Officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia said a three-year study of a proposed power grid project linking the two nations is in its final stages.
Abdullah al-Hussayen, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Water and Electricity, said the project under study will allow both countries to share the system's total electricity output. He spoke during a meeting of the Gulf Co-Operation Council electricity and water co-operation committee on June 12th. The GCC is sponsoring the project.
The proposed link will be helpful during emergencies because it accounts for the difference in each nation's peak electricity periods, which are between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Saudi Arabia and after 7 p.m. in Egypt, he said.
Ezzat Khairallah, a researcher at Egypt's Ministry of Electricity and Energy and part of the study group's follow-up team, told Al-Shorfa that officials from both countries are finalising the project's details as the study nears completion.
"The study began in 2009 and has been completed in principle," he said. "It was presented to the Saudi side with all required agreements [regarding the project's legal, operational, control and trade frameworks] and designs."
Khairallah said Saudi officials will make final comments so the final plan can be amended and adopted.
The total off-peak volume of electricity exchanged between the two nations will reach 3,000 megawatts, and they will take advantage of the divergence in peak electricity usage periods, he said.
"Work is proceeding according to the set schedule, and the link in its final form, with all its technical aspects, is expected to be complete in 2015," Khairallah said.
Dr. Fahmi Abdul Aziz, a Cairo University professor, said the power project is one of the most important strategic initiatives in the region. He said officials became interested in the project decades ago when they recognised its potential value for both countries and the Arab region.
"Despite the existence of extensive internal networks in both countries, they still face peak-use hours when required loads exceed existing capacity," Abdul Aziz said.
He said the two countries' power requirements increased by 6% per year.
"That is a very high rate attributable to urban and industrial expansion and the lack of conservation policy," Abdul Aziz said.
The power link initiative is an important part of a pan-Arab power grid system recently proposed by Egypt, he said. The current project's capacity will represent about 50% of the total power grid capacity in the entire region.
The power link will run along a 1,300-kilometre underwater cable costing $265 million, according to Ramy Barrag, an industry consultant for Egypt's Energy and Electricity Ministry.
Officials chose an underwater cable design following a marine survey of the Gulf of Aqaba spanning more than 20 days which was completed using a highly specialised research ship, he said.
A Canadian company will handle construction of the project whose entire cost is estimated at $1.7 billion. Egypt will cover $608 million of the cost, and Saudi Arabia will pay the rest, according to Barrag.
Barrag said both countries should recover the cost of the project in revenues in less than nine years.
"Proceeds from internal sales of electricity will increase revenue by a maximum of 20%," he said. "Egyptian and Saudi consumers will benefit equally from this link because different peak electricity use periods in each country means that electric power will be exchanged throughout the day."
Barrag said the next stage includes dividing the project's equipment and responsibilities between the two sides and training Egyptian and Saudi personnel.