Although much smaller than Russian exports of other energy commodities, Russian electricity exports to Europe have been a part of the European electricity systems. There are several connection points between the Russian and EU markets, but the Baltic States are the most exposed to Russian influence in the electricity sector. This brief discusses the Baltics’ dependency on Russian electricity, which currently accounts for 10 percent of the total Baltic electricity consumption. We argue that, while the Baltic states have some resilience (partly due to their connection to the Nordic countries), they are not immune to a complete halt to the Russian electricity trade, at least not in the short run.
The continuing military conflict in Ukraine and cut-offs of Russian gas to Europe are driving energy prices to unprecedented levels and creating concern about energy security all over Europe. The reliance on the Russian gas supply and the consequences of this has been profoundly discussed (for an overview, see e.g., Le Coq and Paltseva, 2022). At the same time, the topic of Russian electricity delivered to the EU has been largely left out of the current conversation.
Russia is exporting electricity directly to Europe, although at a much smaller scale than it has been exporting other energy commodities. There are several transmission connection points between the Russian and EU markets, but the situation of the Baltic States is the most precarious. They consume Russian electricity (about 10 percent of their needs) and their grids are still synchronised with Russia and Belarus. Therefore, they are exposed to some supply disruption and a desynchronization threat from Russia, potentially resulting in high market prices, severe congestion and even blackouts. Because the Baltics are connected to the leading power market in Europe, Nord Pool, any unexpected shocks may have consequences beyond the Baltic region.
Understanding how the Baltic States depend on Russia for their power consumption is an important element of the European energy security debate. This brief discusses the severity of the Baltics’ reliance on Russian electricity. We initially discuss the effect of a sudden halt to the Russian electricity trade in May 2022. We then address the potential consequences of the abrupt exclusion from the Russia-controlled transmission network. Finally, we discuss the future energy mix thought to replace Russian electricity in the Baltics.
The Baltic States’ Exposure to Indirect Imports of Russian Electricity
The Baltics’ exposure is analysed by examining the impact of a sudden stop of imports of Russian electricity to the EU in May 2022, which affected Nord Pool (https://www.nordpoolgroup.com/en/) prices as well as congestion in the Baltic States. This event cannot be qualified as an external shock, required for a rigorous empirical analysis. Nonetheless, it helps us assess the Baltics’ exposure.
On May 15th 2022, Russia broke off its electricity trade with Finland. This event is relevant to consider as Finland is increasingly a primary import source for the Baltic States. Any electricity supply disruption affecting Finland may therefore impact the Baltics’ energy system balance. To assess how the event impacted the Baltic electricity market, we compare the congestion occurrences in 2021 and 2022.
A standard way to assess the misfunctioning of a power market is to look at congestion episodes. The Nord Pool market, to which the Baltic states are connected, has several bidding areas. Prices between zones may differ in case of transmission bottlenecks. When transmission lines are saturated, no more electricity can, in that period, be transported from the cheap to the expensive areas to alleviate prices, referred to as congestion.
In the graphs below, we illustrate the congestion in the Baltics in 2021 as compared to 2022. Looking at the 2021 data for Estonia and Latvia, the countries belonged to the same price area most of the year; some price differences were observed in the summer months, but only 10 percent of the hours within those months were congested. In 2022 the price differences between the two countries grew substantially, since May reaching 20 percent, with more congested hours (Figure 1). In 2022 price differences also increased between Lithuania and Southern Sweden (region SE 4) as depicted in Figure 2.
Figure 1. Congestion between Estonia and Latvia (as percentage of congested hours out of all hours within a given month).
Figure 2. Congestion between Lithuania and Sweden (SE4) (as percentage of congested hours out of all hours within a given month).
Our aim is not to show a causal effect of the withdrawal of Russia from commercial electricity trading with the Baltic States region, but to describe some general, coincidental trends in congestion. Note that the congestion might be a result of the extreme prices observed in the Baltics – on August 17th 2022, prices reached the Nord Pool cap of 4000€/MW, the highest ever level in the region (Lazarczyk Carlson and Le Coq, 2022a).
To conclude, halting the electricity trade between Russia and Finland appears to have had some impact on the congestion in the Baltic States. Still, the consequences were not severe as the Baltics were already curtailing commercial exchanges with Russia and Belarus. Additionally, the Finnish yearly imports from Russia constituted at most 10 percent of the annual Finnish consumption.
The Baltic States’ Exposure to a Desynchronization Threat
The Baltics belong to the Moscow-controlled synchronous electrical power grid, BRELL, which connects power systems of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This grid dependency makes it virtually impossible for the Baltic States to completely stop Russian and Belarussian power from floating into the Baltics´ territory. A desynchronization from the BRELL network is currently not feasible. Although the Baltics have invested heavily in grid extensions and upgrade, the connection to the European grid is scheduled only for 2024/2025. Therefore, even though the Baltic States have been limiting commercial trading with Russia and Belarus on the Nordic electricity market, they are still receiving Russian/Belarusian electricity.
The Baltics’ dependency on the BRELL network creates a potential threat to the Baltic electricity supply security in case Russia should decide to weaponize its electricity supply further and disconnect the Baltic States from the network ahead of the planned exit in 2024/2025 (Lazarczyk Carlson and Le Coq, 2022a). Such premature disconnection could result in severe blackouts, and immediate reactions would be required to keep the system operational. In such scenario, strong support from the Nordic countries via Finland and/or Sweden would be needed. It is however important to keep in mind that a sudden disconnection from BRELL also could harm Kaliningrad – the Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Although Russia has invested heavily in expanding Kaliningrad generation capacities and its energy self-sufficiency, it is not clear whether the region is to this day prepared to operate in island mode without the support of the BRELL and neighbouring countries. Up to date, three successful operating exercises in island mode have been conducted in Kaliningrad, the longest lasting for 72 hours. However, the two tests scheduled for 2022 have been cancelled.
The future re-initialization of electricity trading with Russia is uncertain at this point and the role of Russian electricity has diminished over the years. The Baltics are not planning to maintain any transmission connection with Russia and Belarus after synchronising with the European power grid. However, the Finnish standpoint needs to be clarified. If the Finnish-Russian electrical power trade exchange is re-established in the future, Russian electricity might once again flow into the Baltics´ transmission grid as imports from Finland are forecasted to increase in the coming years due to a third interconnector, which should become operational in 2035.
The Baltics’ (Future) Energy Mix Without Russian Electricity
The alternatives to Russian electricity depend on the Baltics’ energy mix and transmission system. In 2021 the demand for electric power in the Baltics was 27 TWh, with Latvia representing 26 percent, Estonia 30 percent, and Lithuania 44 percent of the total demand. Consumption is forecasted to grow by 60-65 percent by 2050, due to the electrification of the economy and increasing needs within industries, housing, transportation, etc. (Nordic Energy Research, 2022).
All Baltic States are today net importers of electricity. The main import sources are Finland and, to a lesser extent, Sweden, which have jointly exported 45 TWh of electric power to the region over the years 2016-2021. Finland is itself a net importer of electricity mainly importing power from Sweden. Until May 2022, Finland’s second import source was Russia.
The Baltics are heavily dependent on fossil fuels in their electricity mix as illustrated in Table 1.
Table 1. Energy mix for electricity production (MW) in the Baltics, 2022.
The region is now trying to limit the use of fossil-fuel energy and expand its green energy potential, as extensively discussed in Lazarczyk Carlson E. and Le Coq C. (2022b). The actual installed capacity for the onshore wind is however insufficient, with 326 MW in Estonia, 87 MW in Latvia, and 671 MW in Lithuania. The current offshore wind’s capacity is non-existent. There are some plans to develop 4.5 GW in Lithuania, 7 GW in Estonia, and 14.5 GW in Latvia by 2050, but this will require substantial investments (European Commission, 2019).
The region also plans to expand solar power production, especially in Latvia and Lithuania, where the current capacity is 14 and 259 MW respectively. There are also plans to expand Latvian hydro production for storage and balancing needs; currently, Latvia has 1588 MW of installed run-of-the-river hydro capacity, the highest among the Baltic States.
Investing in nuclear power is another possibility which is currently being considered. As part of the EU accession process, Lithuania shut down its Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, the first unit in 2004 and the second in 2009, turning the country from a net exporter into a net importer of electric power (IEA, 2021). A project of replacing the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) by a new Polish-Lithuanian Plant, the Visaginas NPP, was discussed but later abandoned. The Estonian company Fermi Energy, in collaboration with the Swedish firm Vattenfall, are currently looking into small modular reactor (SMR) technology to develop nuclear energy. This project is however in the initial phases of development.
Renewables and nuclear power are credible alternatives to limit fossil-fuel energy usage and dependency on Russian electricity. The alternatives might however not be easily implemented in the short run.
The Baltic States’ dependency on the Russian electricity supply is limited. Nevertheless, discontinuing Russian electricity deliveries is not innocuous for at least two reasons.
First, the Baltics are still part of the BRELL network, so they are still physically dependent on Russia, although they plan to desynchronize from this network in the longer run. However, a sudden desynchronization initiated by Russia may have severe consequences in the short run (e.g. blackouts).
Second, considering the forecasted future increase in the demand for electrical power in the Baltics and the Nordic countries, the Baltics will remain dependent on power imports. Today, the Baltics rely on Finland and Sweden, as all three Baltic States are net electricity importers. To limit any future dependence on Russian/Belarussian electricity, the Baltics plan to sever any transmission connections with Russia and Belarus after desynchronization, thus cutting the potential for future electricity trade with both countries. If, however, the Nordic countries re-establish commercial exchanges with Russia via Finland, it is nevertheless possible that Russian electricity will be flowing in the Baltics transmission system again.
This policy brief is based on a project funded by the Energiforsk research program.
- Benedettini, S. and Stagnaro, C. (2022), Europe’s decoupling of electricity and gas prices: the crisis is temporary, so why do it? https://energypost.eu/europes-decoupling-of-electricity-and-gas-prices-the-crisis-is-temporary-so-should-it-be-done-at-all/
- ENTSO-E Transparency platform. Accessed on the 25th of November 2022 from https://www.entsoe.eu/
- European Comission. (2019). Study on Baltic offshore wind energy cooperation under BEMIP. Final report. ENER/C1/2018-456. June 2019. Accessed on the 12th of November 2022. https://op.europa.eu/lt/publication-detail/-/publication/9590cdee-cd30-11e9-992f-01aa75ed71a1
- IEA. (2021). Lithuania 2021 Energy Policy Review. Accessed on the 12th of November 2022 from https://www.iea.org/reports/lithuania-2021
- Juozaitis J. (2021). The Synchronisation of the Baltic States; Geopolitical Implications on the Baltic Sea Region and Beyond. Energy Highlights. NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence.
- Le Coq, C. and Paltseva, E. (2022). What does the Gas Crisis Reveal About European Energy Security? FREE Policy Brief, https://freepolicybriefs.org/2022/01/24/gas-crisis-european-energy/
- Lazarczyk Carlson, E. and Le Coq, C. (2022a). The weaponization of electricity: the case of electricity trade between Russia and European Union, IAEE Energy Forum, Fourth Quarter 2022.
- Lazarczyk Carlson, E. and Le Coq, C. (2022b). Power coming for Russia and Baltic Sea region’s energy security, Energiforsk report.
- Nordic Energy Research. (2022). Baltic-Nordic Roadmap for Co-operation on Clean Energy Technologies. Accessed on the 12th of November 2022 from https://www.nordicenergy.org/publications/baltic-nordic-roadmap-for-co-operation-on-clean-energy-technologies/
- Nord Pool. Accessed on the 28th of November from https://www.nordpoolgroup.com/en/
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.