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As part of our Global Resilience Research Network (GRRN) Resilience Lecture Series, Thomas Popik – Chairman & President of the Foundation for Resilient Societies, led an online panel discussion on Ukraine’s modern, interconnected, and synchronized electric grid, and how it has operated during the Russian invasion. Mr. Popik specializes in the regulation of electric grids for reliability under both cost-of-service and market-based remuneration schemes. He has testified on electric grid reliability before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Canadian Parliament, and the legislatures of multiple U.S. states.

In this session, Mr. Popik shared his perspective on what has allowed the Ukrainian grid to continue operating during the war and what may happen as stress on Ukraine’s energy sector persists. He started the discussion by presenting an overview of Ukraine’s wide diversity of energy sources, including nuclear, coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and renewables. However, as a relay-protected grid, it is also susceptible to cascading collapse after loss of generation, transmission, or load. As part of the IPS of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine has high voltage transmission connections to other electric grids in major metropolitan areas, including Russia and Belarus. The country has been working to decouple its electricity grid from Russia’s grid so it can interconnect with Europe. In 2017, Ukraine’s electricity grid operator, Ukrenergo, signed an integration agreement with Europe’s collection of grid operators, the European Network of Transmission System Operators, known as ENTSO-E – which intended to help Ukraine prepare to synchronize its electricity grid to integrate with the European network rather than the Russian one.

Interestingly, Ukraine disconnected from all neighboring grids, including Russia’s and Belarus on the 24th of February, four hours before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Popik suggests that is it not a coincidence that the attack occurred only 4 hours after as the Russians knew that if it collapsed, it would affect the Russian grid too and had to wait until Ukraine was in isolation. Once the war started, Ukrenergo said it would not rejoin the Russian grid and applied for emergency ENTSO-E synchronization. The system had been working in full isolation, relying on nuclear and coal fire power plants until March 16 when it synchronized with Europe – ending its dependence on Russia, Mr. Popik explains.

However, despite its resilience, the war on Ukraine is also exposing the need to preserve and support critical energy infrastructure, from power plants and power grids to oil and gas pipelines. The country relies on four nuclear power plants for more than 50% of its electricity. On 2 March, Russia claimed to have taken control of the area surrounding the 5.7GW nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, one of Ukraine’s four nuclear plants and Europe’s largest – which sparked widespread fears of a potential nuclear accident. Additionally, its cross-border interdependence on telecommunication and natural gas pipelines has been threatened, too. However, Mr. Popik also explained that despite these attacks, Russia has a lot of incentives to preserve grid infrastructure, including the continued transmission of Russian gas to European customers, prevention of cascading grid collapse, and a possible long lead time replacement of critical grid components, and prevention of a humanitarian disaster in country of 44 million.

The lecture was recorded and can be viewed below.