Egypt embraces the benefits of renewable energy

According to the recent  IRENA Renewable Energy Outlook report, Egypt is the most populous country in North African and the Arab region and home to one of the fastest-growing populations globally.  This had led to an increase in energy demand, putting a strain on the country’s domestic energy resources, even amid substantial recent offshore natural gas finds.  As fuel shortages

The energy sector is key to Egypt’s economic development.  In order to accommodate the increasing energy demand, the Egyptian government introduced an Integrated Sustainable Energy Strategy, ISES 2035 to increase the use of renewables and improving energy efficiency in the power sector, reports  IRENA.

The Egyptian government has set targets for renewable to make up 42% of the country’s electricity mix by 2035, based on rapid solar and wind deployment, reports IRENA.  Egypt could realistically and cost-effectively supply 53% of its electricity mix from renewables by 2030, double the share to be expected from current plans and policies, according to the report.  With renewable power, heat and fuels all factored in, renewables could provide 22% of Egypt’s total final energy supply in 2030, up from just 5% in 2014.

According to Reuters, 2013 saw Egypt suffering rolling blackouts due to power shortages at aging power stations.  Three gigantic gas-powered stations with a capacity of 14.4GW procured from Siemens in 2015 turned the deficit into a surplus.

National installed electricity capacity is now around 50GW and Egypt aims to increase the share of electricity provided by renewables from a fraction currently to 20% by 2022 and 42% by 2035.

According to Christopher Cantelmi of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a lead backer of Benban along with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, “{Egypt} has plans to bring out renewable energy, private sector invested, across the Red Sea in wind and through the deserts for solar power,”

This has catalysed the giant solar park in the desert – the Benban project’s 32 plot which were developed by more than 30 companies from 12 countries, including Spain’s Acciona, UAE-based Alcazar Energy, Italy’s Enerray, France’s Total Eren and EDF, China’s Chint Solar and Norway’s Scatec.  Developers of the plant, around 40 km northwest of Aswan, are guaranteed a feed-in tariff price for 25 years.

A third phase at Benban could add more than 300MW, though nothing has been decided, yet, while another large-scale solar development is planned 45km north of Aswan at Kom Ombo, according to Reuters.

Despite winning praise from an IMF-back economic reform programme since 2016, Egypt has struggled to attract foreign investment outside the oil and gas sector.

Reuters reports that at Benban, developers visited by an IFC team last month raised the issue of a stand-off over a government demand that they collectively pay an extra 1.9 billion Egyptian pounds (4118 million) in infrastructure costs.  There had also been some curtailment of supplies to the grid as they waited for new transmission lines to be added, Reuters reports. But operations were generally going well, and the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company was paying on time, the IFC said.

Reuters continues to report that solar irradiation is exceptionally good at Benban and running costs are low, according to developers.  Upkeep is largely attributed to brushing the desert dust from the panels in order to maximise absorption.

“Mohamed Ossama, project head for Egypt’s Taqa Arabia, which has a 50 MW plot, says “You  don’t need a lot of manpower round here, you only need cleaning machines…and maintenance, which is which does not require a large amount of manpower.

Benban has brought down the price of solar energy, drawn in dozens of companies, and given Egypt’s south an economic boost, said Mohamed Orabi, professor of power electronics at Aswan University.

However, the plan needed a storage system – still a key technological challenge for solar power that surges during the daytime – in order to stabilize supplies to the gird, he said.

Reuters quotes the IRENA report which acknowledged that developers could be discouraged by complex administrative procedures and urged Egypt to review its market framework and develop local manufacturing capacity for renewables.




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