RECORD-BREAKING: Egypt’s $2bn world’s largest 1.6 gigawatt solar park to operate at full capacity in 2019

The Egyptian government has said it expects the 1.6 gigawatt solar park it is building in the south of the country to operate at full capacity in 2019.

The country’s investment ministry disclosing this in a recent statement said the $2 billion project, set to be the world’s largest solar installation, was partly funded by the World Bank.

Government said the World Bank invested $653 million in the project through the International Finance Corporation.

Egypt’s investment ministry said some parts of the park are already operating on a small scale, while other areas are still undergoing testing.

According to government’s projection, Egypt aims to meet 20 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2022 and up to 40 per cent by 2035.

In Egypt, renewable energy currently covers only about 3 percent of the country’s needs.

“Egypt’s energy sector reforms have opened a wider door for private sector investments,” World Bank President David Malpass said during his recent visit to the site alongside Egypt’s Investment Minister Sahar Nasr.

Egypt is on a drive to lure back investors who fled following the 2011 uprising with a slew of economic reforms and incentives the government hopes will draw fresh capital and kickstart growth.

Most of the foreign direct investment Egypt attracts goes towards its energy sector.

Located at the Western Desert, some 650 km south of Cairo, the Egypt’s most ambitious solar energy projects, the Benban Solar Park is expected to produce enough electricity to power one million homes.

But more than that, it is part of a whole Egypt’s new strategy for infrastructure projects that will see the Egyptian government start to work closely with private enterprise.

By the time it goes live in 2019, at which point it will house 32 power stations across a 37km2 site, and will be capable of generating 1,650 megawatts of electricity. This will go a long way toward Egypt hitting its goal of having 20 per cent of its energy needs met by renewables.

But the effect it will have on the economic fabric and policy-making strategies of the country are equally significant, as Egypt is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and almost all the country’s power facilities have been built and owned by the government.

The government also runs a series of costly fuel subsidy schemes, which add up to more than it spends on education, health care, and social welfare combined.

The Benban project, however, is being created by a consortium of 13 private enterprises working in conjunction with the Egyptian public sector, a World Economic Forum report said.

 Global solar generation capacity has grown rapidly for seven years in a row.
Global solar generation capacity has grown rapidly for seven years in a row.
Image: IRENA

According to Egypt’s Minister of Investment and International Cooperation, Dr Sahar Nasr: “Egypt is moving forward with a very bold and ambitious economic reform program. One key pillar is promoting private sector participation.”

According to him, “What really matters about this project is how it will help bring quality services to lagging regions.”

The World Bank has been one of the ongoing supporters of reforms to the Egyptian energy sector. It provided a $3 billion loan to help with that undertaking, as well as provide the framework and financing for the Benban project.

Its International Finance Corporation (IFC) division, along with a consortium of other lenders, pledged $653 million and the Multilateral Investment and Guarantee Agency (MIGA), another part of the World Bank Group, is providing $210 million worth of “political risk insurance” to private lenders and investors.

Interest in renewable energy is on the rise, with a number of very large solar parks either under construction or recently completed.

Due to go live in 2023, the Ladakh solar farm in India is expected to produce 3,000 megawatts of electricity, which will make it the largest in the world in power generation terms. And at Yarrabee Park in the Australian state of New South Wales, plans have recently been rubber-stamped on the construction of a solar power project that will generate around 900 megawatts of electricity.

Dubai is building what it claims will be the largest single-site solar power facility in the world. The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park will have a planned capacity of 1,000 megawatts by 2020, and 5,000 megawatts by 2030. And within the next year, the $9 billion Noor complex in the Moroccan desert is expected to generate 580 megawatts – enough electricity to power over a million homes.

Despite its undeniably sunny climate, solar isn’t the only renewable energy Egypt is investing in – it plans huge wind farms on the Red Sea and Gulf of Suez. And by 2026 it also hopes to have a new nuclear power plant operational. The 4,800 megawatt (MW) capacity plant at Dabaa is being built and financed by Russia.

An author, Martha Maeda, who wrote, “How To Solar Power Your Home Everything You Need To Know Explained Simply,” had contended that: “Every 24 hours, enough sunlight touches the Earth to provide the energy for the entire planet for 24 years.”

Although the jury is still out on the mathematics related to her statement, it is nonetheless true that solar energy is one of the greatest sources of renewable energy, especially for a sunny-all-round, both in terms of whether and people, country like Egypt.

As Egypt launched its solar energy project, the Benban Solar Park in 2018 to bid the year goodbye, Egypt Today presented a report on the largest solar power park in the world, which has seen its first (out of a total 32) stations open this year.

Infinity station was 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
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.

NEXTracker, Inc.@NEXTracker

A promising emerging market for 2017 global share leader NEXTracker is North Africa and the greater region with our 325 MW project within the Benban solar park, the largest planned solar installation in the world: https://hubs.ly/H0b3XrB0  @_sterlingwilson

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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
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.”

In Brief:

– 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.

NEXTracker, Inc.@NEXTracker

Egypt is increasingly turning to the sun for power as has become competitive w/traditional generation. NEXTracker announced that it will supply 325MW of trackers to the 1.6 GW Benban park: https://hubs.ly/H09HWqW0  @_sterlingwilson

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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
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 pannels, one of the pannels in Benban solar park - Egypt Today
“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.”

And with this, we leave you with one of the most influential quotes on the importance of Solar Power: “All energy is ultimately derived for the sun and harvesting it directly through solar power seems to be the best way to transition to renewable energy,” wrote Peter Rive in a October 2, 2015, article, published in “Time”, titled, “SolarCity Unveils World’s Most Efficient Panel.”

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