There are several projects underway designed to boost power production and prevent power cuts this summer, Ahmed Kotb reports
The expected scorching summer heat of this year is already being felt as early heat waves started to hit the country at the beginning of this month. The result is turning on air conditioning (AC) units, which is the only way to make the weather bearable. The problem is that ACs consume a lot of energy and overload electricity networks.
The situation is the same as of last year's when ACs were accused of being the main reason behind inevitable daily power cuts that took place during the months of July, August and September to ease the load on the national grid that failed to bear the load.
According to Aktham Abul-Ela, deputy minister of electricity and energy, the number of AC units is expected to rise to over four million by next month, up from 3.7 million in September 2010. The number of ACs in 2006, he added, was 700,000.
The rapid growth in home energy consumption and in the number of ACs purchased continue to outpace the ministry's power production. According to Abul-Ela, energy consumption until 2009 was jumping by roughly seven per cent every year. In 2010 alone, consumption unexpectedly rose by 11 per cent resulting in a maximum load on the grid reaching 23,500 megawatts during peak hours, which are the two hours following dusk, and led to mandated power cuts all over the country. The blackouts affected businesses and public services as well as individuals, and the financial losses were countless.
However, Abul-Ela stressed that a series of efforts was undertaken to try to prevent resorting to power cuts this summer.
"An emergency plan was taken to add 1500 megawatts to the grid next month," he noted, adding that 15 banks have provided the finances to initiate the plan which will cost LE4.6 billion. Another 140 megawatts will be added next month to the grid's capacity, produced by the Kuraymat Solar Thermal Power Station.
Although the maximum daily capacity of the national grid is already over 27,000 megawatts, it was impossible, says Abul-Ela, to generate all of that power at once. Electricity stations and units cannot all work at the same time because they often go through maintenance procedures, especially in the summer where the hot weather makes them work at lower efficiency.
"Normally, power generation contributes to development projects, but in Egypt energy production outpaces growth rates significantly and home consumption exceeds the industry's use," said Ahmed Abdallah, professor of electrical engineering at Alexandria University. He added that houses consume almost 40 per cent of total electricity, while the industry only uses 33 per cent.
Abdallah doubts that the emergency plan will succeed in preventing the grid from collapsing, thus having to resort to power cuts. "People have to understand that their consumption is very high. They have to adopt a rationalising approach," he stated.
The Egyptian Organisation for Consumers and Energy has been recently developed to raise consumers' awareness on how to rationalise their energy consumption through a number of easy steps. The most important step is replacing ordinary lamps with energy saving ones.
"If every house switched off an unnecessary lamp or AC, we will never have a problem with energy consumption," Abul-Ela said, adding that the national grid will be very efficient if people stop using electrical devices or multiple ACs at one household during peak hours.
With a number of big projects down the road, Egypt is expected to meet the increasing demand without any problems in just a few years. The most promising project is the new power sharing programme between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. "This project will allow the two countries to share up to 3,000 megawatts during peak hours," Abul-Ela explained. The project is very efficient because peak hours of power usage are different in both countries, for in Saudi Arabia, peak hours are in the morning, he said. Although the project is slated to begin operation in 2015, it is expected to solve the problem of power cuts for a long time.