ALSTOM Grid, a global leader in high-voltage transmission systems and equipment, recently commissioned the new main control centre for the Gulf Cooperation Council International Authority (GCCIA) power grid network in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.
The new centre replaces the old one in Guhnan which is now used for back-up control. The GCCIA project is the Gulf’s first energy highway connecting the power grids of the six GCC member states through a 1.2 GW high-performance high-voltage direct current (HVDC) connection.
The GCCIA was formed in July 2001 to create an integrated and sustainable energy economy amongst the GCC. The new control centre supervises the operation of the transmission grid interconnecting Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. It guarantees the efficiency and safety of the power grid and enables the recording and billing of energy transactions between the different countries. The centre enables operations on all interconnection substations of the GCCIA.
“We have been associated with the GCCIA since it was created. We also did the Guhnan centre. With the construction of the new headquarters, the GCCIA wanted to put a main control centre in the new building and use the old one as back-up,” says Jihad Arabi, regional managing director, Near and Middle East Automation/Network Management Solutions, Alstom.
“The new centre has all the necessary systems to manage the whole network. It also has something called the wide area monitoring system to ensure stability and reliability of the network,” he says.
Karim El Naggar, vice-president, Network Management Solutions, Alstom, says: “We are very excited about this centre as it extends our presence in the region. Historically, we have had a strong presence in the Middle East and are currently managing 65 per cent of the energy flow in the Gulf.”
Alstom Grid has been present in Saudi Arabia for more than three decades, with the first electrical substations delivered by Alstom in the Hail region in the 1980s.
The GCCIA project was a challenge as while Saudi Arabia runs its electricity transmission network at 380 kV, 60 Hz, the other five countries use 400 kV, 50 Hz. Based on the asynchronous nature of the states to be interconnected, the best solution was to add an HVDC interconnection.
This 1,800 MW HVDC station is the interconnection point between the networks of Saudi Arabia and the other five Gulf states.
One of the main functions of the HVDC is to constantly look for the occurrence of a power generation loss in the interconnected networks. When a loss of generation is detected, the HVDC link injects power into the system and, through the use of frequency control, restores the system to normal conditions.
“The GCCIA project brings together all the latest in technology. We have the latest generation of Scada (supervisory control and data acquisition) control systems; in addition to that we are bringing online stability solutions,” says Naggar.
“The project is also indicative of the trends we are seeing in the region for higher technology. We are witnessing increasing demand for advanced solutions. The GCCIA is connected to the other countries through control centres in each of the countries and most of these control centres have been provided by Alstom,” he adds.
“Today, Alstom is a leader in control centres. The industry is becoming a very R&D (research and development) intensive from the suppliers’ point of view. We have been able to sustain a high level of R&D investments over the last four to five years largely because of our success in the market,” says Naggar.
“Our innovation is visible to our customers who are selecting us more and more. Our expertise and regional presence are our key strengths. We have constantly invested in control centre activities as well as in our operational capabilities. We are strongly regionalised in our execution capabilities.
“Our strategy has been to be close to our customers and to support them. Our relationship with some of our customers goes back to over 20 years,” he adds.
According to Naggar, one of the major challenges suppliers face today is achieving continuity in their goal of upgrading. “In the past, many suppliers had made radical changes to technology and sometimes acquired new products, but we have been very careful and have tried to maintain continuity in our portfolio when we move from one generation to another. That, of course, requires additional R&D costs but we feel it is important that our customers are able to migrate smoothly. We have taken some of our customers through two, three or four generations, but very gradually.
“Today, a lot of our investments are going towards upgradability of the solutions. From a module perspective, our systems have the capability to add new modules, making our systems more open and easy to integrate not only our solutions, but also third-party solutions,” Naggar says.
He points out that grids today are becoming more and more complex, not because the suppliers like them to be complex but the way electricity is consumed and produced today. “Our role here,” he says, “is to support our customers and help in maintaining security of supply and stability of the network. For that we need more real-time solutions. There is a need for more and more investments to keep up with the requirements. That is where we are able to support our customers while others are finding it difficult.”
Earlier this year, Alstom opened its first smart grid centre in the Middle East in Dubai, UAE, which is a major step in its long-term commitment to providing sustainable electricity infrastructure to the UAE and the region.
This centre, the first of its kind in the region, will enable Alstom’s customers to locally develop and integrate software and perform factory acceptance tests on site. Customised training on all smart grid applications is also provided, using simulated protected customer network data for case studies, ensuring the most efficient implementation of new technologies as customers use smart grid solutions to monitor and manage their own networks.
“There was a lot of demand from customers for the training facility. The training centre is similar to the one we have in France. We have invested consistently on training as we have more customers here in this region,” says Arabi.