Solar energy and the future

Samir Sobhi
Saturday 25 May 2019

How can Egypt best profit from its huge resources of renewable energy

Egypt’s solar park in Aswan has recently won a best project award given by the World Bank Group. This is the first time that Egypt has received the award, and it reflects the bank’s trust in the government’s current economic reform programme.

The total cost of this solar energy project is estimated at $2 billion. In 2017, the World Bank’s International Finance Cooperation offered the sum of $653 million in funds to the project.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other global institutions are also taking part in the funding.

The project, which aims to generate a total of 1600 Megawatts (MW) of electricity, plans to turn Egypt into an energy centre for the Middle East and African continent.

The target is to generate 50 per cent of the country’s clean energy needs, and Egypt is also due to launch projects to develop wind energy.

The question is how we can best use such projects.

We are now encountering a new future for the world as a whole in which energy projects will depend on the sun. By 2030, a number of other renewable energy projects will also have been launched in Egypt.

A joint meeting between Electricity Minister Mohamed Shaker and Chairman of the Board of the ECS Energy Company Osama Geneidi, recently discussed investment in the field of renewable energy.

During the meeting, Geneidi called for rationalising Egypt’s consumption of energy and proposed the idea of generating electricity from waste.

According to the Ministry of Electricity, waste in Egypt could generate up to four gigawatts of electricity (GW), also helping to reduce pollution.

In previous statements, Geneidi had called upon the state to privatise the country’s power stations, with the private sector paying premiums and alleviating state financial burdens.

The state would then be left free to invest in service projects, such as the Cairo metro and others.

For Geneidi, we should aim to become dependent on solar energy. Companies, houses, mosques and churches should all be encouraged to build mini-solar energy stations, he said.

We need to spread a “culture” of solar energy, he added. More solar energy stations should be built, with the private sector taking a role in their maintenance.

Such stations would then pump their production into the national electricity grid.

The next step could be establishing a regional centre for energy and not just for natural gas. This would help to attract foreign investors in the fields of transportation and distribution.

Much of Egypt’s solar energy will likely come from Kom Ombo in Aswan. The Kom Ombo plant, now under construction, is expected to produce 250 MW of electricity from photovoltaic cells.

The project is being built as part of an agreement between the Ministry of Electricity, the German government and the European Commission.

There has been an ongoing struggle to find renewable sources of energy, and today world energy production from solar cells has doubled over what it was in the last century.

The production of wind energy has also increased tenfold. US production of ethanol used as fuel has reached 16 billion gallons per year.

The future has become nearer as a result. By the end of the 21st century, new sources of energy may include nuclear fusion reactors, wind power plants at high altitudes, tropical electro-solar systems, and generators working by wave power and tidal energy.

All such sources may be connected to a world power network.

While nuclear energy is considered to be very clean as it does not have significant carbon emissions, it still only represents one-sixth of total energy production.

Water energy contributes a higher amount. We are also heading towards the greater usage of wind energy, and by 2020 it will constitute 20 per cent of the energy being used in the country.

The sun can produce the equivalent in energy terms of five million Hiroshima nuclear bombs every second. It is a vast nuclear reactor, whose energy is turned into heat and light.

The amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth every hour could easily meet our needs for energy, but converting solar energy into electricity can be a difficult matter.

Egypt is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of solar energy, and the average daily production is about 5.7 KW/hour per square metre. In winter, it ranges between 3.2 to 4.5 KW/hour per metre and in summer between 7.8 to 8.5 KW/ hour per metre.

Daily hours of sunshine reach 9.5 hours and the sun rises for nearly 350 days per year.

But harvesting this energy needs advanced technology, and there has been some success in manufacturing solar cells using local materials.

Efforts have been made to manufacture photovoltaic systems in Egypt, as their international price is high. Once such costs have come down, more than half a million feddans in the Western Desert could be given over to the production of solar energy, with German companies in particular willing to launch such projects in Egypt.

Meanwhile, more and more companies are investing in the production of solar cells, and Kenya, for example, has invested heavily in solar energy systems, particularly on the micro-level with small systems costing around $100 dollars that can be used to power lighting or small appliances in rural areas.

Ideas do not stop, and companies are thinking of ways to introduce solar energy into domestic houses. The Red Sea governorate is also being prepared to generate electricity from wind energy.

Egypt’s solar energy could be exported to the north where countries are deprived of the sun. A lot of Egyptian regions could benefit enormously from solar energy, including Siwa, Aswan and Sinai.

These are some of the great expectations for the 21st century, a century of technology and renewable energy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Solar energy and the future

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