Responding to Russian Attacks on Ukraine’s Power Sector

As winter approaches, steady access to energy supply has become a major concern for cities across Ukraine. Since October 10, Russia has attacked Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with waves of missile and drone attacks. Ukrainian officials have reported that this has left up to 40 percent of the power system damaged, with around 30 percent of the country’s power stations destroyed. Attacks on energy infrastructure and generating facilities have occurred throughout the war, but the recent escalation has substantially eroded the power grid’s resilience and operational integrity.

Under these conditions, Ukraine has taken steps to reduce electricity consumption, including planned blackouts in Kyiv and other major cities across the country. A winter with intermittent power supply is likely. EU nations expect the latest attacks to prompt a new wave of refugees and current refugees have been urged to remain abroad over the winter. Disrupted power supply also threatens military operations particularly if communication lines are impaired.

Protecting Ukraine’s power supply is then essential both for humanitarian and martial purposes. In the short term, international allies and donors should prioritize the provision of critical components to repair damaged energy infrastructure and provide generators and fuel supply to protect the operation of essential facilities and services. Resources dedicated to Ukraine’s energy sector should not only repair what has been damaged. Investments should also be directed toward efforts to increase the resilience of Ukraine’s power supply in the coming years and to begin longer-term work to modernize and integrate Ukraine’s grid with the European Union.

Short-Term Efforts

With cities plunged into darkness and the prospect of intermittent power supply likely in the winter, initial steps should prioritize critical sectors and facilities. Ensuring power supply to hospitals and healthcare facilities is the priority for the winter. Particularly in operating settings, intensive care units, and facilities serving vulnerable populations, loss of power can equate to loss of life. With more than 1,000 cities experiencing blackouts in recent weeks, protecting critical municipal services will also be a humanitarian priority. Power supply for water and wastewater services are critical for public health and wellbeing. Additionally, during war, effective communication services are important for both civilians and military operations. Internet service providers have highlighted immense challenges in ensuring connection and satellite systems widely used by the Ukrainian military also depend on electricity supply and connection.

To respond to these critical needs, international allies and donors should increase their efforts to provide emergency power support through the provision of generators and fuel supply. Donors and allies have been active in supplying generators for immediate backup power support and these efforts should be continued and reinforced. On October 6, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced $55 million in emergency assistance aimed at repairing heating infrastructure and delivering power generators and alternative fuel sources. The package is set to directly benefit up to 7 million Ukrainians and will prioritize generator deliveries to hospitals and shelters for displaced citizens. Countries and charities have also provided small deliveries of generators, including a recent delivery of four 400-kilowatt generators from the Spanish defense ministry. Delivering generators should be paired with efforts to ensure a steady supply of fuel (e.g., diesel, natural gas, gasoline). This could be challenging given tight markets globally and potential diesel shortages in the United States and Europe.

Aid should be coordinated with local governments and officials in order to maximize the impact and best address critical challenges across healthcare and city services. Organizations like the Association of Ukrainian Cities have advocated for emergency power supplies since the summer. The executive director indicated that to date, cities had received $41 million of a requested $271 million from the Ukrainian parliament to purchase generators. While the European Union and United States have committed to financial support measures for Ukraine’s budget over the course of 2023 amounting to around $3–4 billion per month, a targeted aid package for winter energy support could streamline efforts and help to increase generator and fuel supplies in a timely and efficient manner. A winter aid package should be designed with input from local organizations and prioritize high-need facilities like hospitals and city services.

Longer-Term Power Sector Priorities

While major infrastructure and energy projects cannot proceed today given the ongoing war and scale of destruction, international partners and donors can begin to support projects that incorporate technologies with less exposure to Russian attacks as part of broader reconstruction efforts. Projects that decentralize generation, increase grid flexibility, improve cybersecurity, and further integration with the EU grid will support short term resilience and longer-term reconstruction.

  1. Distributed Generation

Distributed generation installations such as onsite renewables and combined heat and power (CHP) have been promoted to improve the resilience of critical infrastructure during natural disasters or other grid disrupting events. While generators are the most common source of backup power, these systems do have limitations and are dependent on consistent fuel supply. Distributed solutions provide electricity at or near the point of use and typically require less ongoing maintenance.

Both before and during the war, rooftop solar installations has been growing in popularity both to lower electricity bills and provide supply security. Following the outbreak of the war, cities with a greater share of distributed capacity fared better than cities that were quickly cut off from regional supply. The executive director of the Association of Energy Efficient Cities of Ukraine, Svyatoslav Paylyuk, stated in an event with Bruegel that “municipalities which had local generation facilities for heat based on local fuel, which had . . . generation facilities based on local solar panels. They were going through the troubles [occupation] way easier than other municipalities which were basically out of any sources of energy.”

Expanding small solar installations can be done during the conflict. Aid organizations like New Use Energy Solutions provided solar powered battery packs to hospitals and other critical facilities in the months following the war. Expanding distributed generation and building out microgrids would also be helpful for Ukraine’s postwar ambitions and plans. At the Lugano Ukraine Recovery Conference, Ukraine outlined goals to significantly ramp up renewable energy production and to become a green energy hub for Europe. Starting work on grid modernization and enabling a higher share of renewables in the sector will accelerate the longer-term development plans.

  1. Battery Storage Projects

As renewable generation capacity increased prior to the war, Ukraine’s grid needed additional balancing capacity. The government estimated that by 2025, the grid would require an additional 500 megawatts of energy storage to enable renewable capacity growth. Continuing to support battery storage projects in the country both during and after the conflict can enhance the resilience and flexibility of the grid. During the war, battery storage systems could provide temporary power supply during outages. Already, some internet service providers have installed battery systems on signal receiver equipment (e.g., routers and satellite dishes) to ensure connection during power outages. Behind the meter, battery storage could increase individual and local resilience.

Exploring storage solutions that are harder to attack and destroy could also be beneficial in the short term. Mobile energy storage systems have been developed by a few companies in recent years. These systems are typically modular units mounted to a trailer. While these mobile solutions are envisioned to offer greater flexibility to the grid, in Ukraine they would also be harder targets for Russia to destroy. Adding flexibility to the grid could help to manage the imbalances generated by Russia’s attack on distribution infrastructure.

Ukrainian companies have remained committed to their investment and development plans during the war. DTEK, the largest private investor in Ukraine’s energy sector, plans to add an additional 200 megawatts of battery storage capacity over coming years. Creating a clear pipeline of potential projects would help to grow private sector engagement with donors and development finance institutions.

  1. Cybersecurity

While Russia has shown no hesitation in bombing critical infrastructure and disrupting Ukraine’s energy system through physical attacks, the threat of cyberattacks on the grid should not be ignored. In 2015, Russia hacked the power grid of Ukraine, resulting in power outages for more than 200,000 people that lasted for 1–6 hours. While similar attacks have been less successful for Russia recently, the threat of further disruption has remained. With the grid stressed to a breaking point due to physical infrastructure attacks, a cyberattack could result in devastating outages and further chaos in the system.

Any project to modernize or reconstruct Ukraine’s electricity grid should incorporate technology and tools that incorporate cybersecurity and resilience to attack. In August, the Department of Energy announced $45 million in funding for projects aimed at protecting the grid from cyberattacks. Sharing best practices and supporting technology development and cybersecurity in Ukraine after the war will provide additional security against attempts to disrupt the grid.

  1. Interconnection with Europe

Integrating the Ukrainian grid with that of Europe will be an ongoing effort both during and after the war. Following emergency synchronization of the two networks at the beginning of the war, Ukrenergo (the Ukrainian grid operator) and ENTSO-E connected the grids. Despite this, interconnection levels remain low and several regulatory hurdles remain. In the Ukraine Recovery Plan, the country hopes to reach a transfer capacity between Ukraine and Europe of 3.6 gigawatts by 2030 and 6.2 gigawatts by 2040. Expanding interconnection will depend on rehabilitating the Rzeszów-Khmelnytskyi line and upgrading segments of the Ukrainian grid to meet European energy regulations. While full interconnection with Europe will likely occur following the end of the war, setting some of the preliminary projects in motion and identifying key steps needed for regulatory and infrastructure integration will help accelerate the process.

Allegra Dawes is a research associate in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Joseph Majkut is director of the CSIS Energy Security and Climate Change Program.

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Joseph Majkut
Director, Energy Security and Climate Change Program
Allegra Dawes

Allegra Dawes

Former Associate Fellow, Energy Security and Climate Change Program