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Black Sea Transmission Network

Building Georgia’s energy future

GSE, the state-owned operator of the electricity grid in Georgia, is running a major development program for renewing its outdated infrastructure. We talked to GSE’s manager Sulkhan Zumburidze about the extensive program.

Getting hold of Sulkhan Zumburidze is not the easiest task. The man with the sincere smile and vibrant voice is more than busy. Georgia has decided to modernize and reform its electrical grid that – due to its infamous instability – is still a sharp reminder of the Soviet Union. When the former communist superpower collapsed in 1991 it brought Georgia the political independence the people were longing for – but also tons of challenges.

Zumburidze, who has been running Georgian State Electrosystem (GSE) since 2008 as the Chairman of the Managing Board, is a man shaped by this independence: a cultural patriot with excellent qualifications gained in England and Germany, boasting a strong will to help his country get on track to become a potent modern state. Born in 1976, he still experienced the Soviet school system. But his adult years were formed by a sovereign Georgia seeking to find its place in the word of democratic states, overcoming the troublesome nineties, and rocking through a time of political hope, backlashes and a dynamic current toward serious modernization in the past fourteen years.

CEO Sulkhan Zumburidze is heading the complex modernization process of Georgia’s energy system.

The Black Sea Transmission Network Project

“Yes,” he says with a sober undertone. “Finally Georgia is on its way.” A major project of the new Georgia is the renewal and strengthening of the electrical grid – and of the power supply that used to rely heavily on imports from Russia and Azerbaijan. GSE, which as a state-owned company runs the country’s electrical grid and is responsible for modernizing, developing and constructing the transmission lines and high-voltage towers. “In the past years we implemented two major investment projects,” says Zumburidze. Firstly, there is the Black Sea Transmission Network Project, which is the cornerstone of Georgia’s future as a possible energy exporter and of its wide-reaching energy self-sufficiency. “Within this project we built the 500-kV Gardabani-Akhaltsikhe-Zestafoni overhead line, a 500/400/220-kV substation in Akhaltsikhe and a 400-kV line from Akhaltsikhe to the Turkish border. This project is finished and now we already export electricity to Turkey via this line.”

Finally Georgia is on its way.
Sulkhan Zumburidze, CEO, Georgian State Electrosystem (GSE)

 

Another major project is Georgia’s Improved Power Transmission (GIPT) Project. This long-term project is on the brink of being finalized and contains several sub-projects. Mr. Zumburidze explains: “We rehabilitated power transmission lines in the region of Senaki and also GSE’s critical HV-power transmission infrastructure.” Moreover, the emergency system has been enhanced with state-of-art technologies and engineering software. This component is directed towards improved power management, transformer fault monitoring, protection improvement, reliable transmission operation and trade facilitation.

Reinventing the power gird

When Sulkhan Zumburidze, who is also fluent in German and who worked for Transparency International in Germany, starts talking about the complex modernization process, he can hardly be stopped. You can tell that he is proud of being part of this monumental job. Georgia is reinventing its power grid on a grand scale, and for Zumburidze that means he is part of shaping the future of his country.

More projects are under construction or planned. Like the building of several new transmission lines of hundreds of kilometers or the Regional Power Transmission Enhancement Project, which includes the rehabilitation, upgrade and extension of several existing substations and the replacement of a power transformer in the 220-kV substation of Menji, which is aimed at strengthening the power supply in the western regions of Georgia. Moreover, Siemens Austria has been commissioned to build a new substation in Khorga with 220-kV and 110-kV line bays, two 220/110/10-kV autotransformers and associated equipment.

The Akhaltsikhe HVDC substation operates on two back-to-back links, each line of which is able to transmit 350 megawatts of power.

 

“One of the major purposes of this substation is ensuring power supply of the Poti Free Industrial Zone and of the prospective port at the Black Sea,” explains Zumburidze. “This substation may be connected with future power plants to be constructed in Samegrelo and the western part of Lower Imereti, as well as with the ones planned in the Jvari area. The project will also support energy exports to Turkey.” The finalization of the project is scheduled for 2016.

Transmitting power between east and west

Under Zumburidze’s guidance, GSE also created a ten-year program that outlines the development of a stable, reliable, cost-effective and efficient transmission system for the future. “At any development stage,” says Sulkhan Zumburidze, “we want to ensure network security, power quality and a sufficient transfer capacity for the integration of renewable sources into the network and for the envisaged power exchange with neighboring countries.”

Power exchange – this is the key word. All plans contribute to one great idea: Georgia wants to become the major link for transmitting power between east and west. And obviously Georgia’s neighbors are already interested in this massive development plan. Chairman Zumburidze seems quite pleased when talking about the new interest of energy giants like Russia or Azerbaijan in a country that used to be famous for its steady power blackouts.

The Akhaltsikhe substation is unique in the Caucasus due to its modern technology.
Sulkhan Zumburidze, CEO, Georgian State Electrosystem (GSE)

 

“During the past two to three years delegations from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia visited different parts of the new transmission grid constructed under the Black Sea Transmission Network Project, especially the Akhaltsikhe substation, which is unique in the Caucasus due to its modern technology.” Azerbaijan, Zumburidze continues, is further interested in exporting electricity to Turkey through the Georgian grid, “Armenia has a similar interest regarding Russia, while Russia is also monitoring the situation and is ready to transfer energy to the Turkish market if it is economically feasible.”

Conjuring up the socialist ghosts of a widely disliked Soviet past, one could conclude by saying that everything in Georgia is running according to plan – which is probably not the worst news.

Ingo Petz, freelance journalist based in Germany
Picture credits: Fabian Weiss