Europe and Turkey's High-Power Embrace

Ethnic and economic tensions may have stalled Turkey's longstanding bid to join the European Union, but electrical circuits can be color blind. As of September the alternating current on the Turkish power grid will flow in synchrony with Continental Europe's, according to the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E), which took control of Europe's power grids last summer.

Yesterday's announcement means that Turkey can trade electricity with Europe and benefit from the bigger grid's stability, in turn helping to stabilize the lines in neighboring Bulgaria and Greece. The link will run for at least one year, with power exchanges ramping up in stages.

Turkey's integration provides hope for would-be regional developers in the Mediterranean, who face rising protectionism, ethnic tensions, and seemingly endless diplomatic bombshells from Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Middle East troubles caused the Union for the Mediterranean organized by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to delay a second summit scheduled to convene in Barcelona yesterday until November, according to the AP.

Interconnection for Turkey was a long road. Turkey applied for interconnection ten years ago, spawning a series of system studies and upgrades to lines, power plants and control systems to ensure that its grid could hold its own against the raw power in ENTSO-E's 240,000 kilometers of high-voltage lines, which link power generators and consumers in 26 European countries. Turkey's work climaxed this spring with a successful pair of 2-week interconnection tests.

ENTSO-E's cautious approach looks reasonable in light of Europe's last effort to expand its electrical embrace with developing nations on its periphery. In 2005 power engineers opened circuits between Tunisia -- which was already synchronous with Europe -- and a block to the east including Libya, Egypt and Syria. Suddenly Turkey's was the only Mediterranean grid not interconnected with Europe's.

That isolation lasted just seven minutes, however, as electrical feedback overloaded weak links in Morocco and Algeria and broke the connection.

Extending AC power flows beyond Turkey and complete a long-dreamed-of Mediterranean Ring for power may will face similar technical challenges and also test the degree to which electricians can ignore broader political tensions. That's because a Mediterranean Ring must either confront or ignore the ongoing electrical isolation of Gaza.

For a read on the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy's corrosive impact on regional infrastructure development consider the Union for the Mediterranean, which proposes to turn North Africa into a giant solar power field. The Union takes one step forward only to be driven back two steps. With every new flare up in Gaza and the West Bank diplomats from Muslim countries refuse to sit down next to their Israeli counterparts. Israel, for its part, torpedoed a ministerial water conference in April, refusing to sign a concluding text that referred to the "occupied territories."

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