Benban solar park opens

Bassem Aly , Tuesday 17 Dec 2019

Benban, the world’s largest solar-power park, was officially inaugurated in Aswan last week

Benban solar park opens
photo: Reuters

Six power plants in the Benban Solar Park in Egypt’s southern governorate of Aswan have now been finished and connected to the national grid, the company in charge of the project announced on Sunday.

The announcement was made by Salah Ghobrial, CEO of Gama Construction, an Egypt-based company that provides engineering and construction services for industrial buildings and infrastructure projects.

“We have completed the construction of the 390 MW solar power plants and successfully connected them to the national grid within the set time frame and to international standards. This achievement is a demonstration of Egyptian companies’ potential and capability in playing an active role in executing mega-projects, especially in the field of renewable energy,” Ghobrial said.

The power park, which has a total capacity of 1.8 GW, making it the world’s largest solar park when completed, is subdivided into 41 plots, each given to a power company to generate solar energy.

The plants are then to be connected to the national grid. The list of companies that have power plants on the site includes a consortium of Hassan Allam and TAQA Arabia, as well as Scatec Solar, Al-Sewedy Electric, and Germany’s Ib Vogt.

Work on the park started in 2015, according to a presidential decree, and it is built on 27 square km. While many of the plants in the park have started commercial operations during the past six months, the official inauguration of the park as a whole took place this week.

In May, World Bank Group Chief David Malbas visited the solar park and praised reforms in the Egyptian energy sector, saying it was “opening a door to strong investments by the private sector.”

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is also providing financing for 16 projects in Benban as part of its $500 million framework for financing renewable energy in Egypt.

According to Egypt’s Vision 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy, the government has issued a renewables feed-in tariff law to “encourage private investments in this sector”.

The goal by 2030 is to “ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, and double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.”

Egypt aims to produce 20 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2022 and 42 per cent by 2035.

Salah Arafa, AUC professor of physics, told Al-Ahram Weekly that expanding the use of solar energy  is an “important step that took so long to be achieved”.

 As Egypt is still suffering from energy shortages, which is crucial to serve developmental purposes, the need for clean and renewable energy is inevitable”, Arafa said.

Arafa argued that Egypt needs to increase awareness about solar and renewable energy so that people understand that they can get it either directly or indirectly. An example of a direct source of energy is putting solar energy panels on a house roof to generate power that is sold to the national grid. Indirect sources include wind energy and agricultural waste such as biogas.

A 2018 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) concluded that Egypt “has already achieved remarkable progress in developing an enabling policy, regulatory and institutional framework for the deployment of renewable energy.”

IRENA also praised the country’s success in “gaining experience in the implementation of a wide range of renewable projects, particularly for solar and wind electricity generation.”

Yet, the report also gave a number of policy recommendations, including facilitating access to data and information for project developers with respect to on-site solar and wind resource assessments, land-allocation procedures, and the performance of existing renewable energy power plants under sometimes difficult environmental conditions.

It also called on Egypt to develop specific capacity targets for the deployment of solar thermal systems and explore different options for supporting the accelerated penetration of solar thermal systems in the residential and industrial sectors.

Other recommendations included creating a national master plan for the development of local job creation in the renewable energy industry, with a specific set of actions defined for solar photovoltaic and wind energy technologies.

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