In 1912 Egypt built the first commercial solar power plant in the world. At a time when Egypt was the largest producer of cotton in the world, American inventor and entrepreneur Frank Shuman engineered, raised financing for, and built a solar power plant in Maadi that pumped 6,000 gallons of Nile river water per minute to irrigate the cotton fields. (1)
In 2006 Egypt spent about $10.8 billion a year subsidizing oil & gas products, according to the International Energy Agency.(2) Each Egyptian is thus writing a $135 yearly check to subsidize its fossil fuel insustry. In a country where 19.6% of the population lives on less than $1 per day (3) and the average family spends 40% of their income buying food (4) this is an unsustainable policy.
In my book “Solar Trillions” and in a blog piece I published last year, I wrote about how Egypt can transcend its chronic poverty and become an energy world power. (5) To summarize: if Egypt were to build solar power plants in an area similar to the Aswan hydro-electric dam it would produce the energy equivalent of all of the Middle East oil exporters combined.
It would take far less to generate Egypt’s power needs using solar. In 2008 Egypt produced 132 billion kWh, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA). It would take an area of less than 8% of the Aswan hydro plant (which has just 2GW capacity) to produce all that energy with solar power plants following the assumptions of a major study by the German Aerospace Center – DLR.(6) Furthermore, the cost of producing that solar power is rapidly falling. According to the German Aerospace Center report the cost of solar is expected to fall to the equivalent of oil at $20 per barrel by 2020 and to $15 per barrel beyond that point.(7) Remember that oil prices hit $147 in 2008 and is hovering around $90 per barrel now.
So Egypt could produce solar power for the equivalent of $20 per barrel (or less) for its own power needs and sell its natural gas and oil on the international markets for the equivalent of $90 per barrel (or more).
Instead of a negative cash flow of $10.8 billion per year to keep its economy hooked on subsidized fossil fuels, Egypt could produce a positive cash flow many times larger.
Take those energy profits and invest them in the infrastructure to power the Egyptian economy out of its doldrums; create clean energy jobs and sustainable wealth for its population; deliver education, health care, food, and water to the Egyptian people.
Egypt is blessed with abundant sunshine that can help deliver clean power and wealth to its people. A century after it built the first solar power plant in the world Egypt could go back to its solar roots to power its future.
(1) “Solar Trillions – 7 Market and Investment Opportunities in the Emerging Clean-Energy Economy”, Tony Seba, January 2010, Amazon.com
(2) An Analysis of the Scope of Energy Subsidies and Suggestions for the G-20 Initiative”, IEA, OPEC, OECD, WORLD BANK JOINT REPORT, June16, 2010
(3) World Food Program, Egypt, http://www.wfp.org/countries/egypt
(4) Credit Suisse Emerging Consumer Survey 2011: https://www.credit-suisse.com/news/doc/media_releases/consumer_survey_0701_small.pdf
(5) “Can Egypt Join the Ranks of the Energy World Powers?” http://tonyseba.com/desert-power/can-egypt-join-the-ranks-of-energy-world-powers/
(6) Assumptions: solar-to-power efficiency = 11% and DNI =2,400 kWh/m2/year
(7) Franz Trieb et al, “AQUA-CSP – Concentrating Solar Power for Water Desalination,” Final Report, German Aerospace Center, DLR, Institute of Technical Thermodynamics, Stuttgart, Germany, November 2007