Look at the ENTSO-E grid map for Europe and you’ll see an oddity. Turkey and Armenia, which have tense relations and a closed off border, apparently share an electricity interconnector. This means that their electricity grids are physically connected, and they can theoretically import and export electricity. How is this happening? Has the need for reliable electricity supply and demand trumped national feuds?
Clicking on this small line on the map doesn’t give you much information – simply telling the reader that it is a ‘380-400 kV Transmission Line, 1 Circuit’. More frustrating is that whilst we know the starting city in Turkey (Kars), the Armenian one is listed unknown. I decided to look a bit further into this.
Through some initial digging, I managed to find out that Gyumri was the end point on the Armenian side. However, It quickly became clear that finding out more information about this line wouldn’t be easy:
- My Russian is inadequate, and I don’t speak Armenian or Turkish. Given that this is a relatively small electricity line right on the peripheral edge of Europe, international (English language) interest is not there.
- Searching for anything to do with a line between Kars and Gyumri brings up much more interest about the former railway.
In fact, I could only find passing references to this specific line. Vahan Asatryan, in a policy brief about electricity export, noted that Armenian interconnectors with Azerbaijan and Turkey are not used anymore. Budak Dilli, in a 2010 presentation also stated that Turkish interconnectors with Armenia are not operated.
So why is this interconnector not used? Well on the one hand you have the effective blockade of movement on Armenia/Turkey’s border, and you’d assume that applies to electricity too. Armenia’s tumultuous post-Soviet energy history is something I’ve already written about, but it’s also worth repeating. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Armenia and its neighbours experienced heated political conflict and economic collapse. Armenia itself was heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels from the very same neighbours it was now at odds with. Rolling blackouts, and gas shortages so severe that many users in winter didn’t have access through most of the day. This caused a breakup of industry, emigration of many with technical expertise, and a loss of the institutional strength that helped keep networks functional. A report made by the Energy Charter organisation remarked that this had a direct impact on interconnection, saying that power networks are functioning ‘without productive links with other neighbouring countries, even if the interconnection still exists’.
So there we have it. No dramatic story, and something that would have been implicit to anyone in Armenia and Turkey. It’s there, but there’s no political will to use it.