The completion in July of the first phase of the GCC electricity grid is a significant moment in the history of the Middle East bloc. While other regional initiatives, such as a water network and gas grid, and most recently plans for a monetary union, have lost momentum, the unified power network stands as an example of what can be achieved when the six member states set aside their differences and work together.
After little more than a month in operation, the grid has already proven its worth, preventing any disruption to electricity consumers in Kuwait and Qatar during the summer months when demand peaks.
Once phases two and three, which link in the UAE and Oman, are finished in 2011, the network will open up opportunities beyond those of network stabilisation and emergency exchanges of electricity.
Opportunities are becoming apparent that were never even considered when the grid was first mooted in the 1980s: private developers could construct power stations to serve multiple countries; interconnections could be built with the wider Arab world and even Europe; and, with the grid in place, proposals for a regional civilian nuclear power programme now become feasible.
In anticipation of strong interest in energy trading between the Gulf states, an expansion of the grid’s capacity is already being seriously considered.
The success of this huge infrastructure project linking the GCC nations should inspire governments to push on with their other plans to link the infrastructure of the Gulf states. The GCC countries face common challenges and there is much to be to be gained from tackling them jointly.