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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, 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,” explains Georgia’s energy minister Kakha Kaladze.

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 EUR 2.2 billion in 170 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 being built in Khorga in the west of the country, another Siemens project – are being 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. 

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

 

The constant power outages the country currently suffers – the legacy of the centrally organized Soviet-era energy system – should at last be 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 at the beginning of September this year in Tbilisi, as 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. Georgia currently produces 3,520 megawatts of electricity, 80 percent of which is hydropower. The country boasts more than 26,000 rivers with electricity generation potential estimated at 40 billion kw/h per year. Only around 25 percent of this potential has been harnessed to date. Under the plan, hydropower generation will come to 6,681 MW by 2015, double this year’s figure. The plan is to be able to export more than 3 TW/h from 2020, and 15 TW/h 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.

One of the biggest projects was initiated back in October 2014: The US$ 200 million Paravani hydropower plant in southern Georgia, will have an installed capacity of 87 MW. 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 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. 

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