Egypt Will Soon Open Its First Solar Farm—And It’s The Largest In The World!
Abundance of land, high wind speeds, and sunny weather—Egypt possesses all the elements to make it a prime location for renewable energy sources. However, this advantage has long been overlooked. Over the years, the country has been taxing fossil fuels, generating 90% of their electricity from oil and natural gas. But this course is about to change.
The Benban Complex
In 2019, the largest solar farm in the world will revolutionize energy supply for Egypt. A vast collection of more than 5 million photovoltaic panels will soon take shape at a remote Western Desert, 400 miles south of Cairo. The city of Aswan was chosen to host the mega project due to its perfect solar location.
This is no small feat for a country with 96 million citizens dependent on cheap, state-subsidized electricity. “This is a big deal, I can’t think of another example where so many big players have come together to fill the gap,” shares Benjamin Attia, a solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. He is referring to the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in supporting the initiative.
Dubbed the “Benban Complex,” the $2.8-billion project is already under construction. It will have a total of 30 separate solar plants. It has a planned total capacity of 1.8 Gigawatts with annual production targeted at 3,8 TWh. Upon completion, it is expected to provide energy to hundreds of thousands of residences and business operations.
Aside from putting Egypt on the clean energy map, the massive solar park will also bring in a lot of jobs for the city’s inhabitants. Operations would create around 20,000 job opportunities over four years. Some solar plants are expected to run starting December of this year and employ up to 4,000 workers.
Egypt’s History with Solar
The “Benban Complex” is not Egypt’s pioneering project on solar power though. In 1913, American inventor Frank Shuman built the world’s first solar thermal power station on the outskirts of Cairo. His invention was designed to irrigate a cotton field and was powered by the desert’s abundant sunshine. It was able to pump out 6,000 gallons of water a minute from the Nile.
Shuman’s dream was to challenge the world’s dependence on coal through his inventions. “Sun power is now a fact and no longer in the 'beautiful possibility' stage. After our stores of oil and coal are exhausted the human race can receive unlimited power from the rays of the sun,” he told The New York Times in 1916.
However, the discovery of cheap oil followed by the first World War prevented Shuman to improve on the design and replicate it on a grand scale. It was not until a century had passed that his vision had been resurrected. With the rising costs of oil and coal, solar technology, which remained in the shadows for generations, will finally find a home in the deserts of Egypt.
Future of Solar in Egypt
The nation’s renewable energy plans for the future are quite ambitious. They intend to supply 20% of generated electricity from renewable sources by 2022. By 2035, they are planning to include an addition of 67 GW to the total generated electricity, of which 31 GW comes from solar. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi has already inaugurated several big electricity projects.
What is driving Egypt’s green movement? It is the electricity crisis the country experienced following the 2011 revolution. Back then, there were a lot of factory and shop closures and rolling blackouts. It was one of the factors that culminated in the 2013 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Today, residents no longer have to worry about nightly outages.
In 2014, Egypt launched a scheme wherein private players could sell power to the public grid. This jump-started the nation’s clean energy market, prompting several entrepreneurs to dive in.
But it was not smooth sailing for start-ups. Most small businesses were grappling with the lack of financing.
Ahmed Zahran and his four friends started their solar company, KarmSolar, with the help of private investments. “We were fired by an … who represented everything we hated about this country, so we decided, let’s do it ourselves,” said Zahran. Now, with more than 80 employees, they make solar water pumps for off-grid desert farms and build solar stations to power poultry factories.
In 2016, the Central Bank launched a low-interest loan program to encourage more small players in the renewable energy industry. And with electricity prices rising at an average of 26%, more businesses are considering adding solar systems to their buildings. Egypt is more than 90% desert, so solar power seems to be a reasonable solution.
The biggest rivals to massive solar parks like the Benban Complex are residential solar panels installed atop roofs. Solar micro-grids are also becoming popular in developing nations. If more humans tap into solar energy, it would mean better things for our environment.
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