The ELMED Interconnector Project is a planned power exchange link between Italy and Tunisia. (Credit: TERNA S.p.A.)
The project will have a capacity of 600MW. (Credit: Image by Th G from Pixabay)
In 2019, Terna and STEG agreed to reinforce cooperation on the interconnection. (Credit: TERNA S.p.A.)

The ELMED Interconnector Project is a planned bi-directional power exchange link between Italy and Tunisia. The 600MW capacity project will be the first direct current connection between Europe and Africa.

The construction of the 220km long connector will entail an investment of around €850m.

It will be developed by Italian electricity transmission system operator Terna and Tunisian state-owned electricity and gas utility company STEG.

Construction work on the project may start in 2024, with completion expected in 2028.

Project Background

Initially, an electricity connection between Italy and Tunisia was planned with a 1GW power line and a 1.2GW power plant in Tunisia.

In 2011, the project was scaled down to a 600MW line and the plan to build the power generation plant in Tunisia was scrapped.

In June 2007, the Governments of Italy and Tunisia signed a joint declaration entrusting  Terna and STEG to develop the interconnection project and connect the electrical networks of the two countries.

Subsequently, STEG and Terna established the Tunisian joint company ELMED Etudes Sarl, to carry out all the necessary studies and pre-construction activity of the ELMED Interconnector.

In 2016, the project became part of Terna’s National Electricity Transmission Grid Development Plan and Ten-Year Network Development Plan formulated by the European Network of Transmission System Operators.

In October 2019, STEG and Terna signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to intensify their industrial collaboration on the project. The project was also included on the European Commission’s list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI).

The Italian grid operator completed the public consultation phase for the project in July 2021.

In December 2022, the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security commenced the authorisation process for the ELMED project.

ELMED Interconnector Route

Marine and environmental studies were conducted to identify the best route for the interconnection to minimise the project’s impact on the seabed and ecosystems.

The ELMED Interconnector will link the Italian island of Sicily to the Tunisian peninsula of Cape Bon via a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) submarine cable.

The 220km long system will stretch from the electrical substation at Partanna in Sicily to the substation at Mlaabi in Capo Bon.

A 200km long undersea power line will cross the Strait of Sicily connecting the two landing sites on the two sides. The subsea section will have a maximum depth of 800m.

The length of the connection from the landing point on the Tunisian coast to the Mlaabi converter station will be 6km. On the other hand, the underground cable will run for 18km from the landing site to the Partanna converter station in Sicily.

ELMED Infrastructure

A 500kV/600MW sub-sea HVDC cable will be used to connect the Partanna electrical substation, located in Trapani (Sicily) with a newly built substation in Menzel Temime (Mlaaba), the Cape Bon peninsula in Tunisia.

Key infrastructure of the project will include undersea cable routes, converter stations and onshore underground cables. It would also include two electrode lines to connect the electrodes laid in the seabed.

A new 400kV overhead transmission line (OHTL) will also be built to connect the interconnector to the Tunisian grid.

This double-circuit 120km long OHTL will run from the new HVDC converter station to the Mornaguia electrical substation in Tunisia.

Project Financing

In June 2023, the World Bank Group Board of Directors approved $268.4m in financing for the ELMED project. The financing will be used to build the main converter station and sub-stations on the Tunisian side.

In August 2023, the European Commission signed an agreement with Terna and STEG to provide a loan of €307m for the interconnection.

The authorisation procedure for the award was launched by the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security in late 2022. The European Commission agreed to provide the loan via the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), the European Union (EU) fund established to support key projects to optimise energy infrastructure in the region.

The ELMED project is supported by the Government of Italy, the EU, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, and the German Development Bank KfW.

Benefits of the Interconnector

Once complete, the ELMED Interconnector will enable the transmission of renewable energy supporting Tunisia’s sustainable development and climate change strategy.

In the long run, the project will also enable Tunisia to export electricity to other North African countries.

It will also increase the exchange of electricity generated via renewable sources, and support energy transition by lowering carbon dioxide emissions by more than 200 tonnes per annum.

Contractors Involved

ELMED Etudes Sarl engaged a joint venture (JV) led by HPC ITALIA to prepare the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) instruments and associated studies, among other technical and financial studies.

Other JV partners are IDEACONSULT, Proger, Elard, and Plexus Energy.

In July 2021, RINA, in a JV with the Tunisian subsidiary Comete Engineering, secured the contract for the marine feasibility study for the Italy-Tunisia Interconnection.

The submarine survey project commenced in April 2021.