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Turning ambitions into reality: the Black Sea Energy submarine cable – interview with Zviad Gachechiladze, Member of the Board of Directors, GSE

Earlier in December, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Hungary and Romania signed an agreement in Bucharest to build an underwater electric cable under the Black Sea. A very ambitious project that could support the European Union’s diversification efforts by creating a corridor for green energy.

On the sidelines of the Energy Week Black Sea 2023, which took place in Bucharest on 7-8 February, CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Zviad Gachechiladze, Member of the Board of Directors at the Georgian State Electrosystem, the country’s single Electricity Transmission System Operator, about where the idea of the cable originated from, the main challenges to face and the next steps needed for the completion of the project.

“The idea came from Georgia, a very ambitious nation,” Mr Gachechiladze begins. “We have a vision on how to get more integrated with the EU but in the energy sector so far we only had experience and we were known as a transit country for oil and gas routes. We wanted to have something that was ours, not just passing through.”

Indeed, for many years, Georgia has been the main transit road for cargo and it played well its role in the region. However, because the country only has 20 per cent of its renewable potential utilised, it can do much more. Mr Gachechiladze also mentions the possibility to be a carrier of renewable energy from other countries, like Azerbaijan, which is currently producing 27 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar and could provide up to 20-30 per cent of the energy transported in the Black Sea cable.

Black Sea
Zviad Gachechiladze. Courtesy of Energy Week Black Sea 2023.

“We don’t have a market that is big enough for the whole potential of renewables so we wanted to be more integrated with other countries,” Mr Gachechiladze explains. “Initially we started looking at Turkey however, for cross-border trade diversification reasons, we started to look at other directions, especially the European market as we could help it become less dependent on others.”

Indeed, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the agreement, defining the Black Sea electric cable as a new transmission route full of opportunities.

“What an ambitious project,” she said. “It would connect us on both sides of the Black Sea and run further towards the Caspian Sea region – both for digital communication and for energy. It will help reinforce our security of supply by bringing electricity from renewable sources to the European Union, via Romania and through Hungary.”

Before the start of the war in Ukraine, the parties involved had begun a preliminary assessment. Since February of last year, the development of a submarine cable became even more crucial. Many projects were mentioned in the past but never concretised, like the White Stream natural gas pipeline project to ship Turkmen gas to Europe via Azerbaijan and Georgia and the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania liquefied natural gas (LNG) interconnector project. What makes it different this time is a strong willingness that was not present before.

“Before it felt like we were pushing, now we see the interest coming from other countries, in particular from the EU,” Mr Gachechiladze points out.

“Stakeholders are pushing for higher capacity, the EU needs more green and cheap energy. We have donors eager to finance the project, something that we have not seen before. So, from the point when the idea was born, in 7 years we got to the feasibility study.”

Once built, the 1,100-kilometre cable would be the longest underwater electric cable in the world. But, although finding interest and willingness will not represent an obstacle anymore, there are other challenges to face.

First of all from a technical point of view. To link Georgia and Romania, the company will develop a special 500 kV DC cable. The challenge is represented by the depths of the sea which can be up to 2,250 metres, therefore proper reinforcement and isolation for cable are needed. Mr Gachechiladze reminds us that there are projects deeper than that around the world, so a solution should be found. Also regarding the capacity, in the feasibility study, several scenarios are under examination for 1,000-1,500 megawatts (MW) and even there is the idea to extend it up to 3,000 MW.

“There will be also financial issues,” he continues. “We estimated 2.3 billion euros for CAPEX but that was before the war and the price crises. We have to see as a result of the feasibility study if there will be a deviation from that amount. Finally, cooperation and coordination of the Black Sea basin countries whose economic zones the cable route shall pass.”

Once completed, the cable will provide green energy for the rest of the European continent. The feasibility study already underway is expected to be ready by the end of 2023 and all others, such are seabed studies and environmental and social studies by the end of 2024 so as, to begin with the construction in early 2025. Overall, if all proceeds well, the project could be completed by 2030.

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