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World Bank To Fund Ambitious Grid Plan Linking Arab, Desertec Regions

The Saudi Gazette, Jeddah,  10 January 2011

The gigantic electricity network would link electric grids throughout the Middle East and extend them much further in a massive infrastructure investment in a smart grid

The World Bank is considering a smart grid plan that would link the eastern Arab states, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia with Egypt, down through the Sudan into Ethiopia, and along the top of the Desertec region linking the western outposts of the Arab world, World Bank’s Mohie Eddin said at a press conference in the World Bank’s Cairo office.

He said the plan would connect up nations as far away as the Maghreb region of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mauritania and the Western Sahara.  The gigantic electricity network would link electric grids throughout the Middle East and extend them much further in a massive infrastructure investment in a smart grid.

Expanding the reach of the grid across the nations of Northern Africa is the first step to the Desertec plan.  It has many other advantages.  Enlarging the geographic range of any electric grid has significant energy saving benefits, because peak demand happens in the various regions at staggered intervals, instead of all at the same time.  For example, in the case of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two countries that could benefit from borrowing power during their staggered peak times, peak demand is between about 3-4 GW.

In a separate report, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already finished conducting a marine survey in the Gulf of Aqaba to map a route for a project linking their power grids, Egypt's Electricity Minister Hassan Younis said Wednesday.  An initial report on the results of the survey, which started in December, will be released by mid-January, he said.  He noted that the length of the entire power linkage line will be 1,300 kilometers.  An international tender for the implementation of the project will be announced in February, he added.

Typographic maps have so far been outlined, Younis said, noting that the ship that conducted the survey was fully equipped to carry out the job in accordance with international standards.

The project is expected to cost about $1.5 billion and aims to exchange 3,000 megawatt through direct electrical lines.  Egypt will provide Saudi Arabia with electricity through the connection in the afternoons and Saudi Arabia will send electricity to Egypt in the evenings, taking advantage of the difference in the countries' rush hours.

Instead of Egypt and Saudi Arabia having to both build 4GW of extra energy in to supply their own grid, under the World Bank plan, the two countries could essentially share that same peak power, in effect, both getting by on just 2GW and swapping the extra back and forth.

Expanding the size of the grid is also a key to adding more renewable energy, anywhere. As Morocco adds more solar, and Egypt gets more wind, the larger the area the grid covers, the better.  A wider grid also means there is a better chance that a particular region can get help in an emergency. And with climate change bringing soaring temperatures to an already hot region, there will be more energy emergencies.

This summer, as temperatures soared to 122oF in Kuwait (50oC), Kuwait asked Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for extra power from their more localized GCC electrical grid program: the GCCIA, Gulf Cooperation Council Interconnection Authority.  When the grid-sharing program began in 2008, the belief was that each member state would be able to import up to the value of its interconnection size, which in Kuwait's case was 1,200 megawatts. But the close proximity of the Gulf countries made that technically impossible in a regional emergency.

By funding the expansion to a wider region, as it has done with other grid investments, the World Bank is solving this problem, and making it possible to greatly widen the impact of the new renewable power projects being added in the region.


Updated: 2016/06/30

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