On Day 29 of the Russian war in Ukraine, three extraordinary strategy summits are taking place in Europe. A closed-door NATO strategy session, followed by a G7 summit bringing together the world’s most powerful economies, followed by a European Union meeting. If there was any doubt about how serious the conflict in Ukraine is, today’s events show just what a threat Putin’s aggression and unchecked despotism poses to world peace.
This week has seen new waves of violence, with Russian forces battering the southeastern port city of Mariupol, adding 100,000 fleeing Ukrainians to the 3.5 million refugees that have escaped the country in the past month. As Russian troops continue to push into Ukrainian territory the displacement of people and the destruction of Ukrainian assets and livelihoods is set to escalate.
Russia seems to be taking direct aim at the Ukrainian energy grid, with nuclear and renewable energy assets in danger of being completely destroyed by military forces. On February 24, Ukraine disconnected its energy grid from the larger Russian-operated network that it has always depended on to keep the lights on. The move was a long time in the making, and was intended as a temporary trial run as Ukraine seeks to establish energy independence as a requirement for transitioning away from Russia to join the European grid. Just four hours after the grid disconnection, Russia invaded – and Ukrainian energy became a prime and symbolic target.
Some of the Ukrainian assets directly in the line of fire include nearly half of the nation’s renewable energy facilities, comprising nearly 4 gigawatts (GW) of combined capacity and a total value of over $5.6 billion according to the Ukrainian Association of Renewable Energy (UARE). Another 2.4 GW valued at $3.6 billion in capital investment are in areas directly adjacent to the conflict, rendering them vulnerable if the fighting continues to spread. Together, these assets represent the majority of Ukraine’s entire renewables industry and could bring Ukraine’s budding energy transition back to square one. The renewable sectors under threat include wind, solar, biomass, biogas, and hydropower.
Renewables continue to represent a small share of Ukraine’s overall energy mix, which is largely dependent on nuclear energy and fossil fuels. Nuclear energy, which provided 51% of Ukraine’s total electric power supply in 2020, is also under attack by the Russian invading forces. Since the beginning of the invasion, the Russian army has attacked three nuclear plants in Ukraine, including firing grenades and perhaps artillery shells at Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
In the weeks following the invasion, Ukraine has received permission to join the European grid ahead of schedule and has done so in record time. But while this has afforded some stability to Ukraine, it also poses a major threat to Europe, which has brought an imperiled grid into its network, making the continent’s grid vulnerable. With Ukrainian power plants under attack, the failure of any one node of the system could send ripples across the entire EU’s power grid.
The attack on Ukraine’s energy grid, and in particular nuclear, poses an extreme threat not just to Ukrainians, but to the global community, from imperiling the stability of Europe’s power grid to the threat of nuclear war games. “The Russian assault on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Ukraine [...] unleashed a destabilizing cocktail of events that, in the worst case, could still lead to a severe nuclear accident,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported last week. “And as Russia’s violence continues and spreads, it may threaten Ukraine’s other nine nuclear power plants, including older units in western Ukraine that may be less protected against some extreme hazards.” The threat of nuclear disaster looms large.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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