POWER Digest  (July 2013)

Saudi Arabia and Egypt Sign $1.6 Billion Agreement to Link Electricity Grids. Under an agreement signed on June 1, Saudi Arabia’s majority state-owned utility, Saudi Electricity Co., and Egypt’s state power company, Egyptian Electric Holding Co., will share the cost of building a 3,000-MW undersea transmission cable to link their electricity grids. The $1.6 billion deal anticipates the 20-kilometer-long network will be finished by 2015. Egyptians currently suffer intermittent blackouts during the day as a result of inadequate supply. About 45% of Saudi Arabia capacity is idled during the cooler winter, while cooling accounts for more than 50% of electricity demand in summer. Both countries see a demand surge during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this year in July.

Scotland Approves World’s Largest Wave Power Farm. Scotland’s government approved Aquamarine Power’s 40-MW wave farm—to date, the largest in the world—off the northwest coast of Lewis, Scotland, marking a major milestone for the fledgling marine power sector. The green light from the government and its regulator, Marine Scotland, follows onshore planning approved last September, and it means the Edinburgh firm’s subsidiary, Lewis Wave Power Ltd., could begin installing its near-shore Oyster wave energy machines at the site in the next few years, once necessary grid infrastructure has been put in place. The project envisions deployment of between 40 and 50 Oyster devices along the coast at Lag na Greine, near Fivepenny Borve. Aquamarine Power is currently testing a second-scale wave machine known as the Oyster 800 at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, which is now grid-connected.

Philippines Experiences Major Blackout. Half of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, suffered a 10-hour-long blackout on May 8 after the Calaca-Bian 230-kV line “tripped” and triggered a system disturbance that knocked six power plants offline. The blackout affected the capital city of Manila and several adjacent provinces. Grid operator National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP)—which was privatized in 2007 and is now co-owned by the Chinese government—initially attributed the failure of the transmission lines to a “generation deficiency,” but a later investigation by the country’s Department of Energy suggested the event could have been caused by a bush fire in Talisay, Batangas.

The problem is thought to have first affected a unit of Semirara Mining Corp.’s 600-MW Calaca Coal Power plant, then the 1,218-MW Sual coal-fired power station in Pangasinan, the 1,200-MW Ilijan combined cycle power plant, First Gas Power’s 1,000-MW Santa Rita and 500-MW San Lorenzo plants, and the 460-MW Quezon power plant. Reports suggest about eight other plants may have been affected. The DOE has asked NGCP to explain why its auto-protection system did not prevent the outage from spreading. Industry groups in the country have, meanwhile, warned that Philippine’s power consumption is growing at 4.5% per year and that the country could see even more frequent blackouts if it does not add at least 600 MW by 2015.

UAE Begins Construction on Second APR-1400 Reactor. Construction officially began on the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) second new nuclear power reactor on May 28 at the Barakah site in western Abu Dhabi. A South Korean consortium headed by Korean Electric Power Corp. will build and manage the APR-1400 reactor for the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. (Enec), one of four planned for that site. Bechtel is to provide project management for the plant. Construction of Barakah 1 began in July 2012. Construction licenses for both units have been awarded by the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, and Enec plans to apply for operating licenses for Units 1 and 2 in 2015. All four units are expected to be completed between 2017 and 2020.

Japanese Reprocessing Facility Moves Closer to Operational Start. Japan’s delay-plagued Rokkasho reprocessing facility in Japan’s northern Aomori Prefecture this May completed a test that proves its vitrification lines, marking a milestone that moves it closer to commercial operation. The facility owned and operated by Japan Nuclear Fuels Ltd. was scheduled to start up in 2008, but commissioning has been halted 19 times because of technical and financial problems, particularly problems in the locally designed vitrification plant for high-level waste, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Spent nuclear fuel has been accumulating at the site since 1999. The plant requires a license from the Nuclear Regulation Authority before it can begin operating to produce about four tonnes of fissile plutonium per year, enough for about 80 tonnes of mixed oxide fuel. Though only two nuclear reactors remain operational following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, and Japan’s future nuclear power policy is in limbo, the country’s waste management focus continues to be on reprocessing before underground disposal. Japan’s government and private companies have invested more than $21 billion in the Rokkasho facility since construction began in 1992.

Sonal Patel is POWER’s senior writer.