By Omnia Farrag

Providing citizens with safe, clean, and sustainable sources of energy is an important step towards Egypt’s development, where most of the households depend on butane cylinders for heating and cooking. That is why successive governments have been adopting programs to connect houses to the national gas grid.

For the current phase of the project, the Egyptian government is aiming to link 684,000 households across 18 governorates to the national gas grid. This is a part of a bigger plan that aims to connect 2.3 million households to the grid by 2021, as Marwa Khalil, World Bank Energy Specialist told Egypt Oil & Gas. If finished on time, 8.3 million houses will be connected to the grid, which will be a 40% increase in number of houses connected to the national gas network up from 5.8 million already connected, according to a World Bank report. Khalil noted that the project is currently targeting 20 governorates and work has started on 11 of them.

The program focuses on connecting houses in poor and overpopulated areas and linking governorates where no city is connected to the national gas grid – a mission that looks challenging putting into consideration its financial and technical obstacles. Egypt Oil & Gas talked to experts who are working on the project in order to know more about the project’s technical aspect and the measures needed to make the connection of overpopulated areas become reality.

Technical Aspect of The Project

Generally, the project uses two types of pipelines: Steel and Poly Ethylene (PE). The former is used for high-pressure gas pipelines ranging from 70-7 Bar, Mohamed El Sayed, Senior HSE Engineer at Town Gas, told Egypt Oil & Gas. They are installed at the project’s connection linking between the Pressure Reduction Station (PRS) and the city gate regulator, which are usually located outside highly-populated areas of the city, he explained.

“PE is used for medium and low-pressure pipeline (7-1 Bar) networks that are used at the project’s connection from regulators until houses crossing main and secondary roads in the city,” he added. Then comes the role of steel pipelines with smaller diameter and less pressure, which is used in natural gas connections inside houses and apartments.

According to El Sayed, the techniques used in the natural gas connections and pipelines simply rely on taking high-pressurized gas from a specific offtake point from the national gas grid and then reducing gas pressure. Then odorants are added for safety reasons to alert members of the public about leaks. They are added through different steps starting from PRS until ground valves downside homes.

Special Techniques to Connect Gas to Slums

Companies working on the project have to use special techniques to meet the Ministry of Petroleum’s plan of prioritizing slums. For instance, companies normally build scaffold outside the kitchen and the bathroom next to the building or inside it as in planned areas many apartments have an inner atrium which all kitchens and bathrooms windows overlook. However, in overpopulated areas there is not enough space for technicians to build safe constant scaffold, so they use Special Scaffold, which has a different safe structure than the normal one, to connect a specific floor or apartment to the natural gas grid, El Sayed elaborated.

Stretch Steel pipes are another tool helping the project team overcome technical challenges faced in slums due to lack of spaces between houses. El Sayed explained that while companies use normal steel pipes to connect natural gas to buildings, in some cases of slums buildings they use Stretch Steel pipes, which can connect many houses through one steel pipe instead of connecting each house with a separate one.

Safety Challenges for Gas Connections in Slums

By definition, houses in slums are not planned and areas are overpopulated, which raises questions about the feasibility of achieving the ministry’s plan of prioritizing these areas without any safety compromises. “In overpopulated areas, all other utilities like electricity cables, water, sewage pipelines, and telephone lines are very close to each other in the bottom of streets, so fitting of natural gas networks pipelines will be more difficult in slums than in other areas,” François M. Jacob, QHSE manager at National Gas, explained to Egypt Oil & Gas. Additionally, the apartment has to be furnished with some specifications, such as the installation of ceramic in the walls of bathrooms and kitchen. Flats in slums might not meet these requirements, Jacob added,

From his side, El Sayed believes that the main hazard in slums is the fact that it has more people than its capacity and houses are very close to each other, which means more people will be harmed if any leakage or fires take place.

Overcoming Safety Challenges in Slums

The two experts agree that the degree of hazard faced in slums is bigger than it is in less populated areas; however, these hazards can be combated using safety measures provided by the state-operated Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) and the Gas Regulatory Authority. These measures include radiographic examination, painting inspection, pneumatic/hydrostatic tests, commissioning and handover, Jacob stated, adding that operators should also apply clear warning signs on the city gate regulators along with securing network pipelines and provide network service points and external riser pipelines on buildings. Jacob, who also serves as client service general manager for National Gas, emphasized the importance of educating people about safety measures within the household itself and the steps they should take if they smell gas. Additionally, companies have to write emergency numbers on the gas meter as per EGAS regulations.

The Program Finances

The program is supported by the Egyptian government and international organizations. The total cost of the project is EUR 1.710 million (approximately $1.989 million). The World Bank contributes with a $500 million loan with interest rate of 7.19%. The French Development Agency (AFD) gives Egypt around EUR 70 million ( $81.43 million) with  a EUR 68 million ($79.10 million) grant delegated to AFD by the European Union, mainly earmarked for the project’s institutional and social components.

From the Egyptian government’s side, the Ministry of Petroleum adopted a program that enables citizens to pay for the cost of gas connection installations through monthly EGP 30 payments added to the gas bills. Following this, citizens will be able to pay the cost over six years without having to pay any interest.

In August, the Egyptian government increased natural gas prices for household use. The cost of consuming up to 30 cubic meters rose from EGP 0.100 to 0.175 per cubic meter, recording a 75% hike, while consumption of between 30-60 cubic meters went up from EGP 0.175 to 0.250 per cubic meter, a 42.8% rise. Consuming more than 60 cubic meters now costs EGP 0.300 per cubic meter instead of EGP 0.225. Yet, Khalil believes that it is still cheaper than butane cylinders, considering that the cost of a butane cylinder increased from EGP 30 to EGP 50 for households in mid-June.

“Expenses of fuel used for cooking will be reduced as households will substitute [butane] cylinders by natural gas, which is cheaper. Also, people will not have to stay in long lines for hours to get liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), especially if the stores are far from their homes,” Khalil elaborated.

Impact on Citizens

Replacing butane with natural gas has a direct impact on the country’s budget as the country still depends on imports to fill the gap between butane production and consumption. Additionally, the increase in natural gas output and prospects of achieving natural gas self-sufficiency indicate that the state will pay less when using natural gas instead of butane. For citizens, Khalil noted that gas is not only a more economic option when compared to butane cylinders, but also “significantly safer, cleaner, and more available.”