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Ukrainian energy leader to Europe: Help us rebuild war-damaged grid

A Ukrainian energy leader is asking suppliers to create "priority lanes" to help repair and fortify the country's electricity grid.
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Speaking before a crowd of energy industry leaders in Frankfurt, Germany, Vadym Utkin held up what he said was a piece of a Russian missile.

The chunk of steel was used to damage the electricity grid in Ukraine, where Utkin is the energy storage lead for DTEK, the country's largest private energy investor. Around 40% of the electric grid has been damaged since Russian attacks on the grid began on Oct. 10, he said.

"We're keeping up the fight," Utkin said during his keynote address at Enlit Europe in Frankfurt, Germany. "I'm pretty sure we'll see more missile strikes in the future."

Vadym Utkin, energy storage lead for Ukrainian energy giant DTEK, holds up a piece of steel from a Russian missile that was used to damage the electricity grid in Ukraine. Utkin delivered the keynote address at Enlit Europe in Frankfurt, Germany on Nov. 29, 2022.

Despite the damage, Utkin said that DTEK is undeterred. The company has both the resources and manpower to rebuild and fortify Ukraine's electric grid, and fully intends to do so.

Utkin called on energy suppliers to create "priority lanes" for Ukraine to acquire the equipment it needs.

He said energy leaders can also help the country by working with their customers to find available resources for the effort, even if that means upending the contracts that typically mask supply agreements.

"It would be very appreciated by the Ukrainian people," Utkin said.

Ukraine is in need of a wide variety of equipment to rebuild the grid, including transformers, circuit breakers, surge arrestors, mobile substations, joints, and more. And it isn't as simple as replacing damaged infrastructure, since much of the Soviet-era energy equipment used in Ukraine today is not compatible with European or U.S. standards.

Meanwhile, long-lead times, high transportation costs, and supply chain constraints plaguing the global energy industry are magnified in the war-torn country.

"We are ready to buy (this equipment) if you can wait for 6-10 months," Utkin said.

Energy infrastructure damage in Ukraine caused by Russian attacks. (Courtesy: DTEK)

On Nov. 29, the United States government said it would provide more than $53 million to support the acquisition of critical electricity grid equipment for Ukraine. The supply package is expected to include distribution transformers, circuit breakers, surge arresters, disconnectors, vehicles and other key equipment.

The intersection of energy security and decarbonization is the prime focus for energy industry leaders congregating at Enlit Europe.

On the heels of the COP27 summit of world leaders in Egypt, the industry conference aimed to focus on the action required to achieve ambitious goals set by policymakers.

Following Utkin's speech, Frederic Godemel, EVP of power systems and services at Schneider Electric, vowed to support DTEK in its efforts.

"You have my commitment that we will look at what we can do," Godemel said.

Utkin helped integrate the country's first grid-scale energy storage facility. The 1 MW/2.5 MWh lithium-ion battery facility was developed in partnership with Honeywell in 2020 to support Ukraine's grid and the uptake of renewable energy sources.

The war hasn't stopped Utkin's work. He's developing the utility's second grid-scale battery storage project, a 20 MW/40 MWh facility that will be sited with certain asset protections.

The value of these projects, and energy security, is clearer than ever before. Utkin said he hopes that Europe takes notice.

"This is for Europe to see," he said. "These missile attacks are not just for Ukrainians."

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