On October 14, Maksim Timchenko, the CEO of DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private power generator, updated Economichna Pravda on the status of Ukraine’s electrical grid in the face of Russian strikes against the country’s power installations. He also talked about what the company’s future plans are for implementing renewables, despite the Russian attacks. DTEK shared that interview today with Electrek, and we have edited the English translation sent to us below for length and clarity.
Economichna Pravda: Looking at Ukraine’s entire energy system, how much capacity was there before the October 10 strikes in the country, and how much is left now?
Maksim Timchenko: It is important to understand the difference between the capacity that is left and the capacity that is still available. These strikes are not aimed at generating facilities to prevent us from producing electricity but at connection systems tied to the Ukrainian energy system. They hit open switchgears, transformers, switches, so that a station that can produce electricity cannot be connected to the unified power system. That is, the key targets are Ukrenergo transformer high-voltage substations and power distribution equipment at thermal power plants.
What [are] the tactics behind this? Since Soviet times, we have built unified energy systems so that if one of the generation flows fails at some part of the system, another one picks it up. That is, everything is looped and we work in a single system. In Soviet times, a power system scheme was built, where everything is set up for similar events that are happening today.
I think the Russian military [consults] their power engineers and they explain how to cause maximum harm to the energy system.
When Ukrenergo’s 750 kilowatt nodal substations, which connect the regions where the generation facilities are located get hit, then a surplus is obtained in one region, and a deficit in another. They hit these substations. This is exactly what happened on Monday and Tuesday. Yesterday morning [July 13 – EP] they struck to prevent supply of electricity to Kyiv.
Economichna Pravda: How many megawatts or as a percentage of the total number of capacities have been taken down?
Maksim Timchenko: From the point of view of generation, we [have] capacities that are destroyed and those that are occupied. The biggest deprivation of capacity is the seizure of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant. Today, 6,000 megawatts are not available. This is the most difficult situation.
Speaking of our thermal power plants: We have lost control over the Uglegorsk [thermal power] station, and the Lugansk, and the Zaporizhzhya thermal power plant, which is next to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station [Editor’s note: It’s the largest nuclear power plant in Europe]. Three thermal power plants and one nuclear power plant are located [in] the temporarily occupied territories and cannot produce electricity for the country.
Second, regarding the power output, the Ladyzhynska [thermal power] station in the Vinnitsa region, which was also hit this week, [is not in operation] today. We are working to put it back into operation. The rest of the thermal power plants are operating.
Economichna Pravda: It is about 10,000 megawatts.
Maksim Timchenko: Yes. 6,000 – Zaporizhzhia [nuclear power station], Uglegorsk, and Zaporizhzhia – 1,200 each. All together up to 10,000 megawatts out of 50,000 megawatts. In general, the country runs on about 52,000 megawatts.
Economichna Pravda: When a minister or ministry says that 30% of the power industry is out of operation, can you say that this is misinformation?
Maksim Timchenko: I certainly don’t want to challenge the minister’s statement. [I]t can be perceived in different ways. “Out of operation” in terms of the fact that we have lost connection systems – [that] is correct. That is, if we do not have connections with generating stations, as I said, then we have lost 30% of the capacity when it comes to the process of energy delivery to the consumer.
Why were the rolling blackouts implemented? Because the power that was produced could not be delivered to the grids. In this regard, he was probably right. From the point of view of the availability of capacities in working condition, I outlined the picture for you.
There is enough own capacity within Ukraine to get through the winter and for normal operation. The problem is the hits and damage done to the infrastructure that allows this power to be provided.
Economichna Pravda: If our Russian “friends” smash the capacities, and not the output of capacities, then the energy system will be without thermal generation. Is nuclear generation capable of operating under such circumstances?
Maksim Timchenko: Firstly, we have Ukrhydroenergo [a state company that administers hydro power plants]. Hydroelectric power plays an important balancing role. Secondly, along the lines that electricity [is exported] to the EU, imports can also be carried out. Accordingly, this can also play a role in power balancing.
We are not stopping our battery storage installation project. [W]e still plan to bring and install 20 megawatts of storage capacity. This battery storage will also play an important role in balancing. It may not be such a large volume, but in this situation it is important.
Therefore, I believe that we cannot have some kind of Armageddon, a situation where everything will be broken, and we will end up having a total blackout. I don’t believe [we will have] this scenario. Although I did not believe in a war with Russia. Everything is possible, but based on how we have performed and how the system has performed in terms of sustainability, I have confidence that we will cope with these challenges. Again, in conjunction with the military.
I rely heavily on Ukrainian Air Defense Forces. Still, even with such a massive attack, more than 50% of the missiles have been shot down. These are certain lessons for us and for the military, how to deal with such situations.
Economichna Pravda: There is an opinion that the nuclear power generation infrastructure will also be destroyed and thus thousands of megawatts will be “extinguished.” Do I understand correctly that if such a scenario is implemented, then we have the technical capabilities and agreements with Europe to take electricity from them?
Maksim Timchenko: Yes. Firstly, my personal comment: These Russians, perhaps, still have enough brains with their conditionally high-precision weapons not to hit nuclear power plants, because you can miss and hit the block. I hope that they will not destroy the infrastructure of nuclear power plants. But nothing can be a certainty with this madness.
Yes, there are technical possibilities, there are agreements, there are financial issues, and they are still being discussed in terms of paying for electricity. You know, in our country [it’s] 4-5 times cheaper than in Europe, and the delivery will, of course, be at the level of European prices.
Economichna Pravda: The other day we saw a message from the head of DTEK Dnipro Electric Grids. He was looking for generators. Do people need to buy electric generators?
Maksim Timchenko: I don’t want to inspire any false calm. We live in the times of highest uncertainty. And, frankly, if it is possible to buy a generator, then it is better to buy [one]. If we take a sober look at the situation that is happening now, it is better to have reserve capacities.
Economichna Pravda: Do you agree with the statement that this war will last for years? If so, then [will you] change the group’s strategy in terms of at least diversifying your businesses to other countries [on] the European continent?
Maksim Timchenko: Yesterday I [held] a job interview – we still hire people to work for important positions in the company. And … the candidate [asked]: I watched your corporate strategy 2030 [New Strategy DTEK 2030], what has changed in it? My answer was: Fundamentally nothing has changed.
The priority for the development of green generation remains. It was very important for me to hear the president’s position that it is necessary to create a “green hub” in Ukraine to supply electricity to Europe, and help Europe get away from over-dependence on Russian energy resources.
We have all the possibilities for this: grid access, favorable topography, wind, sun, and experience. We said that we would [make] green generation a priority, and we are not giving up on this.
In the same strategy, we [addressed] our international development. … The first plans for our investments abroad were laid down. And, in accordance with this strategy, we continue to do so. Today we are implementing projects for the construction of wind and solar stations. As part of these projects, we want to develop an entire ecosystem of solar and wind power plants, including those with energy storage systems.
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