Egyptian government divided on renewable energy policy

26 October 2010

Minister and chief executive of state firm differ on country’s priorities

Two Egyptian government institutions disagree how the country should pursue its 2020 renewable energy targets.

“Wind has much more promising potential [in Egypt] in the medium-term. In the long-term this might be different – it could depend on technology [developments]. The economic cost of wind is much better than that of solar power,” says Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Minister of Trade & Industry.

Mohamed Hosny, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the government-owned Upper Egypt-Red Sea for Investment & Development, says concentrated solar power (CSP) offers the greatest potential for Egypt. “The government is too wind and aqua-orientated” he says.

Egypt is committed to building up its renewable energy sector and has set itself a target of 20 per cent of its energy needs to be generated through renewable means by 2020. It has already installed several wind and solar projects.

The country has one large CSP project at Kuraymat. Construction has recently been completed and start-up of the facility is scheduled for December. As the country’s first CSP project, Kuraymat is a landmark facility, but as the project uses the same technology as that deployed in Europe, it came at a price.

“Kuraymat cost 10 times what it should have,” says Hosny. Egypt should consider ways to adapt the technology to suit the country’s physical landscape, natural conditions and economic circumstances. he adds.

“Egypt has a lot of land, which is unsuitable for agriculture and unlike Europe where land is expensive, land in [remote parts of] Egypt is cheap”, says Hosny. This means that while developers in Europe aim to build highly efficient projects on as small a footprint as possible and accept large costs as a result, Egypt’s strategy should be different.

CSP projects in Spain and Germany use large concave mirrors made from continuous pieces of metal. Special machinery is needed to ensure that the curve is at the correct angle. The projects are also fitted with tracking devices so that the mirrors move according to the position of the sun.

Egypt does not have the industrial capabilities to produce smooth concave mirrors and tracking devices and must therefore import them at significant cost. Egypt is able to manufacture flat metal plates that can be joined to make less-smooth concave troughs. Doing so would support local industry as well as provide cheaper parts to solar power developers.

Upper Egypt-Red Sea for Investment and Development recently signed an agreement with a Kuwaiti-Egyptian joint venture Tri-Ocean for a feasibility study to assess the potential for CSP projects in the region. Its report is expected by the end of the year.

The greatest challenge to CSP projects in Egypt is likely to be the annual sandstorms that hit the country for around 50 days every March. The Kuraymat plant is surrounded by a wall of breeze blocks to limit the erosion damage. As the project was constructed after the last sandstorm, the design will not be tested until March 2011.

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