Middle East: New super power grid

The 400 kilovolt (kV) Al Zour gas insulated substation in Kuwait

One of the largest contracts in this $1.2 billion mega-project was awarded to ABB. The Gulf Interconnection is one of the most important transnational infrastructure projects to have been undertaken in the Middle East for some time.

Upon completion in 2011, this mega-sized pooling of electricity resources will interconnect the power grids of the six Gulf states – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman – and enable them to use their electricity resources more efficiently.

The interconnection will also enable the six states to establish an energy trading market and in the long term link up with Europe and North Africa to form a ring of interconnected power grids around the Mediterranean.

ABB has played a key role throughout phase 1 of the project, which was completed in late 2009 at a cost of around $1.2 billion and is by far the largest of the interconnection’s three phases. Six state-of-the-art ABB transmission substations with gas-insulated switchgear – three in Saudi Arabia and one each in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar - enable the power to be delivered reliably and safely at 400 kilovolts (kV) to the power systems of all four countries.

ABB has led the innovation and development of GIS (gas insulated switchgear) substations, which is among the most suitable solutions for the harsh desert climate of this part of the Arabian peninsula.

GIS is more compact and robust due to its design. The full metal encapsulation and indoor installation protects it from atmospheric influence and enables it to withstand harsh conditions like deserts better. The high-quality equipment combines efficient operation with low maintenance and also improves availability and reliability.

Valued at around $250 million, the ABB solution includes 17 shunt reactors, which stabilize the voltage of the 400 kV cable between Saudi Arabia and the island of Bahrain. Two of the 15 reactors are rated at 300 MVAr and are the most powerful three-phase reactors ever made.

Among the challenges that confronted ABB were a lack of construction materials in the region due to one of the biggest construction booms ever, and unstable ground conditions in Kuwait where the seawater was only 50 cm below the surface. Several roads also had to be widened and reinforced to permit the transport of transformers and reactors, each weighing several hundreds tons.