The largest solar power project in the world will go online next year in the Egyptian desert, in a reversal for a nation that has long depended on cheap, subsidized fossil fuels, according to the LA Times. Egypt’s government is aiming to get 42 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025, and is now cutting back on fossil fuel subsidies in accordance with an International Monetary Fund program working to build up the country’s economy in the wake of political turmoil. The Benban solar farm is at the heart of these efforts.
According to Wood Mackenzie solar analyst Benjamin Attia:
“This is a big deal. I can’t think of another example where so many big players have come together to fill the gap.”
Currently, 90 percent of Egypt’s power comes from oil and natural gas, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. As the government follows through on cutting subsidies, the price of electricity has risen. On July 1st, electricity prices rose 26 percent on average.
In addition, the World Health Organization recently called Cairo the second-most polluted city on Earth. Renewables are now seen as a way to reduce this pollution and create jobs in an economy that has yet to recover from political instability. And with costs for solar and wind equipment on the decline, it seems that the time is ripe for clean energy in Egypt.
A large expansion of wind farms along the Gulf of Suez are also planned, as well as a large nuclear project on the north coast, funded by Russia.
The new solar park will include 30 separate solar plants, which together will be able to generate up to 1.8 gigawatts of electricity, capable of supplying power to hundreds of thousands of businesses and residences. It will be run by several international energy companies, and will employ 4,000 workers. A US-funded local program is training workers in renewable energy production
In addition to large-scale projects such as Benban, a wave of renewable energy startups are helping to fuel this push. A Central Bank low-interest loan program, started in 2016, is helping to fund entrepreneurs aiming to start eco-friendly projects. Smaller start-ups are working on everything from green architecture projects to solar-powered water pumps, and aiming to install solar panels on apartment buildings in urban areas, where most Egyptians live.
After the 2011 revolution, Egyptians faced a power crisis including rolling blackouts, and shuttered factories and shops. Though the blackouts have stopped, the former gas exporter is now forced to important costly, liquefied natural gas. Energy demands in Egypt are expected to double by 2030. Renewables could solve these problems in the short term, while also offering a sustainable path forward in the long run.