Blackouts “for dummies”: Russian missiles, Ukrainian power grids and a brighter future (infographic)

In recent weeks, we have acutely felt that not only the state of the national energy system, but also the degree of awareness of citizens in this matter is important for the country’s security.

Many of us have no idea how electricity is produced and transmitted, or why there might be no light in his house. This ignorance is exploited by enemy militant propaganda to undermine the situation in the rear, to incite Ukrainians against the authorities and even against their own neighbors.

However, questions and misunderstandings remain. Why explosions are heard in Vinnitsa, and blackouts – in Odessa? Why is there no light in one area for four hours, and in another – for eight? Why turn off at all when the power plants are not damaged?

Now this worries many – especially in the dark, during emergency and stabilization shutdowns. Dumskaya decided to answer some of these questions.

WHAT IS AN ENERGY SYSTEM?

It so happened that now the energy system of the country has become very important for resisting the enemy invasion. But what is it anyway?

The power system is a set of equipment for the production, transmission and consumption of energy, in particular electrical or thermal. Accordingly, it usually contains three components: generating capacities, transmission lines and energy consumers.

Here are some simple examples. If your house has individual heating, then heat energy is generated (generated) in the boiler, transferred through pipes (transmission lines) to radiators and heats the rooms and us (consumers). If your house has centralized heating, then the system is a little more complicated: the heat is generated by the district boiler house, through the heating mains and boiler rooms it comes to your riser and from there – again to the radiators in the rooms.

The united energy system of Ukraine in the first approximation also contains three components. These are power plants that generate electricity, power lines with transformers, main and local networks, and consumers – industrial enterprises, residential buildings, infrastructure facilities.

Each of the elements has certain properties. For a power plant, this is the maximum power, that is, the amount of energy that it produces per unit of time. For transmission systems, this is the bandwidth, that is, the amount of electrical energy that it is capable of transmitting. As for the volume of consumption, it depends on the time of year and time of day: we consume more on a winter day than on a spring night.

BALANCE AND MANEUVER

A feature of the power system is that the amount of energy produced must always be equal to the amount consumed. That is, the system needs to be controlled: to maneuver capacities in order to achieve a balance, turn on and turn off power units, direct flows from different stations along transmission lines to different groups of consumers – for example, regions.

This is a very simple and very conditional “snapshot” of the state of a part of the Ukrainian energy system at a certain point in time. As you can see, the system is balanced: the amount of energy entering each area is equal to the amount consumed.

The main source of electricity in Ukraine are nuclear power plants (NPPs). Their advantages are the low cost per kilowatt and high power: one typical VVER-1000 power unit produces as much energy as three Kakhovka HPPs combined.

However, an important disadvantage of nuclear power plants is the inability to quickly increase or decrease power. It takes several days to significantly change the mode of operation of a nuclear reactor. Therefore, they are unsuitable for maneuvering within a day, and they must be supplemented by other sources – thermal (TPP) and hydroelectric power plants (HPP) in order to cover excess demand during the day when consumption is growing.

(By the way, that’s why there is a cheap “night tariff”: at night, consumption is minimal, electricity is enough and it’s cheap, so power engineers stimulate demand at this time)

Accordingly, each region is connected to several power plants through backbone networks. These networks contain many different components, of which the most important for us today are transformers and cable lines. To simplify, we will designate them as “power lines”, that is, power lines. Each transmission line has its own maximum capacity, which depends on the voltage in the wires, the length of the lines, the power of transformers and other devices.

WHAT ARE THESE BAGS DOING NOW?

Power plants, especially nuclear power plants, are large, very strong and well-protected structures. It is rather difficult to destroy them with missiles, and even more so with “shaheeds”. Therefore, now the main targets for Russian missiles have become backbone networks.

During missile attacks, the enemy tries to destroy, first of all, transformer substations on main lines. These are quite complex and expensive structures that are almost not protected. In addition, there are many times more of them than power plants, so it is much more difficult to cover each air defense system.

If the enemy strike was successful, the power line stops working. The connection between the power plant and consumers is cut off, and energy starvation begins – a shortage of capacities in the region.

Approximately this situation happens if the boiler room does not work in your house or the heating main breaks through. And the boiler house seems to be working at full capacity, and there is heat in the neighboring house – but you still have cold batteries.

EMERGENCY STOP

In our second drawing, again, a very simplified example of an emergency situation, when these bastards disabled two power lines with a missile attack, and because of this, two areas ran into problems.

At first glance, it may seem that nothing terrible has happened – out of three “inputs” in each area, two are working. But if you calculate the power, you can see that in the first one it is necessary to immediately reduce consumption by 20%, and in the second – by 50%.

At the time of the accident, this is done by automation. Relatively speaking, the fuses are triggered, which do not allow overloading the networks, and the so-called emergency shutdown occurs.

After that, power engineers are looking for how to stabilize the energy supply in the region. The power system is designed in such a way that it has certain power reserves – for example, for scheduled maintenance. In emergency situations, these reserves are used to solve the problem.

For example, you can try to increase the flow from other power plants (if they have idle capacity) or transfer more energy through the working networks (if there is a reserve capacity). Sometimes in such situations it makes sense to turn off powerful consumers, such as large enterprises, or to direct power from one area to another, more problematic one. All this is handled by the control room of the state company Ukrenergo, which regulates the national energy system. But it happens that the reserves are not enough to cover the needs, and then Ukrenergo gives commands to the regional power grids to reduce power by a certain percentage.

STABILIZATION SWITCHES

If the oblenergo receives such a command, the lack of electricity within the region has to be compensated by turning off part of the consumers. These are the same stabilization shutdowns.

Simply put, in order to reduce consumption by 30% right now, you need to turn off 30% of clients. But life is more difficult. If you turn on the washing machine once a day and heat a full boiler of water, then such shutdowns will not significantly reduce the total energy consumption within a day. But they allow you to stretch the time of intensive use of electricity and reduce peak loads. As a result, consumers are forced to turn on electrical appliances at times when there are fewer problems in the network, in particular at night.

(By the way, this is why power engineers constantly urge to turn on washing machines and irons after 23:00 – this really reduces peak loads and is a real alternative to stabilization shutdowns).

HOW LONG TO SIT WITHOUT LIGHT?

There is another important point in the issue of stabilization shutdowns. There are consumers who cannot turn off electricity under any circumstances – for example, hospitals, or pumping stations of the “vodokanal”, or the house where the mayor lives. Accordingly, the lines through which they are powered never de-energize, and all objects that are connected to them always have light. There are about 25% of such people in our cities.

This entails not only “social injustice” when an “ordinary” neighbor envies a neighbor whose house is on the same line with the maternity hospital. More importantly, the lack of electricity has to be covered by only those 75% of consumers that are allowed to be turned off.

Therefore, it turns out: if the deficit in the region is 20%, and 75% of consumers can be turned on and off, then there will be no light in the house for (24 * 30% / 75%) – six to seven hours a day. This means you can expect two four-hour outages during the day. If the shortage is 50%, things get much worse: they will turn off 16 hours a day, and mostly during the day.

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THIS?

First of all, it is worth realizing: the uninterrupted supply of electricity to our homes is primarily in the interests of energy companies. Each kilowatt that has passed through your meter is their income, so they are the first interested in ensuring that this flow is stable, and they do their best to ensure that it does not interrupt.

Secondly, you need to know that transformer substations, which are now destroying enemy missiles, are quite expensive goods that last for decades, so they are rarely purchased. Utilities have a small amount of reserve in case of replacement, and these reserves seem to be running out.

Unfortunately, there are no shops where one could come and immediately purchase a new transformer for the main substation. Usually they are made to order, and the production time reaches several months. That is, even with the availability of money, it is very difficult to quickly obtain such equipment.

By the way, there is a Zaporizhia Transformer Plant in Ukraine. This is one of the largest enterprises in Europe that produces such equipment. Unfortunately, in recent years it has been unprofitable; three years ago, bankruptcy proceedings began. In early November, the plant was nationalized, the shares returned to state ownership. Whether this will quickly establish the production of this equipment in the required quantities is still unclear.

Thirdly, it is worth noting that the lights in your houses are now turned off not because electricity is being exported.

Paradoxically, in fact, the opposite is true: if we are forced to turn off consumers, then electricity should be exported. As we remember, in balanced systems, the amount of energy produced must be equal to the amount of consumption. If, due to the destruction of power lines and mass outages, consumption decreases, this means that there is an excess of energy in power plants. Therefore, it is necessary either to reduce generation, that is, turn off power units, or look for other consumers, for example, abroad. That is, export. By the way, there is no export of electricity from Ukraine now at all.

And finally, it is worth understanding that there is a war going on, and now our energy system has become the main target of the neighboring terrorist state. Therefore, the well-being in our homes now depends primarily on the capabilities and effectiveness of air defense.

Now we can help her, in particular, with donations for equipment and communication equipment. And yet – we can install the ePPO application on our phones and inform our defenders in time about various tricolor filth in the sky. This can really help keep the warmth and light in our homes.

AFTERWORD

In fact, the energy system of Ukraine is much more complex than it may seem from this publication. It contains a huge number of various components, and the electrical and mathematical foundations of its work are quite difficult for an ordinary person. Of course, all the explanations here are as simplified and primitive as possible, and the pictures have nothing to do with the real situation and are purely illustrative.  

If someone wants to understand these issues in more detail, one article will obviously not be enough. However, in just four years of study at the Energy Institute of the Odessa Polytechnic, you can learn what active and reactive energy is, learn how to apply simultaneity factors and calculate transients, or, for example, find out how secondary frequency control and balancing of the power system are carried out by attracting shunting powers. A bachelor’s degree can be an excellent start in the career of a future expert on such matters.

Author — Sergey Dibrov, infographics by Igor Zheved

(C)DUMSKAYA.NET 2022

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