Egypt plans to launch its first privately owned wind farm in 2013 under an ambitious climate change strategy that includes producing a fifth of its power from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Trading fossil fuels for greener energy like solar, wind and water helps curb the carbon emissions that are heating up the planet. Global warming is expected to bring higher sea levels and more extreme weather, putting the world’s food and water supplies at risk.

Rising seas are a looming threat in Egypt, where over half the population lives within 100 km (62 miles) of the Nile River coastline. Officials say 6 to 8 million people could be displaced and nearly half the country’s crops, which are grown along the Nile Delta, submerged.

The wind farm – expected to produce 250 megawatts (MW) of power – will be located in the Gulf of Suez along the Red Sea, regarded as one of the world’s best wind energy sites, with wind speeds of up to 11 metres per second. Ten local and foreign companies have been shortlisted for the scheme, which is expected to come online by the end of 2013.

“The Gulf of Suez is an excellent area for wind farms. Several projects are under way to create more wind parks there, which could have capacity of around 2,000 MW,” said Mohab Hallouda, a senior energy specialist at the World Bank.

In June, the bank loaned Egypt $220 million to develop wind power, which will help the country meet its 20 percent renewable energy target. Two fifths of that will come from hydropower generation and the rest from solar and wind.

Hallouda said the loan, which is mostly from the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund (CTF), will help finance a transmission line to transfer the electricity produced by the wind farms to the country’s power grid.

The CTF was set up in 2008 by donor nations which pledged about $5 billion to kick start large, risky investments in clean technology in developing countries ahead of a new global deal to tackle climate change.

INSUFFICIENT POWER CAPACITY
Egypt’s push on renewable energy could not be more timely, as electricity demand in the Arab world’s most populous country is increasing at around six percent each year.

The country experienced consistent power outages – the worst in decades – during the last few weeks of summer as temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius. The blackouts provoked public anger, which had already been on the rise over increasing living costs. Nearly a fifth of Egypt’s population of close to 82 million lives on less than $2 a day.

Government officials blamed the power outages on increased consumption in the peak summer season, and have vowed to boost power capacity.

Egypt already has publicly owned wind farms in the Zafarana area, south of the Gulf of Suez, with a capacity of 520 MW, as well as a small research and development wind park in Hurghada, further south along the Red Sea.

But so far the electricity generated from existing wind farms accounts for only around two percent of the country’s total installed power capacity of approximately 25 gigawatts (GW). Most of Egypt’s electricity – around 85 percent – comes from thermal power stations, which are mainly fueled by natural gas.

REDUCING EMISSIONS
According to Egypt’s latest national report to the United Nations, issued in May, it produced 193 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2000 – a figure forecast to increase by about five percent annually.

The electricity ministry says it hopes to scale up its wind energy capacity to around 7,200 MW by 2020, thereby reducing carbon emissions by about 17 million tonnes per year from what they would have been otherwise.

According to Egypt’s New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA), wind power saved the country around half a million tonnes of carbon emissions in 2008-2009.

The government plans to build more wind farms on the east and west banks of the Nile River, some with private investment, possibly from Japanese companies.

Cairo is also looking at developing other renewables such as solar. It is setting up a solar-thermal power plant in the Kuraymat area, south of the capital Cairo, which will start operating at the end of this year.

The project is financed by a $50 million grant from the Global Environmental Facility, an international funding body. Egypt applied for the funds through the World Bank.

EXPENSIVE ENERGY?
But the cost of building wind and solar power stations – higher than for hydro or thermal plants – remains a major obstacle to renewable energy schemes. So far, Egypt’s wind farms have been made possible through soft loans from various countries.

“Thermal-powered stations that use liquid or natural gas as fuels can operate up to 90 percent of the time, whereas wind farms work between 35 and 45 percent (of the time) throughout the year, and depend on the availability of wind, its speed and continuity,” said the World Bank’s Hallouda.

“That’s why many countries seek more thermal-powered stations than wind or solar, especially developing countries – including Egypt – where the electricity bills comprise a huge percent of (people’s) monthly income,” he added.

Hallouda said an effective way to make wind and solar energy cheaper is to build more green power plants, bringing down construction costs.

(Source: Reuters AlertNet)