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Closing the Circuit

Engineers working in the teeming cities and lonely deserts of North Africa are creating the last links in a power grid that will ring the Mediterranean Sea

13 min read
Fatima Mansouri
Photo: Ana Nance

photo of Fatima Mansouri Power to the People: From her desk in Casablanca, Fatima Mansouri oversees network projects for Office National de l’Electricité, Morocco’s electric-power utility, which is already connected to europe through undersea cables. Photo: Ana Nance

With bandannas protecting their faces from the blistering sun and blowing sand, day laborers smooth the ground over freshly buried cables at Libya’s newest electrical substation. Until a few years ago, this same patch of ochre earth in the sparsely populated Bir Osta Milad district, located on the outskirts of Tripoli, was the site of a Scud missile plant. Today, thanks to Libya’s oil revenues and its recent rapprochement with the West, the rocket parts are gone, replaced by gas-insulated switchgear, transformers, and state-of-the-art controls. This and more than a dozen other 400-kilovolt substations located throughout Libya will bolster that country’s beleaguered power grid. But these improvements are also part of a much larger drama. That’s because they will form a key bridge for an electrical superhighway that could soon bind the fractious nations on the south side of the Mediterranean Sea.

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