Baltics only use Russian electricity system to maintain grid frequency

Enefit Power mast.
Enefit Power mast. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Due to sanctions, Russia has been unable to sell its electricity to the Baltic countries and Finland since mid-May. Currently Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are only connected to Russia due to being in the same frequency band, which is managed centrally from Moscow. However, as the Baltic states have been trying to maintain a clean balance sheet with Russia since June, they are not required to pay Moscow for frequency management, or energy supplies.

"Russia's electricity sales to the Nordic and Baltic countries has stopped due to the EU sanctions and the fact that the banks are no longer brokering payments. (Russian National Energy Company) INTER RAO can no longer sell electricity to either Finland or the Baltic states," Erkki Sapp, head of Elering's energy market department, told ERR on Monday.

Russian electricity exports to Finland stopped on May 14, with supplies from Russia to Latvia and Lithuania also ending on May 20. Sapp stressed that Estonia has not purchased electricity directly from Russia for several years, pointing out that up to now, Estonia did not buy electricity from Russia to cover peak demand, but the other way round, because at peak times, electricity was also needed in Russia. Russian electricity came to our region at off-peak times.

However, the Baltic states do use electricity connections with Russia to maintain a stable 50 Hz frequency in their networks, Elering added.

"We in the Baltic States are in the same frequency band with Russia. The lines are still there, and because the lines are still there, and they are AC lines, there is a constant flow of electricity. Since the electricity system - generation and consumption - has to be balanced at all times, but it is not possible to achieve a complete balance, there will always be some kind of imbalance, meaning a certain amount of electricity will move on these lines," Sapp said.

"The idea behind maintaining balance in the electricity system is that if we don't have balance - if, for example, generation is less than consumption - the frequency will start to fall. But the frequency has to be 50 hertz constantly, otherwise the power system stops working," he explained.

However, the Baltic countries are operating in this way so they do not have to pay Russia for their electricity, by keeping the import-export balance at zero every hour," Sapp said. "Our system operators aim to keep the levels balanced at all times. But there's always some kind of error at the end of the hour. And so now, from the beginning of June, we decided to try to keep it at zero, or in surplus, so that we don't have to buy electricity from Russia," he said.

According to a representative of Estonian electricity transmission system operator Elering, the Baltic states' contract with INTER RAO to provide frequency management reserve services is valid until the end of the year. However, they are trying to proceed in a way that does not require making payments to INTER RAO.

INTER RAO's frequency management reserve services previously cost Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania €1-2 million per month.

Capacity for desynchronization from Russia already exists

"Disconnection from the Russian electricity system and synchronization with the continental European grid would also now be possible, however, as the necessary work has not yet been completed, this has not happened yet," said Sapp.

"The technical readiness is improving all the time, we can still manage separately and we have the capacity to synchronize with continental Europe in an emergency. Our capacity to cope is increasing every year. We are making the necessary investments in the synchronization programme, including line upgrades, synchronous compensators and additional control systems," he explained.

If Estonia and the other Baltic states were to leave the Russian electricity system today, they would have to balance the Baltic electricity system themselves, which would be more complex and expensive than staying on the Russian system at the moment, he said.

However, the Elering representative added that current plans to decouple from the Russian electricity grid by 2025, should go ahead as planned.

According to Sapp, the biggest single investment, would be the creation of a direct connection between Lithuania and Poland. As the two DC connections currently linking Poland and Lithuania in the relatively narrow Suwalki corridor will be converted to AC connections during synchronization, it is no longer technically feasible to make additional connections there. Therefore, a new DC connection called 'Harmony-link' will be made on the seabed between Lithuania and Poland.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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