By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Sep 20 (EFE).- Ukraine’s energy system faces a difficult winter amid the ongoing threat of Russia’s deliberate attacks on key infrastructure and underfunding due to plummeting industrial energy consumption.
According to the latest government figures, Ukraine has accumulated 2.2 million tonnes (24.2 million US tons) of coal and 13.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas, which it needs both for central heating and electricity generation.
While this is below the officially announced targets of 2.5 million and 15 billion, respectively, Volodymyr Omelchenko, head of energy programs at the Razumkov Center think tank, tells Efe that is should be enough to make it through the cold season if there is no further damage to the energy system.
The consumption of gas and coal will have to be reduced substantially, however, compared to peacetime levels.
According to Yuriy Vitrenko, head of Ukraine’s biggest gas provider “Naftogaz”, the average temperature in Ukrainian homes with centralized heating, which relies primarily on gas and coal, will be 4C (39.2F) lower this winter. The period of central heating use is also likely to begin later and end sooner than usual.
Mykhailo Samus, military expert at Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, warns Efe that Russia is likely to go for a complete destruction of gas infrastructure in Ukraine with targeted attacks.
This would further increase the burden on electricity generation as the population will seek to replace the central and autonomous gas-based heating with electric radiators and air conditioners.
“With 50% of electricity generation either destroyed, damaged or occupied, so far we have been saved by falling consumption,” says Omelchenko.
According to him, the outflow of population and the slump in industrial production has led to the 35% decrease in demand for electricity from about 15 to 10 gigawatt.
Omelchenko says that with the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant now shut down, the remaining nuclear power plants, responsible for around 35% of Ukraine’s generation capacity, should be able to produce enough electricity.
Direct missile strikes against the key sites, especially in the frontline areas, remain the single largest threat to Ukraine’s energy systems, warns the expert, underlining that Russia knows all its “weak spots” well.
“With much of the infrastructure in Donbas and Kharkiv already destroyed, this makes the prospect of mass evacuation from these areas very real,” Omelchenko adds.
Samus says Ukrainian authorities have been calling for urgent deliveries of air-defense systems, which, if installed around the key objects, could help protect them from the strikes.
The US-supplied NASAMS and German IRIS-T are expected to arrive soon but more would be needed with Ukraine currently engaged in negotiations with five countries that produce modern air-defense units.
The risk of Russian attacks against infrastructure is not the only problem.
“A colossal deficit of financial resources” is hampering the system’s resistance, says Omelchenko.
Problems existed even before the Russian invasion. It was the large consumers, primarily metallurgy and heavy industry, that provided a bulk of the energy system’s revenues. They effectively subsidized household consumption, the tariffs for which were kept relatively low.
The invasion has brought much of the industry, concentrated in the south-eastern part of the country, to an almost complete halt.
Some large consumers were destroyed, such as the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. Others had their chief export channels, the Ukrainian Black Sea ports, cut off by Russia.
This has led some of the energy and transmission companies to appeal to the state for direct support as they lack funds to operate emergency repair brigades.
Tariffs for households will remain fixed, however, at least until the end of the war, authorities have pledged, as unemployment is rising and incomes are falling due to the devastating effects of the invasion.
With the state budget expected to have a 20% deficit in 2023, macrofinancial support from the EU and other partners of Ukraine is required to cover the costs.
If further damage is done to the generating capacity, Ukraine would lose an estimated 1.5 billion euros of badly needed earnings from electricity exports to the EU. Instead, it would be forced to either import electricity or accept regular blackouts. With EU electricity prices currently about 10 times higher than in Ukraine, the latter would be more likely.
Given uncertainty around the availability of gas and electricity, consumers have rushed to buy various kinds of heating and cooking appliances in order to be able to switch between them in times of need.
According to OLX, one of the largest online shops in Ukraine, users have searched for radiators 40 times more often than at the same time last year, while the prices for them have roughly doubled. So did the prices of chopped wood and wood stoves, which are now being installed en masse in bomb shelters.EFE