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Linking Saudi and Egyptian power grids is good first step

Mar 20, 2009 - Karin Maree - MEED

The potential for exchanging power stretches far beyond the borders of the kingdom and Egypt.

Despite activity in the Gulf's power sector slowing, one new project has got the industry talking across the region. A plan to link Egypt and Saudi Arabia's power grids has moved closer to becoming a reality.

It is early days yet, but the decision by Egyptian Electricity Holding Company to issue a tender for consultants on the scheme demonstrates a commitment to getting the job done.

At 1,500 kilometres in length, the interconnector between the two countries represents no small feat. The benefits it will bring to the Egyptians and the Saudis are clear. The link will allow Egypt and Saudi Arabia to capitalise on the difference in their peak power demand times, making it possible for them to trade power when demand is high in one and lower in the other. 

But the potential for exchanging power stretches far beyond the borders of the kingdom and Egypt. The link could in the future serve as a connection between the planned GCC grid and the Mediterranean ring, linking the Gulf to Europe through North Africa.

The GCC grid project is progressing well, with 91 per cent of the work on the first phase linking Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait completed. The whole scheme is due to become operational in 2010.

The GCC grid is no panacea, however. Only Saudi Arabia's western region will be able to access power from the connection as the kingdom's east and west power networks are not linked. Also, GCC countries do not at the moment have spare power capacity to trade. Finally, closing the Mediterranean ring has proved difficult, with a connection between Libya and Tunisia still missing.

In itself, the Egypt-Saudi interconnector has the potential to alleviate pressure from rising power demand in the two countries. A working GCC-North African-European network would be an added and significant bonus.