September 06, 2010

Linking up with Turkey

After the American Century

I see in the news that Turkey is about to link its electrical system to Europe's, by way of Greece and Bulgaria. Such things are often regarded to be merely technical, but they are more than that. In the past such interconnections have anticipated closer political and economic ties. During the later years of the Cold War electrical links were established across the Iron Curtain years before the collapse of the Soviet system. 

Turkey is initially only joining the grid for a one year trial, but barring technical problems, one assumes it will then become permanent. Access to Turkey's hydroelectric power could provide greater balance in the grid as a whole. It could also make possible more pumped-storage projects, in which wind and solar energy are "stored"by pumping water up to a higher elevation, against the time when demand rises again, or the wind does not blow or sunshine is weak. Then the water is released and turns a turbine to make electricity that is far more valuable than the electricity from off-peak production that was used to store the water.

Norway and Holland have a pumped storage arrangement of this sort, which means that off-peak power production in Holland is stored as hydro power in Norway. They built an undersea cable to make the arrangement a direct connection. Such interconnections build trust between countries and create mutual advantages.

It is particularly significant that the old enemies, Greece and Turkey, are going to trust one another in this way. Ideally, both countries could eventually save huge sums if they stopped investing in military hardware to protect themselves from each other. The new link is also a small step toward resolving the Cyprus question.

It is not just an electrical connection, it is a move toward friendlier relations and an intelligent technical integration. Interestingly, the engineering and electrical work was done in good part by General Electric, so the profits and benefits are not limited to the Balkans and Turkey.