Egypt tries Concentrating Solar Power
February 20, 2007 - Derek Sands -
CAIRO -- Egypt may soon harness the
same physics that a child uses to burn an ant with
a magnifying glass, to generate electricity from the
sun, a move that reflects the growth of Concentrating
Solar Power technology worldwide.
Plans to build a
150 megawatt (MW) combined solar- and gas-powered
electric plant near Cairo are part of a larger effort
by Egypt, and others in the region, to expand their
use of renewable energies, including solar, wind,
and nuclear power.
The Egyptian project, set to be
built in Kuraymat, 104 kilometers (65 miles) south
of Cairo, will use parabolic-trough Concentrating
Solar Power, a technology that has been used on a
limited scale for more than 20 years, but has recently
attracted attention in the Middle East because of
efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and due
to concerns over the future of petroleum supplies.
Worldwide consumption of renewable energy will almost
double by 2030, according to the Energy Information
Administration, the data arm of the US Department
The Middle East is set to see the most
dramatic change, with an average yearly increase in
its renewable electricity generation capacity of more
that 2.5 times the global average.
Although last year's
high-level endorsement of nuclear power attracted
headlines in Cairo and around the world, the Egyptian
government has been pursuing other renewable sources
of energy, most notably wind and solar. The Egyptian
New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA) hopes to
provide 3 percent of the country's electricity needs
through renewable sources by 2010.
planned for Kuraymat uses rows of parabolic-shaped
trough reflectors to focus sunlight onto a tube filled
with circulating liquid, which is heated as it moves
through a field of reflectors. The liquid, which will
reach temperatures of about 400 Celsius (752 Fahrenheit)
at Kuraymat, can then be used to power a steam turbine.
It is part of a larger family of solar technologies,
called Concentrating Solar Power, which use a number
of methods to generate electricity by concentrating
the suns rays. Traditional solar cells, or photovoltaics,
use sunlight to generate electricity directly. While
Concentrating Solar Power can direct sunlight onto
solar cells, it can also generate electricity through
an intermediate, such as heating water to drive steam
Concentrating Solar Power is now almost
exclusively being used in the US, but projects are
underway in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe,
and Latin America. Spain hopes to generate 500 MW
of electricity from Concentrating Solar Power by 2010,
and China is considering a 1000 MW plant that could
cost more than $2 billion.
The $200 million project
at Kuraymat, expected to be finished in 2009, will
produce about 150 MW of power, 45 percent of which
will be from solar parabolic troughs and steam turbines,
the rest coming from natural gas turbines, according
to the Egyptian NREA. Egypt had about 20 gigawatts
(GW) of installed electricity capacity in 2006, according
to the Egyptian government.
The solar project will
not only provide the necessary electricity, but will
also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 38,000 tons
per year, according to the NREA.
The power plant in
Egypt, and others like it, uses natural gas turbines
to supplement the solar-generated power, a method
that allows a consistent supply of power at night
and during bad weather.
Solar Power] with natural gas is common. There are
354 MW of parabolic-trough plants operating in California
since the late 1980s. All of these plants are hybridized
with natural gas. Solar provides 75 percent of the
energy input to the power plant and gas provides 25
percent," according to Gregory Kolb, an expert on
solar power for the US Department of Energy's Sandia
And because Egypt, as well
as much of the Middle East and North Africa, receives
many more days of sunlight than Europe and North America,
it is well suited for this type of power generation.
Morocco, Algeria, and Iran are all building or planning
parabolic-trough solar plants.
But North African countries
are not the only ones that may benefit from their
bounty of sunlight. Plans are under way that could
provide Europe with 700,000 GW-hours per year of electricity
from North Africa by 2050, through an interconnected
electric grid, according to the European Commission's
Directorate-General for Energy and Transportation.
While Concentrating Solar Power is a small portion
of world energy supply, it has immense potential.
A 2006 report by Greenpeace and the European Solar
Thermal Industry Association estimated that Concentrating
Solar Power will contribute 600,000 MW worldwide by
2040, and that it will meet 5 percent of world demand.
In fact, the US Department of Energy has estimated
that if 9 percent of the state of Nevada, an area
of about 10,000 square miles, was covered in parabolic-trough
solar plants, it could supply the electric power needs
for the entire US. "Concentrating Solar Power has
a very bright future," Kolb said.