko.

After the latest attack and destruction of the Trypillia TPP, the state-owned Centrenergo lost all 100% of its generation capacity. Its Vuhlehirska TPP in Donetsk Oblast was occupied in the summer of 2022, and on 22 March of this year, the Russians destroyed Zmiivka TPP in Kharkiv Oblast. Thus, all three Centrenergo thermal power plants were either destroyed or captured.

Donbasenergo owned two thermal power plants. Starobesheve TPP has been occupied by the so-called "DNR" (Donetsk People's Republic) terrorists since 2015, while the Sloviansk TPP is located near the front line and is systematically attacked by the Russians.

Not much is left of DTEK, once the largest player in the thermal generation market. Before the start of the large war, Zuivska Thermal Power Plant was occupied, and after the full-scale Russian invasion, the Russians captured two more power plants – Zaporizhzhia and Luhansk.

The rest the Russians decided to destroy with drone and missile attacks. For safety reasons, Ekonomichna Pravda does not disclose information about the operating power plants of the energy holding, but before the last attack, the company's CEO, Dmytro Sakharuk, stated that about 80% of DTEK's capacities were damaged or utterly destroyed.

"Five out of six plants available until the recent massive attack are severely damaged. Some blocks are almost completely destroyed, the rest – partially," Sakharuk reported after the first two attacks.

During the morning attack on 11 April, equipment at two power plants was again significantly affected. The company did not disclose details, but it can be concluded that the figure of 80% damaged or destroyed facilities is no longer relevant. Thus, less than 20% of thermal generation remains compared to what was available before 22 March of this year.


Why are TPPs necessary for power system operation?

First, it should be mentioned that Russia is attacking not only coal-fired power plants. In addition to thermal power plants (TPPs), hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) and the Ukrenergo's infrastructure necessary for electricity transmission are also subjected to systemic attacks [Ukrenergo is the electricity transmission system operator in Ukraine].

For obvious reasons, the Russians do not attack nuclear power plants or "green" generation facilities since the latter are small and distributed throughout the country.

Therefore, Russia's primary goal is to disable thermal and hydroelectric power plants, which are maneuverable assets. Their primary role in the power system is the ability to quickly increase power production in the morning and evening when consumption rapidly rises.

The power system can only operate safely when a balance is maintained: electricity consumption equals electricity production. When this balance is disrupted, problems arise, leading to power outages.

What happens if TPPs are completely destroyed?

Only basic generation will be available in Ukraine, namely nuclear power plants. Solar and wind power plants will also operate. Some consumers will receive power from imports and emergency assistance.

In addition to the loss of a significant production volume, which currently has no replacement, TPPs destruction will significantly complicate dispatchers work. Despite the difficulties, balancing the power system can be achieved through HPPs, which are among the priority targets for the Russians, too.

The loss of TPPs will inevitably lead to power outages for millions of consumers across the country, at least during the winter and in July-August. 

Restrictions may also occur in other periods of the year. However, assessing the scale accurately is currently impossible for objective reasons.


Is it possible that the Russians will destroy all thermal generation?

The situation with thermal generation is already critical. "It is clear that there will be no coal generation in Ukraine after the war. The Russians are stubborn and if they start destroying our TPPs, they will continue to do so until they achieve their goal," believes Oleksandr Kharchenko, Director at the Energy Industry Research Centre.

How many such attacks are needed to destroy all thermal generation left? Again, everything depends on many factors that cannot be assessed now. The Ekonomichna Pravda's source in the energy sector mentioned different numbers: from two to ten attacks.

What about the protection of energy assets? It has cost tens of billions of hryvnyas...

It is essential to understand that when it comes to billions spent on protecting energy assets, this does not apply to power plants, as it is clearly impossible to shield them with, let’s say, sarcophagi, as is the case with the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (CNPP). The Chornobyl NPP sarcophagus is a tremendous concrete structure built to cover and contain the damaged reactor and radioactive materials after the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster.

Protection was constructed at high-voltage substations, which suffered the most from last year's Russian attacks. Information about the number and location of shelters at substations is classified. Still, for general understanding, we can say that several dozen facilities were closed, accounting for only about 20-25% of their total number.

"There is protection at the substations, it proved itself well, though in terms of the overall picture, there are not enough of them installed," Kharchenko said.

In addition, Ekonomichna Pravda sources say the shelters are not designed to withstand a direct hit from a ballistic missile. "They can't withstand a strike with an accuracy of a metre, and where there have been such hits, autotransformers or other equipment have been destroyed. However, in cases where the missile hit 20-30 metres to the right or left, the protective structure did work. The equipment there is operational," says an Ekonomichna Pravda source in energy sector circles.

It is simply impossible to erect such protective structures at huge generation facilities.


Why are there no rolling blackouts at present?

As a matter of fact, the situation is now critical, and several factors contribute to avoiding blackouts across the country.

Firstly, many consumers are still without power in the city of Kharkiv, where rolling blackouts are introduced daily. Power supply restrictions have also been imposed on industrial consumers in the city of Kryvyi Rih.

Secondly, Ukraine regularly receives imports and emergency assistance from the European power grid.

Thirdly, the country is currently at its lowest consumption peak. However, once consumption picks up due to the heatwave, problems may arise.

Another thing to keep in mind is that rolling blackouts already occasionally occur in some oblasts. For example, they were introduced in Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kirovohrad, Poltava, Donetsk and Sumy oblasts last week during the evening peak consumption period from 18:00 to 22:00.

Therefore, power supply restrictions are possible at any time, especially if the Russians launch more attacks.


What actions can Ukraine take before next winter?

First of all, some of the equipment destroyed by the Russians can be repaired. Some countries have committed to providing Ukraine with spare parts and equipment from their closed thermal power plants.

Secondly, it is necessary to develop distributed generation based on natural gas, which has been the subject of much discussion recently, but nothing has moved beyond mere words.

"It is necessary to find, bring in and install gas piston and gas turbine power plants with low capacity that the enemy cannot destroy in the shortest possible time. Gas turbine and gas piston generation is the only possible solution in the next 2-3 years. After that, we can discuss other options. At least 2-2.5 GW of new capacity is necessary to replace what has already been lost due to the recent attacks," Kharchenko explained.

The critical thing is to bolster Ukrainian air defence and completely close the skies, as without these measures, there is no point in rebuilding old coal-fired power plants or building new gas-fired power plants. In the meantime, consumers are urged to save electricity, as Ukrenergo has already advised.

Translation: Tetiana Buchkovska, Artem Yakymyshyn, Sofiia Kohut

Editing: Ivan Zhezhera