The consequences of Egypt’s insatiable appetite for energy is becoming more pronounced. Amidst broader economic instability and reduced production rates of oil and natural gas the energy deficit is manifesting in electrical shortages throughout Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, and Aswan. Electricity consumption in Egypt peaks during the summer months, in part due to soaring temperatures and Ramadan1. In response to recent power cuts, the state-run, National Energy Control Center issued a statement apologizing for nationwide power cuts. According to the statement, the recent blackouts stem from “fuel shortages that have made it difficult for allocated generators to keep up with mounting consumption.” It went on to call for citizens to conserve energy by rationing their use of electricity.
The power cuts are expected to continue over the next few months. According to Dr. Mostafa Bakery, Professor of Economics at Ain Shams University, “the Ministry of Petroleum has not supplied electrical stations with sufficient fuel, this will inevitably lead to further shortages.” Daily blackouts inevitably leave local residents frustrated. In 2012, grievances in Sohag, a city in Upper Egypt, lead to protests against power cuts2. Tensions were so high that police intervened to prevent protestors from attacking government offices responsible for energy regulation.
As the government struggles to find solutions for Egypt’s energy shortages, calls for alternative options are becoming increasingly prominent. Entities within the government and private sector alike are exploring renewable energy as a viable option to fill Egypt’s energy gap. This article examines the problem of energy consumption in Egypt and identifies potential renewable sources.
According to Egypt’s Deputy Minister of Energy, Aktham Abul-Ela, consumption has increased eight percent annually during the last decade3. In 2011 and 2012 consumption increased by 11 percent each year. In Egypt, domestic consumption accounts for 40 percent of the country’s electricity, while industry consumes an estimated 35 percent. Dr. Hafez Salmawy, Managing Director of the Electrical Utility and Consumer Protection Regulatory Agency recently noted, “Residential consumers account for close to 50 percent of the peak demand for electricity.” Salmawy emphasized that overconsumption in the residential sector is partially driven by heavy government subsidies. The government subsidies on electricity allow for overconsumption without significant financial consequences to consumers.
The government is seeking to ease the current shortages by increasing gas allotted for electricity production by 9.1 percent to 84 million cubic meters a day beginning on June 14. It also hopes to increase the diesel supply by 29 percent to 22,000 tons per day. These measures are in part thanks to USD 5 billion in aid the government recently received from Qatar and Libya, as well as Qatar’s agreement to supply gas to Egypt. However, such measures will only provide short-term relief. Even if the current economic crises and current shortages are resolved, the government will still face energy shortages in the future. According to JCEE, Egypt’s oil production has been in decline for more than a decade but natural gas production has continued to grow5. It is expected that after 2020 natural gas production will go into decline as well.
Part of Egypt’s energy crises stems from the lack of a conservation culture. Reporters for Egypt Oil and Gas spoke to numerous shopkeepers and individuals throughout Cairo in order to gain insight on local perceptions on energy consumption. Mohamed Hamed, a bakery storeowner stated, “Everyone switches on the lights, why should I switch them off? I want the lights everywhere.” Omar Nasser, a shop owner in Nasr City, does not think the problem is in high consumption rates, but believes it is the government’s responsibility to implement measures to meet the demand increase, stating, “we have the potential to produce energy, we have the High Dam to produce electricity, why should we reduce our consumption? We pay a lot considering they cut the electricity four times per day.” These opinions are representative of the common views on energy consumption throughout Cairo. It was also hard to miss that for every shopkeeper interviewed, there was a store with all its lights on during peak daylight hours.
Measures to implement conservation will be difficult as short-term convenience usually outweighs long-term benefits. Dr. Magda Salem, a mother of two girls, explained that she and her daughters use separate cars “even if we are going to the same place.” Further noting, “I know we consume too much energy but this is a culture in Egypt and we can’t suddenly change that.” Such a lack of public willingness to reduce consumption is problematic, particularly when there are shortages.
Egypt’s current consumption rates are unsustainable. Amidst the backdrop of broader economic instability and uncertainty, government officials and private investors are pressing for a comprehensive energy plan. During the Second Annual Roundtable Discussion held by Egypt Oil and Gas, participants called for plans to balance energy consumption and production, as well as increasing efforts to diversify Egypt’s energy sources beyond hydrocarbons6.
One potential solution to Egypt’s energy shortages may lie in renewable energy. Egypt’s geographic position provides it with an abundance of land, sunshine, and high wind speeds. Due to recent economic challenges, many have begun pushing for a policy shift towards the development and expansion of renewable energy in Egypt. In January 2013, Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity announced the government’s development of a long-term plan to develop the country’s renewable energy7. The plan will focus on wind and solar energy during its first phase then move to other renewable energy sources in the second phase.
According to studies by Egypt’s New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA), wind resources around the Red Sea are some of the best in the world due to high wind speeds between 7 and 10.5 m/sec8. The Gulf of Suez is particularly suited for wind energy, as average wind speeds reach 10.5 m/sec9. Wind resources also exist on the banks of the Nile in the Eastern and Western Deserts, as well as in parts of the Sinai. The government is seeking to increase wind energy capacity to 7200 megawatts (MW) by 2020.
As of 2011, the NREA reported that the country had an installed wind capacity of 550 mw. The largest established wind farm in the country is currently is Zaafarana farm, located 190 km southeast of Cairo. Zaafarana consists of 700 wind turbines that produce a total capacity of 550 MW10. Wind farms in Hurghada also contribute to the country’s wind energy, producing an estimated Gwh between 2010-201111.
The NREA reports preparations for wind projects that with total capacities of 1120 mw12. These projects include a 200 mw wind plant being developed under an umbrella agreement with the government of Germany, the European Union, and the European Investment Bank, a wind farm in the Gulf of El Zayt that is being developed in cooperation with the Japanese Agency for International Co-operation, and a 120 MW wind farm in the Gulf of El-Zayt that the government of Spain will finance.
In February the government placed six plots of land in the Gulf of Suez up for auction, each with a production capacity of 100 MW13. The deadline for bids is May 27, 2013. Despite efforts, achieving the 2020 production goal of 7,200 MW remains unlikely if development continues at the current pace around 150 MW every two years14.
Egypt is located in the “sunbelt” area of the world, meaning geographically Egypt is endowed with high intensity solar radiation ranging between 2000 and 2600 kwh/m2 per annum, with a daily sunshine duration of 9-11 hours.15 The potential for solar energy is further increased given the country’s vast deserts rendering it well suited for the generation of concentrated solar power (CSP).
Around the world solar energy is mainly used for water heating, industrial process heat applications and agricultural drying. There are two principle technologies used in generating solar energy; solar thermal power plants and Photovoltaic (PV) solar energy technology. The first solar thermal power plant was constructed 90 km south of Cairo at Kuraymat. This location in the desert makes use of the extended unified power grid and expanded natural gas pipelines, as well as being near a source of water, the River Nile. The power plant is able to contribute 140MW to renewable energy generation.16
With regard to PV technology, NREA signed a protocol in 2009 for cooperation with the Italian Ministry of Environment to electrify two remote settlements in the Matrouh Governorate. The technology behind PV applications is expensive, but long-term savings in network construction and limited low maintenance requirements compensates high initial costs during its 25-year life span.
The Egyptian government is working to expand solar energy. In October 2010, the World Bank announced a US $270 million loan to the Egyptian Ministry of Electricity to build a 100MW solar plant in Upper Egypt, to be constructed between 2012 and 2017 and costing an estimated US $700 million. Furthermore, the Egyptian government has tried to stimulate investment in solar energy before by offering free land to potential investors in both the Eastern and Western deserts.17
Hydropower is Egypt’s third largest energy source after gas and oil18. Despite being located in the Sahara Desert, Egypt has one substantial hydropower resource, the Nile, which is exploited by both large and small-scale developments. Hydropower is energy derived from the flow of water, which is used to turn turbines that produce electricity. Most commonly, electricity is generated by use of dams or run-of-river.
According to the African Development Bank Group, as of 2010, Egypt has five main hydropower generation locations on the Nile19. The Aswan High Dam and the Aswan Reservoir Dams generate the bulk of the country’s hydro-electricity. The Aswan High Dam has the potential to generate 2.1 GW, but low water levels often prevent operation at that level. Renovations on the dam are on going, aimed at extending the Dam’s operations for 40 years and increasing potential capacity to 2.4 GW.
As of 2012, Egypt’s hydroelectric capacity was 2,800 mw, accounting for 9.2 percent the country’s energy supply and 83.53 percent of the country’s total renewable energy capacity20. As over 85 percent of the Nile’s hydropower is already exploited its capacity to meet increasing energy demands will remain limited21.
NGOs to Promote Renewable:
Within Egypt, several non-governmental organizations are working on promoting and developing renewable energy. The Consumer and Energy Organization (CEO) actively promote the transition to renewable energy in Egypt. The organization, headed by Dr. Emad Adly seeks to rationalize energy consumption and increase utilization of clean energy. Adly stated “we need to take effective steps to promote energy consumption, and raise awareness among citizens regarding the importance of promoting a culture of energy conservation.”
CEO engaged in a research study in 2009 with the Industry Modernization Centre in order to explore methods of reducing harmful emissions to 200 million tons by 2030. The organization is currently spearheading an awareness campaign to promote energy conservation in Egypt using slogans such as “energy is yours” and “the people want to rationalize energy” in order to promote their cause.
CEO also established a small grants program to promote conservation and implement renewable technology in poor communities in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using cleaner energy techniques and rational energy consumption. CEO installed 60 solar heaters and 15 biogas units throughout various small communities in Egypt. In addition to this, the organization trained young people within these communities to maintain the technology. Through recurrent workshops and seminars CEO is successfully raising awareness amongst community members in order to reform behavior and attitudes towards the environment and natural resources. Today, in villages such as Minia and Tayiba, approximately 840 families own and utilize solar heaters.
In an effort to draw conclusions and replicate their success, CEO noted several elements responsible for the successful implementation of renewable energy at the community level. They concluded that safety was a key factor as the locals no longer had to heat water via gas or kerosene. In addition, the financial benefits also resonated with residents as the solar heaters offered long-lasting yet inexpensive energy source freeing up much need financial resources. CEO also noted that high levels of good governance and transparency significantly contributed to the success.
Egypt Green Energy Association (EGEA) is another organization promoting increased usage of renewable energy. Dr. Ahmad Hijazi, Chairman of Egypt Green Energy Association emphasized the importance of solar energy as a strategic solution to Egypt’s emerging deficit. Hijazi stressed the need for increased investments in renewable technology, particularly in solar energy. He noted the need for legal and legislative regulations to assist in the implementation of renewable energy in Egypt, nothing that Egypt has a responsibility to “raise awareness and changing attitudes and behavior towards energy consumption.”
Hijazi noted that solar has the potential to be a primary source for electric power generation and considering Egypt’s geography and climate, the potential for large scale solar generation is being squandered. A recent achievement of the EGEA is the opening of the largest solar-powered groundwater well in the Western Desert in March 2013. The Egyptian Company for Land Reclamation funded the project for an estimated 500,000 Egyptian pounds and the EGEA served as a technical consultant. The project, located in Alaamen, successfully generated 30 kilowatts of solar energy used in extraction of groundwater for irrigation. The project helped to extract 850 cubic meters of water per day from a distance of more than 55 meters underground in an effort to demonstrate the feasibility of irrigation powered by solar cell generation.
NGOs are instrumental in promoting and implementing renewable technology here in Egypt. They help small energy businesses grow in developing countries. They also develop and manage various programs to support the growth of renewable energy projects by providing them with business and technical advice they need, as well as spreading awareness.
Energy production and consumption is one of the most pressing issues Egypt currently faces. As the population faces daily power cuts, it should be abundantly clear that the energy sector requires immediate attention. While the current cuts are undeniably tied to unsustainable domestic consumption and the fuel shortages Egyptians must recognize that the country’s oil and gas resources are finite and will begin to decline. Raising public awareness essential to foster a culture of energy conservation is what tops the list of priorities in this context. After all, the roots of the current energy crisis are traceable to the seemingly overlooked waste of resources that takes place on a consistent basis nationwide. Therefore, learning the when, how, and why of economizing energy consumption becomes a basic requirement in handling this crisis. Foregoing mass-scale awareness and acting accordingly on it are luxuries that are no longer affordable.
Egypt has a remarkable potential for renewable energy. It has successfully tapped hydroelectric power but that is only capable of supplying a fraction of the country’s energy. The country’s wind and solar energy potential is vast and the NREA is working to expand and develop these sectors. However, such development requires significant financial investment. So long as instability persists in Egypt’s economy and government it will remain difficult to attract foreign investors.
By Effat Mostafa, Tatianna Duran and Maya Moseley