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Europe and Ukraine’s plan to connect power grids

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BRUSSELS/WARSAW – The European Union said on Monday it would urgently connect Europe’s electricity system to Ukraine’s grid, a move that would strengthen the independence of the country’s energy system from Russia.

The link has been planned for years and was scheduled for 2023. Europe will now move forward with it as soon as possible – possibly within weeks – after Moscow invades Ukraine.

“This is a strategic initiative to increase Ukraine’s energy independence,” said EU energy policy chief Kadri Simson.

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Here’s what that means.

WHY SYNCHRONIZE?

Europe and Ukraine have been planning since 2017 to synchronize their power grids, with Ukraine seeking to decouple from a system tied to Russia, Belarus and other former Soviet states.

Linking to Europe would make Ukraine’s energy system more independent of Russia since Moscow would no longer control technical aspects of the grid, such as grid frequency.

Instead, it would put the Ukrainian grid on the same frequency as continental Europe’s electricity system, the European Network of Electricity Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E).

Ukrainian public grid operator Ukrenergo said the link would allow Ukraine to receive emergency electricity from Europe if military attacks cause power outages in Ukraine. This could help avoid power outages and disruptions to military infrastructure and emergency services like hospitals.

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“If something happens to individual power plants, the Ukrainian power system itself should be able to compensate for that,” said Georg Zachmann, senior researcher at the Bruegel think tank, although he said that if large or several installations were damaged, Ukraine could have a deficit and need reinforcement.

Ukraine cannot currently benefit from such support, because its network operates in “island mode” after disconnecting from the Russian network.

HOW WILL A LINK HAPPEN?

Ukraine disconnected its network from the Russian system last week and said it would not reconnect after Russia invaded. Ukrenergo requested emergency synchronization with ENTSO-E on February 27.

Since disconnecting from Russia, Ukraine has been testing its grid in “island mode” to prove that it can operate and balance supply and demand independently – the first step in preparing for the European link.

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“We have shown that the power system works stably not only without Russia and Belarus, but also during the war, under rocket attacks,” Ukrenergo said.

The EU said the connection could be completed within weeks, although technical steps must be completed first.

The pre-binding process was originally expected to include Ukraine installing new equipment and carrying out several tests, taking more than a year.

Earlier this year, ENTSO-E said Ukraine would have to complete some technical work before going online. War means that work is no longer possible. ENTSO-E will revise its assessment of the preconditions for an emergency link and assess the potential risks to the EU network.

“Power grids across Europe are currently working on how to connect Ukraine,” a source from a European grid said.

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ENERGY TRADE

Questions remain as to how cross-border electricity trade would be affected.

Ukraine has transmission links with Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, although none work while Ukraine is in “island mode”.

EU energy policy chief Simson said on Monday that grid synchronization would not necessarily involve exchanges between EU and Ukrainian systems. Traders said derivatives trading would not be affected.

As part of an emergency link, Ukraine’s power with European countries may need to be kept for emergency balancing, so exchanges may not be immediately possible.

Trade could also raise complex questions about electricity prices, which are designed differently in European and Ukrainian systems.

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HOW IS THE UKRAINE NETWORK ADAPTING?

Ukraine, with a population of 41 million, is one of the biggest energy consumers in Europe. About 55% of the country’s electricity is produced by four nuclear power plants. The rest comes largely from coal-fired power plants.

Ukraine’s electricity system has so far held up, despite attacks on some infrastructure. Damage to high-voltage power lines did not affect overall grid reliability, DTEK, the country’s largest private power producer, said Monday.

In Donetsk and the Kyiv region, 114 settlements are without electricity due to damaged power lines or substations. DTEK said its crews had restored power to 34 other settlements, but “active hostilities” made further repairs difficult. (Reporting by Kate Abnett and Marek Strzelecki; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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