‘Mediterranean electrical super-grid is possible soon’

‘The idea is to interconnect from Israel to Turkey,’ Israeli official tells ‘Post’ at Tel Aviv conference.

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October 28, 2011 03:40
Wind turbines

wind turbines, renewable energy 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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There is a real possibility of creating a circuitous electrical super-grid, that begins in Spain, heads eastward through northern Africa and back toward Europe through the eastern Mediterranean nations via Turkey, in the foreseeable future, according to experts who discussed the vision at a conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

The conference, hosted by Israel’s branch of CIGRE: International Council on Large Electric Systems, featured lead researchers and innovators from all over the world to speak about different techniques of transmitting power within, and among, their countries.

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Establishing an interconnected grid throughout the Mediterranean basin is the work of a Paris-based organization called Medgrid, which is pushing for the continuation of a project called MEDRING, started quite some time ago, which would successfully link the countries electrically, thereby reducing individual infrastructural demands and boosting all of these nation’s economies.

Members of the private joint venture currently include 20 European Union and southeast Mediterranean companies, among which include Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Syria – but not yet Israel due to its electrical isolation.

“The objective of Medgrid is to design the Mediterranean interconnection grid with a time target that is about 2020-2025, which is a bit near, in comparison with DESERTEC, which is 2050,” said Jean Kowal, executive vice president of Medgrid and former secretary general of CIGRE-France, referring to a campaign that aims to harness large amounts of desert light on a high voltage supergrid by 2050.

Creating the Medgrid would complement European Union objectives for 2020, which include a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide compared to 1990 levels, a 20% gain in energy efficiency, and ensuring that 20% of energy consumption comes from renewable, according to Kowal.

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Meanwhile, also in line with the planned grid would be a program called the Mediterranean Solar Plan, which is pushing for the quicker development of renewable energy sources in the southern and eastern rims of the Mediterranean, mostly through solar power, Kowal added.

“This solar plan cannot become a reality if you don’t have a transmission system to transmit the electricity,” he said.

Medgrid would serve as such a transmission system, to allow neighbor nations to benefit from each other’s renewable sources, rather than relying on polluting sources to fill in gaps during peak hours, according to Kowal.

“The idea is to try to find out what could be this network all around the Mediterranean, but also to assess what could be the conditions to make it real because there are so many problems,” he added.

One such problem, according to Kowal, is that the interconnections between the southeastern Mediterranean countries are currently very weak, particularly among Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

“If we want to develop this system, we will have to rely on submarine cables going from south to north,” he said, noting, however, that cables can currently only go to a maximum depth of 1,650 meters.

These underwater cables work well up to a certain point; however, when the cables reach Egypt, the waters become too deep, “will probably have to rely on a ground route for transmission,” Kowal explained.

“There is no technological problem to send electricity from south to north. The problem is more how to design this transmission grid,” he continued.

Once the grid is designed, the biggest challenge in making the connections is the fact that the southern countries have different regulations governing their electricity supplies, which currently make it “impossible to develop trading of electricity between southern countries and Europe,” according to Kowal, who stressed the need to develop a basic regulation level among these countries.

Yet another issue is the fact that the transmission system would be extremely expensive – about 5-6 billion euros – but Kowal said he is certain that countries’ investments in its development would pay off.

For example, he explained, since renewable energy generation is only available during part of a 24-hour period, and is therefore twice as costly as maintaining other sources, countries in different time zones would be able to share their renewable sources during different time periods.

Meanwhile, he estimated, about 25% of the electricity would be able to be sold back to Europe.

According to the current plans for the grid, the route from Egypt back to Europe would be from Jordan to Syria to Turkey, bypassing both Israel and Lebanon, Kowal told The Jerusalem Post after his lecture.

“Currently, the Israeli system is isolated from the other systems,” he said. “Probably the electrical system of Israel is the strongest in the region – it would be very helpful for us if we could use this electrical system to transmit electricity.”

Kowal was optimistic that eventually, though not immediately, Israel would be able to become less isolated.

“Probably in the future, Israel would be part of this Mediterranean system,” he said. “It would allow Israel to sell electricity to other countries.”

Based on previous political conflicts in Europe, he had high hopes for Israel’s eventual involvement.

“In Europe, we had a problem for a long time between the Soviet Union and others and one day things changed,” Kowal said. “I think electricity started cooperation before the political side did.”

Israel would benefit enormously from being part of the system, by sharing renewables with its neighbors – for example, from the potential wind-power market in Jordan, according to Kowal.

In England and France, quite similarly, which are an hour apart and therefore have slightly different peak hours, the two countries benefit from sharing each others’ resources during their respectively increased periods of need, he explained.

“You can really save money and also pollution,” Kowal said. “If tomorrow we will rely more on renewable, we cannot do it without interconnecting the systems because the smaller the system is, the more difficult it is to balance it.”

CIGRE-Italy Chairman Antonio Negri was impressed by the system and its potential to bring people together, telling the Post: “It’s promising for two reasons – one because it fosters further cooperation among countries in the Mediterranean area, and the second because it could foster technological developments and new investments.”

Alex Levinzon, chairman of CIGRE-Israel and head of the Israel Electric Company’s Transmission Group, was likewise optimistic about Israel’s eventual involvement in the grid.

“This is my wish and my hope, because as you know the philosophy of an island means that we cannot interconnect with any other part of the world. The idea is to interconnect from Israel to Turkey because the connection to Lebanon is not possible today, but by sea there is a possibility,” Levinzon told the Post.

“I think that it would be very good for us – we could save a lot of money for building new power stations – we don’t have enough places to build them,” he added. “I believe that it will happen.

Not now, but in a few years more, it can be done.”

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