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Russia-Ukraine Conflict Creates Energy Challenges

March 16, 2022
The stories and images coming out of Ukraine leave people feeling helpless, which is why most people in the U.S. favor the sanctions levied against Russia, as well as President Biden’s order that bans the import of Russian oil.

For the last few weeks, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has dominated the news. The stories and images coming out of Ukraine leave people feeling helpless, which is why most people in the U.S. favor the sanctions levied against Russia. Most are OK with President Biden’s executive order that bans the import of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas, and coal to the U.S., even though the move caused a hefty increase in prices at the gas pump.

As I’m writing this Global Viewpoint, NASDAQ reports the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil is nearly $110 a barrel, down from its high of nearly $124 a barrel reached on March 8. Natural gas is $4.73 per million BTU, down from nearly $5.02 reached on March 4, and AAA reports the nationwide average cost for a gallon of regular gas is $4.32. 

Many experts believe the current gas prices will speed up North America’s transition to electric vehicles (EVs). That seems like a safe prediction. I recently read an Associated Press article that described how some people are pushing conspiracy theories on social media, saying that the Biden Administration is intentionally driving up gasoline prices to prod Americans to buy EVs. It would be great for those of us in the U.S. if the President of the United States had the ability set oil and gas prices for the entire world, but it doesn’t work that way.

On the flip side, there are experts who disagree with the notion that high gas prices will have a long-term impact on EV adoption, saying swings in oil and gas prices are common in the industry and prices will eventually head back down. They point out the lessons of 2008 when oil reached $147 a barrel and gasoline rose to $4 a gallon but then slid back down quickly. In addition, they point out that it’s common for oil and gas prices to spike due to emotional and unwarranted reactions to world events, and not the actual state of energy supply.  

It’s anybody’s guess when (or if) oil prices will decrease substantially, but it is prudent for utilities that will provide the power and infrastructure required to power EVs to consider what might happen if prices remain high. Preparation for EV adoption is more important now than ever.

Another concern stemming from the conflict is Russia’s ability and possible desire to attack not only Ukraine’s power grid, but other countries’ grids. Russia proved twice that it can take down Ukraine’s electricity grid. In a 2015 cyberattack, it took down part of Ukraine’s grid for six hours, and then in 2016, Russia infiltrated a Ukrainian substation, tripping circuit breakers and disrupting power to a portion of Kyiv for a brief time.

Cybersecurity experts agree that these cyberattacks were meant to demonstrate to other countries, including the U.S. and those in Western Europe, that Russia can disrupt and inflict tremendous hardship on other countries’ citizens without stepping foot on foreign soil. Grid owners and operators, along with national laboratories, universities, industry associations, software developers and others have worked for years to put safeguards in place that can prevent a widespread takedown of power generation facilities and transmission infrastructure. Preparation for cyberattacks must be stepped up.

Even though most people agree with the Biden Administration’s sanctions and bans on Russian oil and gas, these moves seem to have deepened the divide between proponents of green, low carbon energy and those who promote U.S. energy independence through fossil fuels. The renewable and green energy contingent argues that developing our renewable resources is the best way to gain energy independence from all outside countries. Those who promote traditional energy strategies point out, however, that the U.S. has enough fossil fuel to not only be independent, but also supply our allies with enough fuel to become independent from rogue nations. They suggest that more exploration, drilling, production of oil and gas is the answer. They also call for more pipelines to be built, a move that green energy proponents believe will cause the country to become more entrenched in fossil fuel production well into the future as owners of pipelines try to avoid stranded costs. During a televised interview, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said that this potential problem can be solved by converting pipelines into carriers for green hydrogen as that segment of the energy industry develops. Much more must be done to accelerate and advance green hydrogen to a point where it will be plentiful enough to be transported long distances in the country’s pipeline system.  

You might have noticed that I haven’t provided ideas or suggestions on how to address these challenges. I’m not an expert in any of these areas and certainly not in world affairs or geopolitical issues. I do know, however, that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the things I’ve mentioned here have amplified several challenges utilities and energy providers were already addressing. I also know that there are smart people in the world who have ideas and solutions that can help with these and other challenges. I’m happy to tell you that we here at T&D World are recruiting many of those people to speak at our upcoming T&D World Conference and Exhibition that will occur Oct. 5-7, 2022, in Charlotte, NC. We’ve amassed an advisory board of experts, representing utilities, solution providers and associations like EEI, EPRI and Utilities Technology Council. With their help, we are creating technical and panel sessions that are educational and thought provoking, and designed to spur discussions, create new ideas and uncover solutions to today’s challenges, as well as those that lie ahead.

We will be announcing session topics and speakers as we confirm them in the coming weeks, so I encourage you to visit our website,, often for updates. We’ve already secured some amazing companies to exhibit at the event. They will be displaying their latest technologies and solutions. It will be an intimate event that will allow you to meet and network with peers who face some of the same challenges and opportunities you and your utility face. I hope to see you there.  

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