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Grid 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.

By 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 agreement.

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 consultant.

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 trade sanctions.

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 1997.

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 STFA Enerkom.

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.

Syria-Lebanon Middle East area map

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 Tripoli.

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 is planned.


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 with Europe.

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 30km submarine.

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.

Updated: 2016/06/30

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