Is Solar Energy the Future of North Africa? 

Written by William Lucht – September 12, 2022

As climate change continues to affect our planet in multipolar ways, many governments have taken steps to achieve net neutral carbon emission or have started transitioning into renewable energy. While oil rich Middle Eastern states have enjoyed powerful influence in the energy sector, some up and comers like Egypt may be moving into a comfortable position in renewable energy, that is, if they manage to make meaningful strides in their solar industry. 

The Egyptian sun beats down on the sand virtually cloud free year-round, making region ideal for solar energy. The International Energy Agency (IEA) concluded that Egypt may be one of the world’s most fertile regions for solar energy. Some private industry investment firms seem to concur. The Benban Solar Park is one example where investment has come to match the intrigue of being on the precipice of a new prosperous venture. Benban is one of the world’s largest solar parks stretching approximately 650 km (400 miles) south of Cairo.

While there is the possibility of Egypt being on the forefront of a lucrative and beneficial market, Egypt faces obstacles they must remedy before they can move in any meaningful direction. The state has attempted to issue generous incentives for rooftop solar panel use with little success. The feed-in tariff is one example which would pay back to those who held energy surpluses. Regardless of attempted incentives, energy consumption still, for pragmatic and financial reasons, are non-renewables in the form of hydrocarbons. Egypt set high aspirations for transitioning into renewables in 2016 stating they wished for 20% of energy to come from solar and wind. The goal is far from being achieved as only 12% of renewable energy comes from hydro and a meager 3% comes from solar.

Egypt has struggled to balance its desire to move to a lucrative renewable venture with its widening population in need on energy today. According to the IEA, Egypt’s energy consumption has increased threefold in the last twenty years with a paralleled threefold increase in natural gas while there is currently very little increase in solar-power capabilities.

It is unclear whether Egypt will have the right social and political conditions to achieve its aspirations in this sector. Affordability for solar panels which hold enough charge at a large enough capacity to sustain the needs of families remains vastly overpriced for commercial use. Regardless of incentives, the hurdle of cost coupled with the immediate need for energy today, which Egypt can capitalize on with higher oil prices, creates a serious challenge to moving into this new era of sustainable energy. It would benefit the country and the region to make the transition a priority. High hopes, though, must be met with a realistic path of trajectory and a complex mix of luck and robust thriving infrastructural, social, and political conditions.   

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