It is said that over 80% of conventional generating facilities in Ukraine are over their useful life. Is this true?
Yes, heat and nuclear power plants were built in Ukraine back in the soviet times, in the latter half of the 20th century. Most power plants have already exceeded their intended service life. However, in the process of operation, equipment and buildings are subject to the cycles of running and capital renovations, as well as to partial technical upgrade and modernization. The expert commissions assess the actual status of the power plant and make a decision about its operational fitness for further extended performance life. However, this cannot go on forever, and most power plants with the extended life cycle should be shut down over the next 10 years.
How dangerous is it to continue the operation of NPP and HPP after the end of the operational period?
Equipment is getting older; the performance indicators of power plants are deteriorating; moreover, the plants are already out-of-date. All that contributes to the increased failure rate and frequency of technological disturbances. Old power plants cannot provide a fundament for a reliable energy system in general; you cannot install modern automation systems, and they require the constant attention of the dispatchers. If a lifecycle of the power plant has been extended – we cannot say that it is not fit for operation; it meets basic safety indicators. However, those indicators are not in line with modern standards that apply to newly constructed facilities. Therefore, the extension of their lifecycle, though has some slim economic expediency, freezes parameters of our energy system at a lower level of the century late standards.
What do you think, do we have a chance to construct new generating facilities before the old ones fail?
This depends on the pace of construction. Since Ukraine gained its independence, no new heat or nuclear power plants have been built here. Sure, some delayed constructions were completed, and now, even though construction of the 3rd and 4th units of the Khmelnytskyi NPP is contemplated, this is still about completing what has begun back in the soviet era. The consumption of electric power in Ukraine today is approximately 130 GWh. According to a fundamental study of the global energy sector development, by 2050, electricity consumption will at least double due to the electrification of carbon energy, industry, and transportation. The world already understands that in the future, there will be no nuclear or heat power plants operating on nonrenewable fuels.
The main primary sources should be solar, wind, and biofuel power plants in the ratio of approximately 60/30/10% of installed capacity. Considering that the installed capacities are used approximately 1200/3000/5000 hours a year respectively, we can calculate that in 2050 we should have at least 120 GW of the new facilities. If they are constructed with an exponential increase of installed capacity, then we need to build approximately 25/35/60 GW over the three decades. Therefore, to construct that much by 2050, we need to put in operation at least 2-3 GW of mixed power plants a year. This year, unprecedented 1.5-2 GW of the capacity will be built. So we need to gather additional steam.
The position of KNESS Group as a leader in the solar market is obvious – you stand for 100% renewable generation. But looking realistically, in the current conditions, when energy accumulation is still expensive and RES requires balancing –what should be done with Ukraine's energy system in the next 5 years?
Yes, the electricity accumulation technology is still quite expensive to compete directly with load following heat power plants. That is why, prioritizing clean energy and preservation of the planet's ecosystem, we should support this technology with special tariffs today. That may be a special tariff for RES with integrated electricity accumulation systems or support to means of demand management as a whole. Scaling of the electricity accumulator usage coupled with the reduction in RES prices will ensure their compatibility in 5 years already. Apart from the electricity accumulators, it is necessary to build load following gas-turbine or gas-reciprocating biofuel power plants.
What should be done urgently, so that Ukrainians were not left without electricity?
First of all, the energy market must be dealt with. We need to be honest with ourselves and establish market prices for electricity for residential customers. Yes, vulnerable segments of the population do exist, but for them, an efficient mechanism of state subsidies exist, which, by the way, are monetized and can produce additional income in case of saving. State dividends from additional revenues of the State Enterprise Energoatom may serve as a source of subsidies. Second, monopoly producers must be identified and minimal economically justified prices established for them, which will be used as opening prices at the electricity auctions. Third, the hand-regulation of tariffs must stop. The electricity prices must enter the free market. Fourth, we must build highvoltage direct current links as soon as possible at the border with Europe and quickly move towards synchronization Ukraine's integrated power system with ENTSO-E.
The main point is to acknowledge that CO2 emissions quickly take us and the whole world to the abyss. Therefore, a priority of the low-carbon development must be acknowledged at the legislative level, and a strategy of transition to renewable energy sources must be adopted. And the first step in implementing this strategy should be the establishment of a real significant tax on CO2 emissions at least at the level of $40 per ton. Then we will get a real competitive electricity market with is full-fledged player, RES.
At the moment, we are, in fact, a fraction of Russia's energy system. What biggest threats does this situation carry?
This situation with Russia, apart from ethical flaws, is highly dangerous for Ukraine in a technical aspect. Yes, we can disconnect and work in an isolated mode, but that will be a highly unstable hand-managed operation. There are high risks of regular or even total blackout of the energy system. And the resumption of work of Ukraine's energy system after a complete system collapse is a very difficult task that Ukraine has never dealt with before.
Will we be accepted to Europe? What are the prospects of connecting Ukraine to the European power grid?
Yes, there are agreements with Europe, there is an action plan, which is being implemented now. Everything depends on Ukraine – to which extent we will be able to prove to Europe that we have a technical capacity to work in an isolated from Russia and Europe mode and to ensure reliability and institutional readiness of the parallel synchronous operation with Europe. According to the optimistic plan, the interconnection of our energy system with the European one should take place in 2023.
What else do we still need to do in our energy system to connect it to the European one?
First of all, Ukraine should ensure adequate operation of the automatic control system of existing power plants to ensure automatic maintenance of frequency and power balance. Second, the presence of a sufficient capacity margin must be ensured. Equally important, the European reliability criteria must be ensured regarding the backbone power line and the dynamic and static resilience of the energy system. I think the transmission system operator can achieve all of that easily enough.
A joint electric grid with Europe – is it beneficial for us now, when our generating facilities are quite neglected? Wouldn't we become a new market that European generating companies will glut with cheap energy killing our attempts to build our own modern generation system?
There are parity prices in the European and Ukrainian markets. Interconnecting our energy systems will benefit Ukraine and open new market opportunities, both in import and in export. However, the potential of such interconnection should not be overstated. The transmission capacities are large, but not limitless. At the moment, potential exchange capacity is assessed at the level of 4 GW. At the same time, Ukraine's market is 20-25 GW.
Obviously, the situation with electricity concerns everyone – both every Ukrainian citizen and every Ukrainian business. What can all of us – both average consumers and businesses of all scales – do to improve Ukraine's chances to get through the energy crisis with dignity and come out of it stronger?
I think all of us as consumers should be conscious and responsible regarding the choice of the product we consume. We should not pretend that we don't know what is going on beyond the socket. Yes, it's we, consuming energy that ruins our planet, are responsible for our choice. Today, the technology gives us a chance to choose, and, choosing, we should consider the price of the damage caused by coal power plants, and the huge danger that nuclear power plants carry. We should choose our future ourselves and demand clean solar and wind energy from our suppliers. Then our children will thank us.