Well it has been a long time coming but last month, after 13 years, the South-East Europe grid has been re-synchronised with the rest of Europe.

A press release issued by the UCTE (Union for the Coordination of Transmission of Electricity) stated: “UCTE performed a historic achievement when the disconnection of the power system of the south east of Europe, resulting from the war events in ex-Yugoslavia, was overcome after 13 years on November 1, 2004. From Lisbon to Athens, to Sofia and Bucharest, the same UCTE frequency is now beating again in the heart of electrical Europe.”

Indeed it is a historic achievement and one which should have a number of positive impacts for the rest of Europe. According to the UCTE, several major goals have been achieved through this project. Firstly, the reconnection was the main prerequisite for the progressive integration of the South European electricity markets into the markets of the UCTE zone going beyond EU frontiers. Secondly, it provides a basis for improving reliability conditions within the whole of the UCTE zone.

This reliability issue is an important point. We can all recall the blackouts that spread across parts of Europe during the latter half of 2003 – blackouts which underlined concerns over transmission grid reliability. The UCTE later stated that a single major outage in the context of the high flows across the Belgium system in March, April and July and across the Austrian north to south 220 kV lines in winter could have had severe consequences.

With both zones now operating as a single synchronous system, the robustness of the entire system will be increased since power plants in the parts of Europe that were previously disconnected can now be called upon to compensate for outages in other parts of the network. Marcel Brial, secretary general of the UCTE said: “Now all power plants from Portugal to Bulgaria can participate and raise output to balance the system in the event of an outage.”

The reconnection will also have a positive impact on the European electricity market as a whole. It means that the electricity markets in southeast Europe and the EU Internal Electricity market are now physically integrated. With an increased number of routes for potential electrical energy flows, opportunities for power trading are increased while congestion in specific parts of the network will be reduced.

Brial commented: “Although there is no specific lack of infrastructure, we have seen the northern Adriatic area, or electrical path into Italy come under pressure. The problem is, we just don’t know how the market will use the system i.e. where the main areas of trading will be.” While the UCTE does not see a deficiency in system structure, it acknowledges that it will have to wait several months to see how the flow in electrical patterns will look after the reconnection.

Improved reliability and greater trading opportunities are all well and good but there was perhaps a more important message that Brial wanted to convey. It was the fact that the reconnection demonstrated the ability of countries to work together. “The reconnection shows that investment decisions in transmission infrastructure can be coordinated beyond national borders.

For over a decade the UCTE has managed to keep engineers up to date with the latest technical specifications so that they were ready to make the reconnection as soon as the political agreement was there. It was also an excellent example of how the TSOs have had to coordinate their efforts. You can imagine how difficult it was for Croatia and Serbia to commit to coordinating their investment in transmission infrastructure, and to coordinate the way in which they would reconnect,” explained Brial.

Looking further ahead, the studies being carried out by the UCTE underline that technical achievement is often well ahead of political will. The UCTE currently has requests on its desk for studies on connecting Turkey and Russia to the UCTE grid. Brial also noted that “although not yet on the desk, there is talk of closing the European-Mediterranean Ring”. This would synchronously link Europe to all the countries around the Mediterranean. “It seems the TSOs are the guys always looking ahead of the troops to see what might be ahead,” said Brial.

It’s a shame that the TSOs are not the ones leading the political troops – they seem well adept at making the ties between countries that are necessary to make sure we are all operating on the same wavelength.

Junior Isles, Publisher & Editorial Director