Egypt moves from electricity deficit to sufficiency

Sunday 19/03/2017
Securing needs. A power station of the Cairo Electricity Distribution Company. (Reuters)

Cairo - The opening of three ma­jor power plants in March was the latest in Egypt’s efforts to end its electric­ity shortage crisis.

“Huge work is being done in this country to end the problem,” said Gamal al-Qaluibi, a power engi­neering professor at Cairo Universi­ty. “In less than two years, the gov­ernment managed to end electrical power shortages and even pave the road for surpluses.”

When they are operating fully in 2018 as expected, the three electri­cal power plants, one in the central province of Beni Suef and the oth­ers in the new capital being built on the outskirts of Cairo, will produce 14,000 megawatts (MW) of electric­ity every year.

In 2013, Egypt produced 24,000 MW but 29,000 MW were needed to bring light to all households, make factory machines run, power equipment at hospitals and bring energy to farmland.

The government was actively asking the public to economise on electricity consumption, turn off air conditioning and do without half of the light bulbs at home. However, consumption rationalisa­tion did not reduce daily outages, which sometimes brought hospital equipment to a standstill.

Instead of addressing the prob­lem, then-president Muhammad Morsi blamed his opponents for deliberately cutting electricity to anger the public.

When Abdel Fattah al-Sisi became president in mid-2014, he learnt the lesson from Morsi’s failure to deal with the crisis. Sisi’s plan to prevent the outages included the construc­tion of eight massive power plants.

The three power plants that opened in March were designed and constructed by the German electronics manufacturing giant Siemens at the cost of $6.4 billion. Each of the plants will produce 4,800 MW of electricity annually at peak operations.

The plants are only a small item on Sisi’s plan to achieve electricity sufficiency in Egypt, the Electricity Ministry said.

“Our plan includes a diversifica­tion of electricity sources,” said Ayman Hamza, spokesman for the Electricity Ministry. “The plan aims to end electricity outages for good and secure needs for many years to come.”

Sisi’s plan to end the outages in­cludes exploitation of renewable energies. The government actively encouraged the private sector to establish its own solar and wind farms. It installed huge solar panels on the roofs of hundreds of gov­ernment buildings and encourages Egyptians to create solar power plants on their home roofs. Some Egyptians sell electricity produced by their solar panels to the national grid.

Egypt is expected to sign a con­tract at the end of April for a nu­clear power plant, which will be built in north-western Egypt by a Russian company. The plant, which will include four nuclear reactors, each producing 1,200 MW of elec­tricity by completion in 2022, will cost $30 billion.

An electricity interconnectivity project is due to be completed be­tween Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 2019.

All these measures mean one thing: Electricity outages will be­come a thing of the past, Hamza said.

“A power cuts-free summer will start in our country in a matter of few weeks from now for the first time in almost a decade,” he said.

Abundant electricity production, economists said, will help Egypt at­tract international investment.

Energy experts said, however, the electricity sufficiency should not blind Egyptians to the fact that fossil fuels are finite, which means that Egypt should increase its de­pendency on renewable energy.

Renewable energy contributes only 3% of total electrical power generated in Egypt now. The coun­try has hopes to raise that figure to 20% by 2022.

“According to specialised studies, fossil fuels will start running out a short time from now,” said Youssri Abu Shadi, an energy expert and a former International Atomic Ener­gy Agency inspector. “This means that dependence on renewable en­ergies is not optional for a country like Egypt.”