Connection: The Key to Cooperation
For years, Arab economic collaboration
was to be found more in the realm of rhetoric than
reality. Now, in the field of electricity supply
at least, concrete steps are finally being taken.
Throughout the Middle East, schemes are in hand
to link national electricity grids. When the interconnection
schemes are completed during the coming decade,
an unbroken supply system will be functioning from
the Arabian Gulf to the Atlantic and from the Mediterranean
to the Arctic Ocean.
Alan George (April
17, 2000) Updated on 8-17-2000
The most developed scheme is a project to link Egypt,
Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. The first major step
was taken in 1989, when the state electricity companies
from the five participating countries appointed CIC,
a consortium of Canadian companies, Ontario Hydro
and Hydro-Quebec International, to prepare an initial
feasibility study. Funded by the Jeddah-based Islamic
Development Bank and the Kuwait-based Arab Fund for
Economic and Social Development (AFESD) , the study
reviewed interconnection alternatives, set out basic
technical specifications, examined the economics of
the alternatives and suggested a draft interconnection
Parallel to these developments, Egypt and Jordan
were promoting a separate bilateral project to link
their grids, for which Electicité de France
(EDF) International prepared a feasibility study.
In January 1989, the study was approved and a decision
was made to proceed with the project. In May that
year a loan agreement was signed with AFESD and in
December 1989 Canada's Teshmont was appointed as the
Grid Projects Jordan-Egypt
Originally, the Jordan-Egypt scheme had been intended
for commissioning in 1993, but the 1990-91 Gulf crisis
prompted a delay. At a meeting in Damascus in October
1992, meanwhile, the ministers of electricity from
Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq and the head
of AFESD approved the study of a wider grid interconnection
scheme and resolved to move ahead with a first stage
that excluded Iraq, which by then was subject to UN
Although still formally a separate scheme, the Egypt-Jordan
link became integrated into the wider project, whose
completion was at that time targeted-optimistically-for
The Egypt-Jordan link, between the New Suez substation
west of the Suez Canal and the Aqaba substation on
Jordan's Red Sea coast, was finally inaugurated in
May 1999. It extends for 310km and comprises an underground
cable beneath the canal, an overhead cable across
the Sinai Peninsula, and a 12km submarine cable under
the Gulf of Aqaba. The main contractor was Turkey's
Syria-hub of activity
Syria is presently the main focus of activity. A
400kV grid interconnection scheme with Jordan is scheduled
for commissioning by the end of 1999, while work is
pressing ahead on a 400kV link with the Turkish grid.
Both projects are being funded by the AFESD.
In February 1997, KEC International of India was
contracted to undertake the works on the Syrian side
of the Syrian-Jordanian link. The works comprise the
erection of a new overhead line and the reinforcement
of existing lines. Valued at US$49 million, the contract
involves 350km of line in all.
As part of this scheme, Germany's Siemens was appointed
in May 1998 to build two 400/220kV substations in
Damascus and at Dera'a, on the border with Jordan.
The contract was valued at $41 million. Italy's Ansaldo
Transmissione & Distribuzione is in line to win
a $26 million contract to build two 230/66kV gas insulated
switchgear (GIS) substations at Al Mazra'a and Al
Zahiriya in the Damascus area.
On the Jordanian side of the Syria-Jordan link, where
the client is the Jordan Electricity Authority and
the consultant is the UK's Mott Ewbank Preece, the
work has involved the erection of 60km of 400kV single-circuit
lines. Again, the scheme is being funded by AFESD.
In February 1999, a consortium of Turkey's Galkon
and Germany's SAG won a $40 million contract to install
350 km of overhead line for the Syrian-Turkish link.
The consultant is the UK's Merz & McLellan. Final
negotiations for two substations are underway and
a contract award is expected soon. Commissioning of
the northern interconnector is scheduled for mid-2001.
Unable to link with Iraq because of sanctions, Syria
is moving to strengthen its interconnection with its
western neighbor, Lebanon. Presently, the only operational
link is a 200kV line along the coast between the Syrian
port of Tartous and the northern Lebanese city of
A feasibility study has been completed, and topographic
surveys are now under way, for a new 400kV line from
Lebanon to the Damascus area. Initially, the connection
will operate at 220kV but by next year Lebanon hopes
to have completed a scheme to upgrade the line on
its side of the border to 400kV.
In order to manage electricity flows efficiently
following the completion of interconnections, a new
dispatching centre will be established in Damascus.
In January 1999, EDF was appointed to evaluate supply
and installation bids submitted by Italy's Nuovo Pignone,
Germany's Siemens, France's Cegelec and Beijing-based
China Wanbao Engineering Corporation. AFESD has approved
a $34 million loan for the scheme.
When UN sanctions are finally lifted, Iraq will be
able to link its grid with those of Turkey and Syria,
and the five-country grid system could soon be expanded
significantly. The EU has funded a feasibility study
on links between the grids of Jordan, Egypt, Israel,
Gaza, and the West Bank. Libya and Egypt have already
completed a 220kV link and a 500kV interconnection
Jordan has also moved to upgrade its control systems
to handle power flows from its new grid interconnections.
In mid-1999, ABB Power Automation won a contract for
the supply and installation of an optical fibre telecommunications
transmission and switching system from Jordan's National
Electric Power Company (Nepco). The local part of
the work will be undertaken by ABB Jordan.
A project for a 220kV link between Libya and its
western neighbor, Tunisia, is in hand. Tunisia, Algeria,
and Morocco are already linked by 220kV systems and
are planning a 400kV link. Morocco and Spain are linking
their grids with a 400kV system, allowing power exchanges
The GCC Interconnection
One of the biggest regional grid interconnection
schemes-albeit the slowest-moving-is an estimated
$6 billion project to link the electricity grids of
the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council
(GCC)-Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United
Arab Emirates and Oman. The project has been under
discussion for years but with the imminent establishment
of a supervisory body for the scheme, the Gulf Electricity
Link Authority (GELA), based in the eastern Saudi
city of Dammam, it looks as if the scheme may finally
be moving towards the implementation.
The project will consist of three phases. The first,
costing an estimated $2.5 billion, will involve the
connection of the grids of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar,
and Saudi Arabia. Thirty five percent of the cost-$870
million-will be provided by the four states, as equity
in GELA, while the balance will come from regional
and international banks and export credit agencies.
Initial plans provide for a 422km, overhead line
to link the Al Zour substation in Kuwait to Saudi
Arabia's Ghunan power station near Dammam. There,
a substation will convert the current to the 380kV
used on the Saudi national system. From Ghunan, a
90km, 220kV connection will run to the Al Jasra substation
in Bahrain. 60km of this line will be overhead and
Also from Ghunan, a 290km, 400kV overhead line will
be built to Qatar's Salwa substation. This in turn
will be connected to Qatar's Doha South power station
by a 100km, 220kV overhead line. The second phase,
whose main elements have yet to be decided, will involve
the interconnection of the Omani and United Arab Emirates
grids. The third phase, to cost an estimated $690
million will involve linking the Omani-UAE grid to
the grids joined in the first phase. A 250km, 400kV
overhead line will be built from Salwa , in Qatar,
to Ruwais in Abu Dhabi. From there a 120km, 400kV
overhead line will run to Tarif and on to Al Ain.
A 130km, 275kV overhead line will be built from Al
Ain to Sohar in Oman, which will in turn be linked
to Barkah by a 220km, 132kV overhead line.
Finance still to be secured
Finance has still to be secured for the Gulf project
and that may cause yet more delay. But for the first
time a no less significant element-political will,
seems to be firmly in place and it is no longer a
question of if, but when work starts.
The Need For Cooperation
Faced by spiralling power demand and tight budgets
stemming from oil price uncertainty, governments throughout
the region are realizing that practical collaboration
is infinitely more beneficial-and profitable-than
lip-service to abstract ideals of regional fraternity.
And economic integration both requires and encourages
political harmony-an especially valuable prize for
this, of all regions.