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Energy export

Green energy for Europe from Georgia

Since completion of the Akhaltsikhe substation in 2013, Georgia has been connected to Turkey’s electricity grid. To finally be able to export electricity, the Georgian government is moving ahead at breathtaking speed to step up production of domestic power.

For someone like Kakha Kaladze, who served as Minister of Energy from 2013 until he won the mayoral race to lead the country's capital Tbilisi in November 2017, keeping on the move is no problem. For one thing he was the first Georgian to play for top Italian soccer club AC Milan. Since 2012 he’s been energy minister in his home nation, overseeing what is possibly the most dynamic arena of activity in the country. Since the 500/400/220 kV substation close to Akhaltsikhe, a city not far from the Turkish border in southwestern Georgia, was commissioned at the end of 2013, the Georgian power grid has been connected with the grid in Turkey, a country set to see explosive demand for electricity in the years to come.

The state-of-the-art substation, which boasts HVDC (high-voltage direct-current) technology, is the only one of its type anywhere in the Caucasus. It was planned and built by Siemens, making one of the key projects in the Black Sea Transmission Network Project initiated in 2010 a reality. Georgia is now the main hub for power transmission between Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia and into Turkey and Europe. In the long term it will enable the former Soviet republic, which so far has always been dependent on energy imports, to become energy-independent, and earn money by producing and exporting surplus green power. 

In the current phase the main focus of our new energy export strategy is on Turkey.
Kakha Kaladze, Georgia's former energy minister and current Mayor of Tbilisi

 

 

Power outages to be a thing of the past

Georgia wants to make this vision a reality as quickly as possible. With the help of international banks such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which has already invested more than EUR 2.8 billion in 195 projects in Georgia, and other private investors, the country continues to work feverishly to modernize its electricity grid. New pylons are shooting up, old power plants are being upgraded, and high-voltage lines and additional substations – such as the 220/110-kV facility completed in mid-2016 in Khorga in the west of the country, another Siemens project – have been constructed to stabilize the grid. New grids are also being built, for example the 315 kilometer-long Black Sea Transmission Line, which since 2014 has connected the east of Georgia to the west and on to the Turkish grid. In spring 2017, when the second phase of the Transmission Network Expansion program started, the German government-owned development bank KfW provided a concession credit of EUR 125 million for Georgia's expanding power network.

We need to create a secure and modern infrastructure that guarantees business and the public a 24/7 supply.
Kakha Kaladze, Mayor of Tbilisi and former Energy Minister of Georgia

 

The constant power outages the country steadily suffered during many years after its independence – a legacy of the centrally organized Soviet-era energy system – are at last a thing of the past. Georgia has never been able to cover its own energy requirements itself, and has always had to import electricity, gas and coal, mainly from Russia. Since the war in 2008, relations with its neighbor have been precarious. In the future, however, growing energy consumption in Georgia is to be met with the help of domestic resources. “We need to create a secure and modern infrastructure that guarantees business and the public a 24/7 supply,” said Kaladze back in September 2015 in Tbilisi when his ministry and Georgia’s national grid operator GSE unveiled an ambitious ten-year-plan setting down a road map for the energy sector until 2025. 

Great potential in hydro power

The details of the program outlined by Kaladze were staggering. In 2015, Georgia produced 3,520 megawatts of electricity, 80 percent of which is hydropower. The plan is to be able to export more than 3 terawatt hours from 2020, and 15 terawatt hours by 2020. So Europe can look forward to plenty of green energy from the Caucasus. A crucial factor in these plans to export power to the west was Turkey's admission to the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ETSO) in April 2015.    

The 2 x 350 MW HVDC back-to-back link with the 500/400/220 kV Akhaltsikhe substation near the Turkish border in southwestern Georgia.

Boosting generation capacity

The Georgian government is pressing ahead with the construction of hydropower plants to increase power generation capacity as quickly as possible. Seventy of these projects have already been figured out by the Ministry of Energy, and 16 are already under construction, including Khedula 3 in the Lower Svaneti region, which is set to generate 51 MW of electricity once completed.

In the year 2017, 76 hydropower plants were already operating in Georgia. In total, more than 60 new hydropower projects have been initiated by the Ministry of Energy between the reform started in 2008 until the end of 2017, when the Ministry officially merged with the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia. As of 2017, 14 of these plants were already under construction, with works on the enormous Nenskra hydro-electric power plant scheduled to begin soon.  Built in the upper Svaneti region at a cost of US$ 1.1 billion, it will be Georgia's biggest hydro-electric power plant with a generation capacity of 280 megawatts – or approximately 8 percent of the country's electricity consumption.

Another big project was initiated back in October 2014: The US$ 200 million Paravani hydropower plant in southern Georgia, will have Georgia with an installed capacity of 87 megawatts. The huge installation is connected to the Akhaltsikhe substation via a 220kV line. “Such a powerful hydropower plant hasn’t been built in Georgia for more than 35 years,” enthused then prime minister Irakli Gharibashvili at the facility’s inauguration.

As the amount of electricity generated grows, modern lines will be needed to take the power to neighboring countries. In early 2014 the Georgian and Armenian governments decided to build a new 500kV high voltage line with transmission capacity of 700MW that is designed to enable the synchronization of the power grids in Russia and Armenia. This is an important technological requirement for electricity to be exported via this line as well.

So it looks as if Kaladze will have to keep moving as Georgia moves rapidly into the future. At only 37 years of age, the energy minister shouldn’t have any problem keeping up. 

For 2018, projects for a total sum of US$30 million are lined up. Until 2021, the investment sum for modernizing and enhancing the transmission grid will increase to US$515 million.

In his five years serving as the minister of energy Kaladze was obviously a power plant of his own. He attracted US$1.2 billion of direct foreign investments building 18 hydro power plants, 2 thermal power plants and a wind power plant. Not a bad balance sheet when you start a new career as the mayor of the economical power house of the country.

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