Save our energy
Sherine Nasr looks into Egypt's strategy to develop new and renewable energy resources
In Egypt, the main energy resources are oil, natural gas, hydropower and coal but there is plenty of potential in new and renewable energy resources. Securing energy demands on a continuous basis is a vital element for sustained development plans in Egypt's future.
Although oil and natural gas account for 93.5 per cent of the total commercial energy consumption in Egypt the development of Egypt's new and renewable energy sources is of great importance as the hydropower generated by the Nile has already reached its optimum output and coal resources are rapidly diminishing.
Unfortunately, and as is the case in any country, the oil and gas industry are a major source of air pollution, created during production, transport, refining, distribution and use. The main pollutants include heavy metals, particulate matters, lead and hydrocarbons. However, new measuring techniques have revealed 118 other seriously harmful elements which are released as a result of fuel consumption. "These are known as the air toxics. Unfortunately, we do not have the necessary equipment to measure these pollutants," said Ibrahim Abdel-Gelil, the former chairman of the Egyptian Environment Affairs Agency (EEAA) and presently a consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Another important source of air pollution is the thermal power generating units, which comprise nearly 80 per cent of the current electricity generators in Egypt. In a survey conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Cairo was found to be one of the seven most air-polluted cities in the world.
The oil industry is also responsible for water pollution. "Oil spills are the best known energy-related source of water pollution," said Abdel-Gelil who added that about half of Europe's oil imports pass through the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.
In addition, substantial offshore oil exploration and drilling activities are underway in Egypt's territorial waters. "An area of great concern to Egypt is the negative impact of the oil and gas industries on the ecosystems, especially along the Red Sea and Mediterranean coastlines," said Abdel-Gelil. There is also an urban cost. Most oil refineries and power stations exist in heavily populated areas, as is the case in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.
In view of the limited, and already depleted, fossil fuel reserves and the growing concerns about conventional power plants and their negative impact on the environment, Egypt has turned its attention to the promotion of renewable energy resources; solar and wind energy especially.
"In the early 1980s, while Egypt was in the process of formulating the strategy for the power sector, developing new and renewable energy (RE) resources was considered an integral part of the national energy plan process," said Hani El-Naquib, Head of the Organisation for Energy Planning (OEP).
According to El-Naquib, the strategy aims to satisfy three per cent of the peak load with RE sources by 2021/2022.
"It is obvious that the implementation of such strategy will be an essential element of the national plans for achieving sustainable development and protecting the environment via upgrading energy efficiency and replacing conventional polluting resources with renewable resources," said El-Naquib.
Solar energy can be, and is, used in many diverse ways. There are projects already in operation involving water pumping, desalination, clinical refrigeration and village electrification. It is also currently used in applications as diverse as telecommunication systems, airport landing lights and highway advertising boards.
Solar energy is also being used for domestic solar water heaters (DSWH) which have been produced locally through joint ventures since the early 1980s. "Currently, eight companies are active in the field of production, design and installation. The annual production capacity exceeds 25,000 square metres of collectors," said El-Naquib.
DSWH are most often installed in new cities and tourist villages. Encouragingly, the government has adopted means to support market promotion of this technique through mandatory use of DSWH in new communities.
Regarding wind energy, it's worth noting that Egypt is endowed with huge wind energy potential. The Red Sea shoreline has windspeeds reaching 10 metres per second and the south western region of the Egypt's winds can reach up to seven metres per second. "Wind resources in coastal areas have proven to be feasible both for mechanical pumping and electricity generation," said El-Naquib.
Encouraged by the obvious potential of wind energy, the first wind farm was established in Ras Ghareb on the Red Sea coast in 1988 with a capacity of 400kw. In 1992, the second wind farm was installed in Hurghada. Forty-five per cent of its components were locally manufactured. It was later connected to the local network of the city and in 1998 the network was connected to the national grid.
"The electricity generated by the farm is mainly powering desalination units to produce 130 cubic metres of potable water per day," said El-Naquib. A wind energy technology centre was also established in Hurghada in cooperation with Denmark. It includes a mechanical and electrical workshop and a training centre. "Egypt has crossed the phase of limited demonstration projects to the phase of large scale grid connected projects," commented El-Naquib.
With the help of the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), the first phase of a 60mw wind farm was connected to the national grid since November 2000 and in 2003, the second phase became operative. A collaboration with the German government to build a 73mw wind farm has completed its third phase and is now operative and connected to the national grid. Meanwhile, two wind farms are being planned for Zafarana on the Red Sea: a 120mw wind farm collaboration with Japan is still being negotiated, while a memorandum of understanding has already been signed with Spain to build a 60mw wind farm. A Spanish company has been assigned to perform the consulting services for the project.