Workers install a solar panel in Jiuquan, Gansu province, in this July 14, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/Files
CAIRO – 5 August 2018: Financial analysts and organizations across the globe have recently commended and praised Egypt for its move towards producing high levels of renewable energy and aiming to have 42 percent of its electricity supplied using solar panels.
Most recently, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former Democratic Party presidential nominee for the 2018 Presidential Election in the United States posted on his official Facebook profile, “While Trump is ending America's commitment to combatting climate change, Egypt is building the world's largest solar farm in the middle of the desert. This is the kind of revolutionary technology we should be taking advantage of to grow our economy and sustain our planet for future generations.”
Egypt has, according to officials, started on a path from the second-most polluted large city on the planet—Cairo—to an environment-friendly, solar-energy-producing country.
In similar vein, Benjamin Attia, a solar analyst with U.S.-based Wood Mackenzie, said, “This is a big deal. I can’t think of another example where so many big players have come together to fill the gap.” The gap he is refurring to in is the one that existed in Egypt in renewable energy.
Benban in brief
On March 13 2018, the world witnessed the inauguration of the first of 32 stations in the world’s largest solar power station in Egypt.
Infinity station is set to be the first station in the Benban solar park to start operating on March 13, 2018.
Engineer Mohamed Amara, Project Manager of Infinity Station at Benban solar park, Aswan, told Egypt Today that there are currently some 650 workers at the station, which has started operating December 2017. Amara pointed out that the technological system used in the production of energy works to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide.
Amara also explained that the advanced technology is set to ensure that the systems continuously follow the sun, meaning that the most amount of energy will be collected.
Amara further revealed that the company has agreed with the Ministry of Electricity to work on the plant and benefit from it for 25 years.
Inside Benban solar park - Egypt Today
The Benban solar park is set to generate the equivalent of 90 percent of the energy produced by Aswan’s High Dam. Already home to the most important electricity production plant in Egypt, Aswan is set to bear and implement Egypt’s dream of having 20 percent clean energy by 2022.
Benban solar park, named after a Nile River village close to the power plant, is set to be the largest solar plant in the world. The power plant will cover Egypt’s electricity needs and edge it forward on its path to becoming the region’s energy hub.
Benban, built in the eastern region of the Sahara Desert, is set to produce between 1.6 and 2.0 GW of solar power by mid-2019. Engineer Ahmad Fathy, Head of Projects Sector in Upper Egypt in the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company, told Egypt Today that after the effective launch of Infinity, work will start on Vas Station.
According to Fathy, the park is set to start working at its full capacity at the start of 2019.
As it stands, the project has received no incentives. Still, it has signed a 25-year contract with the state-owned Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company (EETC), who will buy its electivity at a rate of 7.8¢/kWh, pegged to the value of the U.S. dollar.
Currently, 29 projects have been financed at a total of $1.8 billion, producing almost 1.5 GW of solar power, on the 14.3-square-mile plot of land.
Built on an area that receives some of the best sunlight on the planet, Benban is arguably the second best spot for solar power plants, behind the Chilean desert highlands.
By producing a huge power plant, Egypt is set to reduce the costs of costly power lines, power substations and expensive hardware, which, in turn, is set to lower the cost of electricity.
Benban solar park - Egypt Today
According to the project’s original analysis, Benban 1.8 GW PV Solar Park, Egypt – Strategic Environmental & Social Assessment, released February 2016, “NREA (New and Renewable Energy Authority) has in turn divided the site into 41 separate but contiguous plots, which it is making available to developers/companies to implement individual projects (the Benban Projects). … Once constructed, Benban will be the world’s largest solar PV park, at an estimated total cost of between $3.5 and $4 billion.”
The report continues, “The 41 projects on the Benban site will be connected to the Egyptian high-voltage network through four new substations, which will be constructed on the site by EETC. These substations will in turn connect to an existing 220 kV line, which passes nearby the Benban site at a distance of approximately 12 km. At a later stage, EETC may also construct an additional connection to the neighboring 500 kV line. EETC will construct the high-voltage connections. NREA has prepared site access roads and on-site roads for the Benban project area.”
- 41 Solar photovoltaic plants; total installed capacity 1.8 GW.
- Related infrastructure including roads, administrative buildings and four high voltage substations.
- A high voltage interconnection.
- Sharing costs, reducing overall price of electricity for government and citizens.
The project’s analysis also looks into the environment, employment, local villages nearby and the effect of the project on them, water supply and usage, and many other factors, concluding that the power plant will have an overall effect on the aforementioned topics.
According to the report, Egypt is expected to generate 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2022.
“The potential is endless,” says Lamya Youssef, head of the EETC, adding, “Because of the enormous increase in (Egypt’s) population, we need large investments in infrastructure, which the government cannot afford on its own. That’s why we need private sector investments.” For Youssef, Egypt can easily generate the 20 percent by 2022.
In July, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) approved $660 million in funding to 13 feed-in tariff (FiT) projects in Benban, near Aswan, according to a statement from the Ministry of International Cooperation. These projects are worth a total of $730 million and have a total capacity of 500 MW.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is also expected to finance a total of 16 solar projects in Egypt at a total capacity of 750 MW. It pledged $500 million in funding framework for the FiT project.
More than 325 MW of Benban is designed to use NEXTracker’s single axis trackers and 64 MW of single axis trackers will be deployed by German Group Mounting Systems GmbH.
Inside the control room inside Benban 1 - Egypt Today
The Benban plant has managed to jump-start economic growth, especially in the region where the project is being built.
With unemployment levels particularly high in that region, the Benban project has led to a decrease in unemployment by opening up the opportunity for more than 10,000 people to work in the construction site. Engineer Ahmed Hany, a researcher specialized in the solar energy sector in the Renewable Energy Authority, under the authority of the Ministry of Electricity, told Egypt Today that some 10,000 to 12,000 workers are present and working on a daily basis in the power plant.
After the project’s completion, the operating park is set to employ some 4,000 people, many of whom will be from this region.
Thus, not only will the plant lead to cheaper electricity and help Egypt on its path to becoming the regional energy hub, it will also lead to economic prosperity and the decline in unemployment rates.
The Benban project is also building confidence in Egypt, with Sunil Kulkarni, chief executive officer of Shapoorji Pallonji, an Indian company specializing in renewable energy that is building one of the plants, calling the project “revolutionary”.
Kulkarni explained, “In many emerging markets, there is always a question about whether a project will go through, but the way (this project) was carried out gave us confidence. Our experience so far has been very good.”
"Infinity" solar power panels, one of the panels in Benban solar park - Egypt Today
In terms of development, the project will also decrease Egypt’s carbon footprint by decreasing the levels of carbon dioxide emission. According to the IFC, the project is “expected to avoid 2 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, the equivalent of taking about 400,000 cars off the road.”
Mouayed Makhlouf, IFC director for the Middle East and North Africa, said, “This project will help Egypt tap into its massive potential for solar energy and scale back its use of expensive and polluting fossil fuels. That’s especially important with the specter of climate change looming.”