How Ukraine Unplugged from Russia and Joined Europe's Power Grid with Unprecedented Speed

Wed, 23 Mar 2022 05:00:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

Engineers achieved “a year’s work in two weeks” to safely do so

On February 24 Ukraine's electric grid operator disconnected the country's power system from the larger Russian-operated network to which it had always been linked.

Ukraine initiated the process of joining Europe's grid in 2005 and began working toward that goal in earnest in 2017, as did Moldova.

"More interconnection means we can move power around more quickly, more efficiently, more cost effectively and take advantage of low-carbon or zero-carbon power sources," says James Glynn, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

Once heavy turbines, such as those in the nuclear plants that comprise much of Ukraine's energy supply, are spinning at a certain frequency, it takes a substantial, sustained change in power to alter their rotation.

This inertia helps power plants dampen slight variations in power instead of transferring them to the rest of the grid.

Still, ENTSO-E, which represents 35 countries, had numerous concerns about adding Ukraine to its grid.

Ukraine is required to install devices called static synchronous compensators, which enhance power stability.

In the meantime, to connect Ukraine at all, ENTSO-E adopted additional safeguards to protect the European grid.

"It's helpful, but it's not going to replace all the power in Ukraine if the power plants go down." For now, electricity in Ukraine is still moving from power stations to the country's broader distribution network.

Should that change, Ukraine can import some electricity from ENTSO-E. Full integration with the European grid will likely take until the war is over and Ukraine can rebuild.

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