29 September 2020
Egypt plugs into the sun
Published online 22 November 2010
In a bid to increase the proportion of renewable energy to an ambitious 20% of total generated electricity by 2020, sunny Egypt is looking to solar energy. Its first, hybrid solar power plant is set to start production by the end of 2010, and will be amongst only four in the world with a capacity of 140 megawatts (MW). A second 100 MW plant is planned for 2017.
Since Egypt does not manufacture solar panels, it has to rely on importing them, which increases the construction costs of solar farms considerably. The government announced in March that Egypt will host a Dutch factory that will have an annual output of 3,000 tonnes of polysilicon and 1,500 tonnes of phosphine gas, both materials used in photovoltaic (PV) cells.
The country's Nanotechnology Research Center is attempting to develop improved, low-cost, thin film silicon photovoltaic cells to increase the efficiency of solar energy.
Nadia Shalaby, a computer scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), sees a manufacturing gap for entrepreneurs. She is developing a business project for Egyptian-owned companies to manufacture solar cells.
These initiatives often suffer at the hands of government bureaucracy. "The potential is definitely there for solar panel production in Egypt, but it depends on the willingness of the authorities in Egypt to collaborate and provide permission," says Rasmus Vincentz, a climate change consultant at Danish Energy Management. "Other challenges include obtaining needed licences and availability of skilled labour."
Power to the marginalised
If Egypt allows working communities to realize their innovative capacity, then we should see a renaissance of solar expertise in the country.
Thomas Culhane, co-founder of Solar CITIES, a non-government organization that builds low-cost solar heaters in under-developed communities in Cairo, believes a skilled workforce exists. "That this expertise has not yet translated into the industrial sector has much to do with a poor educational system and poor management."
Culhane contends that Egypt was once a leading nation in solar technology up to the late 1970's. But in recent decades the country relied on importing foreign expertise and technology.
Vincentz and Culhane agree Egypt can become a market leader in supplying solar panels and renewable energy technology to the greater MENA region if the country revitalizes and redoubles its efforts in solar technology.
"This can only happen if we develop native capacities of the marginalised through vocational training and skills transfer. If Egypt allows working communities, and not just the elite, to realize their innovative capacity, then we should see a renaissance of solar expertise in the country."
Vincentz, however, argues it may not be that simple. "Egypt will have to rely on the transfer of renewable energy technologies until the political environment realizes the opportunities and creates predictable long-term regulation that promotes domestic installation and development of local businesses."
If Egypt is to meet its self-appointed target of generating 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, it will have to considerably upscale its solar and wind energy output. Today, less than 500 MW of the country's energy comes from renewable sources. At the current growth in energy consumption, the Egyptian German Joint Committee on Renewable Energy (JCEE) estimates the country will need to generate 1 GW of energy by solar farms, and seven times as much from wind energy, to meet its goal.