Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Renewables are the answer

In its search for new sources of energy, Egypt must choose options that are safe, efficient and sustainable, writes Hossam Gamil

Al-Ahram Weekly

We have all been witness to the growing severity of the energy crisis in Egypt. Natural gas and other power plants are becoming increasingly unviable.

Many power plants run only at a fraction of their capacity, and the electricity networks are in need of upgrading.

Egypt has great potential, however, to make use of its rich renewable energy resources and could completely depend on it to meet the country’s electricity demand in the near future. This would have a three-fold positive influence: reducing environmental impact, meeting electricity demand and boosting the economy.

Egypt urgently requires long-term, clean energy supplies and security. The country’s renewable energy resources include wind, solar and biomass energy.

In addition to its well-established hydropower facilities and favourable wind conditions, Egypt ranks among countries having the highest solar radiation values in the world. Nevertheless, fossil fuels still dominate Egypt’s electricity production.

In recent years, Egypt’s energy consumption has been growing at an average annual rate of seven to nine per cent. Over the next 20 years, Egypt will have to increase the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity by approximately three gigawatts (GW) annually.

The country has introduced several plans to meet the rising demand. Unfortunately, not all of them are examples of safe and sustainable solutions that take into account all the implied dangers and bear the more distant future in mind.

For instance, a fossil-fuel power station with a capacity of 12,400 megawatts (MW) is planned for 2017. Also, the Ministry of Electricity and Energy has announced the construction of a coal-fired power plant that will generate 3,960 MW. Egypt also plans to launch a global tender for a new nuclear power plant.

This ignores the strong pollution effects of coal-fired power plants, with their massive carbon emissions and the danger of a nuclear catastrophe so tragically proven by the disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima. It also turns a blind eye to recent trends within the industry.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), 138 nuclear power reactors had been closed in 19 countries as of January 2012. These included 28 power plants in the United States, 27 in the United Kingdom, 27 in Germany, 12 in France, nine in Japan and five in the Russian Federation.

On the other hand, Egypt has introduced several promising plans within its renewable energy sector. For example, 20 per cent of the projected 60 GW will be generated from renewable sources in 2020. A 3,500-MW solar plant has been approved for construction by 2027. Furthermore, the long-awaited feed-in tariffs (FITs) for purchasing electricity produced from renewable sources of energy were finally introduced in September 2014.

These support the market development of renewable energy by obliging grid operators to purchase renewable energy and prioritise clean energy within the grid. Moreover, they establish the price for electricity from renewable sources of energy over long, fixed periods of time, which guarantees investment security and attracts investors. However, the current tariffs are still not profitable enough. They require some improvement to encourage investment, especially by small-scale investors and homeowners.

Development of the renewable energy industry has become a priority in Egypt over recent years. Wind, solar and hydropower, as well as biomass, are extraordinarily suitable for the country’s energy production, and it is to be hoped that Egypt will continue to pursue these.

Wind energy conditions are remarkable in Egypt due to the stable and high wind speeds of up to 11.5 m/s in the country’s coastal regions. Moreover, Egypt’s desert landscapes offer suitable areas for building wind farms. Wind technologies intended for electricity production, irrigation pumping and seawater desalination, the importance of which will increase with the ominous pending water shortages, come in various types.

Depending on the size of the turbine and wind speed, output may range from between 250 W and 7.5 MW. A 7.5-MW onshore wind turbine is able to generate more than 18 million kWh per year, which can supply electricity for roughly 5,000 households.

As for solar energy, Egypt is one of the world’s most irradiated countries with 2,000 to 3,200 kWh/m² of solar energy per year, almost twice as much as Germany. Last summer Germany broke the world record in solar power generation with 1.26 terawatt hours (TWh) and produced more than half of its electricity from solar energy for the first time in its history.

Egypt could easily overtake Germany if it promoted and made use of its own solar resources. Conditions are auspicious for this. Between 2009 and 2013, prices for photovoltaic (PV) systems fell by 70 per cent and are expected to keep falling. Moreover, for the last ten years solar PV module effectiveness in producing electricity from sunlight has improved by roughly 3 to 4.5 per cent per year.

One of the most suitable options for Egypt is concentrated solar power (CSP) technology for electricity production and seawater desalination due to the country’s vast deserts. CSP plants covering just one per cent of the Sahara could supply electricity to the entire world. As for biomass resources in Egypt, these have been estimated at 40 million tons a year. The biogas potential is very high with small- as well as large-scale biogas digesters proposed for power generation.

Recent studies from prominent institutions and according to reports published by the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences show that renewable energies, when the hidden costs of climate change and health problems connected with fossil fuels are taken into account, are more cost-effective than fossil-fuel power plants. They also predict favourable cost developments within the renewable energy sector in the coming 15 years.

So where do we go from here? A significant step towards sustainable energy generation would be CO2 taxation and a gradual redirection of government policies for all kinds of fossil-fuel energies and renewable sources. The latter could be promoted through more attractive feed-in tariffs, financed through carbon taxes, a tax exemption and a net metering scheme. The main incentive for the use of renewable energies in transport would be a quota system. The government should also take action on regulating energy efficiency by industry and transportation.

While thinking on the large scale is important, the promotion of “green thinking” on a smaller scale is also crucial. We need to go out of Cairo and the Delta.

We can develop our huge desert areas using renewable energy. Farmers and households in the countryside could produce their own energy through biogas units from animal and organic waste.

Solar energy systems should be installed on roofs and solar lighting brought onto the streets. PV generators and solar heaters should be placed in government buildings and schools. The use of renewable energy would make families, farmers and businesses self-sufficient, provide greater local control of energy generation, stabilise prices and ensure supply security. In the long run, renewable energy will provide new jobs and investment opportunities.

The installation of renewable energy systems is flexible, and Egypt’s geography offers diverse regions and spaces where energy can be produced under effective, affordable, sustainable and safe conditions.

Egypt should recognise the opportunities that it has and make use of them to make its society grow. This can be achieved by taking action now and investing in education and training for students and professionals so that they can be part of the emerging renewable energy sector.

The writer is director of Educational Programmes for Renewable Energies and Sustainability at the German Academy for Renewable Energy and Environmental Technology, a project for the UNESCO Decade of Education for Sustainable Development in 2014.

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