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Alstom Grid's Mazen Hamadallah discusses the latest grid developments

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Alstom presented a range of digital substation solutions during this year's CIGRE event.
Alstom presented a range of digital substation solutions during this year's CIGRE event.

Catching up with Alstom Grid’s Mazen Hamadallah at this year’s International Council on Large Electrical Systems (CIGRE) in Paris, gave UME an opportunity to see how global power developments can and will apply in the Middle East.

Whilst we can get used to viewing the region’s power requirements as particular and unique, issues such as managing grid loads and integrating renewable energy are a global concern.

At the same time, the Middle East remains a paricularly attractive market for power firms such as Alstom, due to the continued investment in generation and transmission.

“The near and middle east region is a very important market in our industry, because although geographically and in terms of population it’s a small part of the world, in terms of investment in the electricity grid, the investment is very high. Just twelve countries from the Middle East account for 15% of the worldwide investment in the grid.

“The main reason for this very strong investment is the growth in the region in terms of energy, in terms of population which requires energy, and it’s also due to the need for the grid in this part of the world to optimise and introduce new technology.”

Of course, any strong, growing market will naturally attract many different players to the region – something which Hamadallah says Alstom welcomes.

“We believe competition is a good thing for the market – it pushes technology and innovation into the market. It allows the utilities that are our direct customers to work with different suppliers, and it basically allows the whole economy to develop for the benefit of the suppliers and for the customers.”

Discussions on smart grids were a central focus of many delegates at CIGRE, with aspects such as digital substation solutions and smart control room software amongst the offerings
on show.

“All the market is buzzing about it. Everyone wants to know what they can do with it. Ultimately there are several benefits that come with smart grids. There is the reliability of the network – the grid becomes less prone to any black-outs or shortages.

Secondly, it improves the stability of the network – and without network stability you find a lot of losses on the network and that costs money.

“Thirdly, it’s about sustainability. One application that is not yet there in the Middle East is what we call the ‘energy market’. This is about making the customer pay for electricity, not at a flat rate, but at a different rate depending on the supply and demand of the energy in the market.

“This is not yet happening in the region, but we do hear that some people are thinking about it in a country like Saudi Arabia for instance.

“There is a plan to have several generating companies compete against each other, so probably that will be a future area where we can see an energy market in the region. Definitely, technology can be an enabler for this to happen. To price the power in a different way – depending on the time or the day – you need
smart grid.”

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Whilst the benefits might be clear, in practice Hamadallah says that the strategy to move towards wider smart grid adoption requires a more gradual approach.

“In some parts of the region, the network, until quite recently, was not 100 percent automated. For instance Saudi Arabia – which is the biggest market – did not use digital network systems for substations. Now this technology has been introduced and we are pushing to automate the market globally.

“By doing so, we try to push the automation level of the network, at the transmission and the distribution level, and our intention is that this will demonstrate the benefits of evolving the network into the smart grid.”

Alstom believes that the visibility of the smart grid benefits is crucial for encouraging investment from utilities in the region.

“The biggest, most visible part of the smart grid today is really the automation part – how to take the data from the network, bring it together and concentrate it into one place, and then make decisions based on the data.

“We want to push the smart grid to become visible because we believe that the benefits of running it become obvious in a practical way, rather than an academic way.”

Alstom has signed a contract with Kuwait, just within the last few months, for an Integrated Distribution Management System (IDMS), which Hamadallah says is a typical smart grid application.

The country’s Ministry of Electricity and Water was keen to explore the smart grid concept, and Hamadallah believes that once the IDMS demonstrates its benefits, other parts of the smart grid will follow.

Another recent focus for Alstom has been the future deployment of High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) in transmission grids, an area of especial relevance to the Middle East as grid connections between countries become more widely accepted as a means to meet peak electricity demand.

“There’s already a good level of interconnection between the countries of the region. The GCCIA obviously already has its own interconnection. You also have a certain level of connection between other countries of the region – Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq. All these countries have some AC interconnection amongst them.

“However, we believe that the path is really to increase the interconnection. We see it’s now in the air everywhere – there’s even talk of connecting China with Europe for example. Once you start interconnecting grids in different countries, you really start to put in place a ‘super grid’.

It is a ‘super grid’ in the sense that you have long distances of electricity flow from one point to another, from one country to another. The beauty of that is that not only does it help the grids to balance the loads between the places with more production and more consumption – and that’s definitely a very important economic equation – but it also helps the sustainable development of the economies.”

High Voltage deal
Alstom took the CIGRE event in Paris as an opportunity to announce that it has been awarded a US $500 million contract to construct a 800kV 3GW Ultra High Voltage Direct Current (UHVDC) System to connect India’s Champa and Khurukshetra. The firm is set to help connect Central and Northern India with an ‘energy highway’ through a 1,365 km transmission line.

The firm will provide 800kV UHVDC thyristor valves, 32 convertor transformers, 400/220 kV gas and air insulated switchgear and substation equipment. The contract includes project management, design, engineering and manufacture.

“Alstom’s recent technological advances in HVDC, be it with 800kV Line Commutated Convertor (LCC) or Voltage Source Converter (VSC) technology, demonstrate the Group’s commitment to continuous developments in the Ultra High Voltage energy sector. We are very pleased to have been selected by Power Grid India as they are one of the world leading transmission utilities in terms of vision and application in the domain of Supergrids,” said Alstom Grid President Gregoire Poux-Guillaume at the event.

Alstom has extensive and growing experience in the HVDC sector, most notably with the Rio Madeira project it currently has underway in Brazil – set to be the world’s longest HVDC link at 2,375km when commissioned in 2013.

Alstom is expecting big things from HVDC in the near-future, suggesting that it represents a $77 billion potential market up to 2020.The firm also believes that installed transmission capacity will grow from 3 GW per year, to 15 GW per year.

The firm says that HVDC becomes more economical than HVAC in schemes involving transmission distances of over 700km. Energy can be transported over much longer distances, and using 800kV DC reduces overall transmission losses.

More power can also be transmitted across the same towers and lines – up to three times more megawatts – something especially useful in highly populated areas.

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