The State of Solar in Egypt
Come 7:00 A.M., more than 3,000 men and women like, Engi Hassaan and Mariz Doss, will tumble out of their apartments to jog atop the concrete of Cairo. They rise early to dodge the city’s 22 million residents, the four million automobiles and their one-hour commutes, and the insidious “black cloud” of carcinogenic smog that hangs over the city every autumn. They run to escape the craziness of Cairo, a capital city nearing its expiration date, where hyper-urbanization has consigned some 20 to 40 percent of Greater Cairo to cheap white bread and broken sewer pipes. But look up! The sun, that orb that bakes rural Egypt and generates the fearsome khamaseen wind, has come to save Cairo.
In April 2014, the Egyptian government pledged $1 billion USD to develop several nationwide solar power projects. The vow came just two months after former electricity minister Ahmed Emam announced that the country planned to increase its share of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2020. Along with a generous feed-in tariff announced in September, Egypt intends to procure 4,300 megawatts of renewable energy. If all goes as planned, Egypt will be following many other countries, such as the United States, Sweden and France, on the road to making renewable energy more available.
Six months later, the government of Egypt shook hands with SkyPower Global and International Gulf Development for a $5 billion investment to create 3,000 megawatts of utility-scale solar projects. The project aims to create 75,000 jobs and put a dent in the country’s 13.4 percent unemployment rate. The partnership was signed at the Economic Development Conference held at Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort in March 2015. Delegates representing more than 112 countries attended the conference, where Egypt played its cards to attract some $60 billion in foreign investment. By the third day of the conference, Egypt’s Minister of Investment, Ashraf Salman, could boast that the country had procured $38.2 billion in signed agreements. By the conclusion, Egypt had raked in $92 billion in Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). About 24 percent of that went to the electricity and power generation sector. Egypt’s Economic Development Conference was part of a greater plan released by the Egypt Solar Industry Association (Egypt-SIA) in March 2015 titled, ” Egypt’s Solar Energy Market – FiT Program and Beyond 2015.” Masdar, SkyPower Global, ACWA Power, Terra Sola and 174 more, flew like eager flies to Egypt’s honey-dripping promises of feed-in tariffs and
merchant IPP schemes. The first round of accepted projects will generate 20 megawatts, almost one-tenth of the 2,300 megawatts of solar power that Egypt hopes to develop by 2017. A few of the investments are large-scale public works projects and giant photovoltaic solar farms connected to Cairo’s electrical grid, such as Terra Solar’s 800-megawatt “solar park.” Other projects will contribute through smaller solar arrays, technical research, manufacturing and training.
Some organizations, however, have chosen to work outside of Egypt-SIA’s FiT program. A grassroots example is Solar Cities, which installs solar hot water heaters in the neighborhood of Manshiet Nasr. Additionally, The National Bank of Egypt and Banque Misr both plan to finance rooftop solar systems by providing loans with 4-8 percent interest rates. Rooftop solar units will help wean the country off its overworked grid that has become increasingly dependent on natural gas. The failure of that grid is felt the worst in the slums of Greater Cairo. The natural gas burned to sustain that grid has dirtied the Cairo atmosphere with air pollution that some experts liken to smoking a pack of cigarettes daily.
Egypt’s budding love affair with solar power could lift the country off its reliance on non-renewable and polluting energy sources, as well as ignite interest in other Middle East countries, particularly the Gulf States. If successful, Egypt could be leading a new type of photosynthesis, where the country basks in sunlight collected by PV parks, and in turn its poor neighborhoods blossom like lotus flowers.
Maria Ramos is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy, active lifestyles.