The first solar thermal power station in Egypt was built in 1913. It was built on the outskirts of Cairo by Frank Shuman, an inventor from Philadelphia. Shuman harnessed the abundant sunshine in Egypt to pump 6,000 gallons of water from the Nile to a cotton field. However, the Egyptian government recently resurrected that project as $2.8 billion Benban solar park.
Expected to open sometime in 2019, the solar park is in Egypt’s Western Desert, 400 miles south of Cairo. This ambitious project will generate 1,650 megawatts of electricity and house 32 power stations spanning 37 km2 site. Environmentalists say the Benban solar park will put Egypt on the renewable energy map. It will also help Egypt achieve its goal of 20% renewable energy.
Egypt currently gets about 90% of its energy from fossil fuels and the government owns all the power facilities. However, the Benban solar park is a joint partnership of 13 private enterprises collaborating with the public sector. Consequently, this project will open a new partnership between the Egyptian government and private enterprises.
Expected Impact of Benban Solar Park
In the last seven years, the country’s solar capacity has grown progressively. When fully operational, the solar park will provide enough to power one million homes. The current fossil-powered solar plants cost the government millions of dollars in the form of fuel subsidies. Critics say these subsidies are more than what the government spends on social welfare, healthcare, and education combined. The completion of this solar park will also lead to long-term economic reforms. Reacting to the economic impact of the program, the Minister of Investment and International Cooperation, Dr. Sahar Nasr said,
“Egypt is moving forward with a very bold and ambitious economic reform program. One key pillar is promoting private sector participation. And what really matters about this project is how it will help bring quality services to lagging regions.”
The Benban solar park project is also helping to tackle poverty through job creation. The site has over 10,000 employees. On completion, the park will also employ 4,000 people. One of the employees at the solar park is engineer Mohamed Emara. The father of two said the Benban project has improved local economies. Emara said,
“Many of the people on this site never had steady employment before they joined. They were day laborers. But now, they are being trained and learning skills that will help them find work on other projects.”
Support for the renewable energy project
Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company’s head of private sector power, Lamya Youssef mentioned that the enormous size of the project makes it difficult for the government to pull it off alone. The need for a partnership was inevitable.
“Because of the enormous increase in population, we need large investments in infrastructure, which the government cannot afford on its own. That’s why we need private sector investments.”
One of the ongoing supporters of the Benban power project is the World Bank. Consequently, it provided $3 billion to facilitate this project as well as providing financing and framework for the project. World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) in collaboration with other lenders has pledged $653 million. However, another part of World Bank Group, the Multilateral Investment and Guarantee Agency (MIGA) is providing ‘political risk insurance’ to the ton of $210 million for private lenders.
Innovative renewable energy drive around the world
The interest in renewable energy is on the rise across the globe. However, this is not unconnected to the debilitating effect of climate change. The burning of fossil fuels is increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Some of the solar parks around the world under construction or recently completed include;