There are multiple advantages to be gained from interconnecting the electric power grids of several countries. The main benefit comes from deferring, or avoiding altogether, the construction of new power plants. This can be achieved by sharing power across interconnected grids without impacting their security and reliability. The interconnection also reduces the need for standby capacity to meet fluctuations in demand, which in turn reduces operating cost. It enables new generating plants to be erected in the most economically attractive sites, typically close to the sources of inexpensive fuel. A further benefit is the lowering of the overall level of environmental pollution in the region.

Recognizing these benefits, Arab countries established interconnection links between their respective electricity power grids, as far back as 1952, during that year, a tie line was erected between Algeria and Tunisia to alleviate cross border short term power shortages, and in 1979, a tie line was established to link Morocco and Algeria for similar reasons. Despite suffering problems which limited the success of these project, the experience and insight gained contributed to the spawning of other projects on a much greater scale that now encompass the whole region.

Current Status of The Arab Electricity Grids Interconnection Projects:

These projects include the Eight Country Interconnection Project, The Maghreb Countries Interconnection Project and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Power Grid Interconnection Project.

The Eight Country Interconnection Project (named EIJLLPST): this project involves interconnecting the electrical grids of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey. It started as a five-country interconnection project including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey, became a six-country project when Lebanon joined in, and later became an eight-country project when Libya and Palestine joined in.

The Egypt-Libya link, rated at 170MW, became operational on 220kV in 2008. The same year also witnessed the operation of the Egypt-Jordan link, rated at 300MW, using 500kV on the Egyptian side and 400kV on the Jordanian side. During 2001, the Syrian and Jordanian networks were interconnected on 400kV using a line rated at 300MW. The Syrian grid was connected to the Lebanese grid, on 400kV, during 2009, and final tests are being conducted in preparation for connecting the Syrian grid to the Turkish grid, using the same voltage. Additionally, separate parts of the Palestinian grid are being fed from the Egyptian and Jordanian grids.

Interconnecting the Iraqi grid with the Syrian and Turkish grids will be accomplished at a later date.

Figure (1)
Eight Country Grid Interconnection

The Maghreb Countries Interconnection Project this project includes connecting the Libyan grid to the Tunisian grid, using 220kV transmission lines, interconnecting the Tunisian grid with the Algerian grid, on 400kV, and interconnecting the Algerian grid to the Moroccan grid, using the same voltage.

All works and final tests to interconnect the electric grids of Libya and Tunisia were concluded in 2005. However, as a result of electrical issues related to oscillations in the combined network, the interconnection lines were re-opened in order to enable both countries to conduct further investigations. The two countries, together with the UCTE, are working on resolving this problem.

With respect to the Tunisia-Algeria interconnection on 400kV, all works have been completed, and it is expected that the project will be operational during 2010.

In addition to the existing 220kV interconnection between Algeria and Morocco, the two countries also completed a project to interconnect their grids using a 400kV network, rated at 900MW. This project was put in service in 2009.

Figure (2)
The Maghreb Countries Interconnection

The GCC Power Grid Interconnection Project this project is being implemented over three phases. Phase 1 which covers the northern section, and links the grids of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, was completed in early 2009. Phase 2 covers the southern section and aims to link the grids of the UAE and Oman. Phase 3 will link the northern and southern phases and is due to be completed and fully operational by the middle of 2011.

Figure (3)
Gulf Cooperation (GCC) Power Grid Interconnection

Arab Fund's participation in the costs and benefits of the Arab Interconnection Projects:

Over the past twenty years the total investment in the various Arab Interconnection Projects has reached two billion US dollars; including US$ 556 million for the Eight Country Interconnection Project, US$ 1100 million for the GCC Power Grid Interconnection Project, US$ 169 million for the Maghreb Countries Interconnection Project and US$ 86 million for the interconnection of the two electricity grids in Yemen.

The Arab Fund contributed US$ 678 million to the financing of most of these projects through loans on concessionary terms. These loans covered 34% of the total costs of these projects, with the balance coming directly from the participating countries.

The Arab Fund also contributed US$ 86 million to finance projects aimed at strengthening the national grids in Syria, Morocco and Yemen, prior to interconnecting them to their neighboring country grids.

Project costs were apportioned among the various participating countries on the basis of the cost incurred within a country's borders and on a 50/50 basis for undersea cables, as used in the link between Egypt and Jordan through the Gulf of Aqaba.

The total capital savings accruing over a 15 year period is estimated to be approximately $ 3.7 billion, attributable to the postponement and/or cancellation of the investment in new generating capacity of around 6.5 GW. This figure does not include an additional estimated annual expenditure saving of $120 million in operation and maintenance costs.

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