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Thursday, 21 March 2019

Benban solar park brings optimism, but Egypt has a way to go to reach its renewable energy goals

Egypt’s 1.8 GW Benban solar power park will soon become “a source of renewal as vital as the [Nile] river,” says the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Construction of the 37 sqkm park, in which the EBRD has invested USD 500 mn, could mark the beginning of an industrial-scale shift towards renewable energy. The park also has more far-reaching positive effects, including supplying 600 mn people in Africa with power, creating jobs locally, and diversifying energy supplies at a time when concern about the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is high.

But for all this optimism, market penetration is relatively low: Egypt set a goal to produce 20% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2022, within the framework of its 2030 strategy. Aside from hydroelectric power which produces 5% of the nation’s electricity, renewable sources only provide 1-2%. “For now, Egypt’s main barrier to hitting even that first target is the need for more investment and building,” the EBRD states. According to Cairo-based EBRD banker Ahmed Mortada, Egypt essentially has to build “five more Benbans in five years,” which is not impossible but requires some serious structural changes. The key to attracting more investment is to lower costs: cheaper batteries and introducing a framework for more competitive bidding could be solutions.

This comes as the World Bank announced Benban as its pick for an annual award that recognizes top projects it has been involved in, according to an Investment Ministry statement (pdf). The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation has so far extended USD 653 mn in funding for Benban.

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