Some 98 per cent of Egypt’s population is concentrated in the Nile Valley and Delta, which represent only four per cent of the country’s total area, with only two per cent of the population living in the vast desert areas east and west of the River Nile.
The government has been trying to change this by establishing development projects in these areas, including mega-projects depending on renewable energy sources.
According to Galal Othman, a professor of engineering at Mansoura University and chair of the Egyptian Association of Wind Energy and a member of the International Agency for Solar Energy, renewable energy sources, especially solar energy, have a considerable role to play in the implementation of development projects in remote areas and new urban settlements.
New research entitled “Egypt’s Mega-Projects Powered by Off-Grid Hybrid Distributed Renewable Energy Systems” suggests that the use of a mix of wind and solar energy could power many of Egypt’s mega-projects.
The research was carried out by a group of students under Othman’s supervision at Mansoura University,
“Considering the new demands for power driven by economic growth and an increasing population, policy-makers ought to seek new sources of energy,” Othman said.
The fluctuating prices of fossil fuel, which makes up 92 per cent of Egypt’s power mix, are also a huge burden on the economy, he pointed out.
Renewable energy should be used for development areas across Egypt, he said, pointing out that these areas were currently also “off-grid” since they are not connected to the national electricity grid. It would cost billions to connect these locations to the grid, not to mention the millions spent on burning fuel in traditional power plants and the billions spent building the plants themselves.
According to Othman, the research draws on the experiences of different countries and communities. It shows that Thisted in Denmark produces 105 per cent of its energy from renewable resources and is targeting 130 per cent by 2020, with the aim of exporting the surplus to nearby municipalities, for example.
It also highlights the experience of India in establishing a ministry for renewable energy independent from the Ministry of Electricity. It shows how Canada uses renewables and how South Africa’s use of renewable energy strengthens its communications systems.
Among the projects that could benefit from renewable energy in Egypt are the 1.5 million feddan land-reclamation project, the lighting of the new road network, and the development of mining activity in the Golden Triangle area of the Red Sea governorate where 75 per cent of Egypt’s metals and minerals are located.
The Golden Triangle between Safaga, Kosair and Qena contains raw materials such as gold, iron, granite, manganese, tungsten, molybdenum, limestone, silver, phosphate, quartz and chrome. Mining activity, housing, connecting roads, and water plants all need electricity generated from off-grid hybrid renewable sources, Othman said.
He highlighted the fact that wind and solar energy are now mature technologies that can reduce electricity costs and the reliance on fossil fuels and that automated hybrid energy systems can ensure reliable, low-cost electricity at all times.
Developments in energy storage are predicted to allow significant additional reductions in fossil-fuel use within the next five years.
Mining in Australia accounts for 10 per cent of the country’s total energy use, for example, relying on a mix of diesel, natural gas, and grid electricity to power it, Othman said.
A second area where renewables could be practical is on Egypt’s roads extending thousands of kilometres in length and all needing to be lighted, with advertisement boards, telecommunication towers, stations to charge electric vehicles, and cafeterias and toilets all needing to be installed.
“Solar power can replace a portion of emission-intensive diesel fuel to power the off-grid-based stations of the telecommunications towers. The wind, sun, and biomass do not send out bills, and they do not have meters to count consumed kilowatt hours,” the research says.
Renewables should also be used in the cultivation of Egypt’s 1.5 million feddans of reclaimed land. Othman said a pilot project should be set up on half a million feddans of land in four different areas, using hybrid power sources to pump water and carry out various other tasks.
Water, energy, and food are all interrelated since the agriculture and energy sectors depend heavily on and affect water resources.
Energy is essential not only for water management, but also for agricultural production, processing and marketing.
*The writer is a freelance journalist.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Renewables for mega-projects