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The Baltic States’ pivotal shift toward energy independence and security

The Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – are on the brink of a significant transformation in their energy sector. Since 2007, these countries have been planning to synchronise their electricity grids with the Continental European system, moving away from their historical reliance on the unified Russian electricity system. This transition, scheduled for completion by 2025, is set to enhance energy security and market integration, offering numerous opportunities for businesses and consumers alike.

Earlier in June, Estonia’s transmission system operator (TSO) Elering completed the third synchronous condenser plant – the last of the planned plants – at the Viru substation near Narva. Then, the reconstruction of a 330 kilovolts (kV) overhead line, spanning from Valmiera (Latvia) to Tsirguliina (Estonia) was also completed, marking another milestone in the process of synchronisation.

Current status and progress

Mindaugas Ivanavičius, Head of the Synchronisation Programme Implementation Centre at Lithuania’s Transmission System Operator (TSO), Litgrid, recalls that, as of now, the Baltic States’ electricity systems are integrated into the IPS/UPS network, with frequency control managed centrally by Russia. This setup poses substantial geopolitical and energy security risks. The drive to synchronise with the European grid aims to mitigate these risks by establishing independent, stable and reliable frequency control.

All three TSOs have made notable strides in this endeavour.

“It’s correct that Estonia has implemented and installed all three synchronous condensers which were a key milestone for our synchronisation programme in Elering,” states Hannes Kont, Director of the Synchronisation Program. This achievement marks a critical step towards decoupling from the Russian grid and integrating with the European system.

Extensive upgrades and alignments are still needed

The path to synchronisation involves extensive infrastructure upgrades and procedural alignments. As Mr Kont explains, Estonia is currently developing a new SCADA/EMS system, slated for completion by December 2024.

Photo source: Elering.

“In addition, Elering has several investments that are implemented after synchronisation with CESA,” Mr Kont tells CEENERGYNEWS. “Most notably, the installation of remote terminal units (RTUs) and phasor measurement units (PMUs) to substations and ICT upgrades, for example, upgrades to the control and protection systems of EstLink 1 and EstLink 2.”

In this regard, the final investment for Estonia (EstLink 1 upgrades) is scheduled to be finished by September 2027.

In Lithuania, synchronous condensers are being installed at the Telsiai, Alytus and Neris substations.

“The project will enhance system reliability and contribute to Lithuania’s energy independence,” points out Mr Ivanavičius. The Telsiai and Alytus condensers are nearing the final stages of installation, with hot commissioning and testing set to commence soon, while the commissioning of Neri’s synchronous condenser is planned for the next year.

“Together with already installed synchronous condensers in Estonia, they will ensure enough inertia for the stability of the Baltic electricity transmission systems at the time of synchronisation with the continental European grid,” he tells CEENERGYNEWS.

Nonetheless, he observes that the electricity systems of the three Baltic states are already prepared for emergency synchronisation at any moment if that becomes necessary.

“The LitPol Link interconnection, through which the synchronous operation between Lithuania and Poland will be established, was expanded to support such operation in 2021,” added Mr Ivanavičius. “Many infrastructure projects strengthening the grids of the Baltic countries and Poland have already been commissioned and the system control equipment and procedures are in place.”

In addition to investments, Elering’s Hannes Kont underlines that the focus in 2024 is achieving procedural and legal compliance to the framework set for the Baltic states by the Connection Agreement with Continental European TSO-s before synchronisation in February 2025. “In this workstream, no delays are currently foreseen,” he says.

Substantial opportunities

The synchronisation project faces several challenges, primarily the need for precise coordination and timely completion of infrastructure projects. Any delays could impact the overall timeline, making meticulous project management essential.

However, the opportunities presented by this transition are substantial. Synchronisation will reduce the Baltic states’ dependence on the Russian energy system, thereby enhancing regional energy security. It will also integrate the Baltic electricity markets with the broader EU market, potentially levelling electricity prices and offering new business opportunities for electricity producers and traders. This market integration is expected to benefit consumers through more competitive electricity prices and improved supply reliability.

Furthermore, the move aligns with Estonia’s carbon neutrality goals, promoting the generation of renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions. This environmental benefit adds another layer of value to the synchronisation project.

Regional cooperation is key

The synchronisation initiative underscores the importance of regional cooperation and strategic foresight. The Baltic states’ proactive approach, including their readiness for emergency scenarios, highlights their commitment to managing geopolitical risks and ensuring energy security. The European Union’s substantial financial support, through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), emphasises the project’s regional significance.

The Baltic States’ synchronisation with the Continental Europe Synchronous Area represents a pivotal shift toward energy independence and security. While significant progress has been made, continued diligence is required to ensure the project’s timely and successful completion by 2025.

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