“Saved by the Sun”, a 56-minute documentary, was screened Saturday afternoon at Cairo University’s Faculty of Agriculture Department. The screening was part of the Wadi Environmental Science Center’s (WESC) film series leading up to the World Environment Day 2011. Celebrations will take place on 4 June in Al-Azhar park.
The screening was followed by a panel discussion, headed by three energy and environment experts, to shed light on Egypt’s severe energy problems, as well as to reveal how solar energy could tremendously benefit the country if seriously considered.
By speaking to solar energy enthusiasts around the globe, and by looking at government initiatives in favor of incorporating solar energy into its infrastructure, “Saved by the Sun” shows how with political cooperation, solar energy is actually a much more versatile and interesting solution than merely providing basic energy to solar panel owners.
Installing a large solar panel can reduce electricity bills to zero. In addition, excess energy produced can be pumped into the communal grid and sold back to the state, resulting in more energy for the country and personal profit. This process is known as Net Metering.
Large solar panels are extremely expensive, and this is the main deterrent for most people looking into it. But with the help of government initiatives, this service is becoming more accessible to people and communities of lesser means.
In 14 US states, incentives cover half the cost of a solar panel installation, vastly improving its accessibility. This means that families throughout the US are now taking part, which would have been unachievable without government cooperation.
In Germany, the government offers fixed rate cash incentives to any producer of solar power willing to give energy to the communal grid. This allows people to take large bank loans in order to install solar panels, because the government cash guarantee marks the investment as extremely low risk. Thus any open space can be used as a personal power plant, the cost of which will be paid off by the government, and which will eventually provide large revenue for the owner.
Heinrich Gartner, a German farmer with a large property, was able to borrow US$5 million from the bank in order to install 10,000 solar panels, which supply power to 1,500 nearby homes. The government cash guarantee provided him with approximately US$500,000 a year, allowing him to pay back the loan in under 20 years. After that the remaining 20 years of the solar panels’ life would be pure, self-generated income.
With simple initiatives, Germany’s National Renewable Energy Act allowed a farmer to become a potentially wealthy, electrical power producer.
Despite the possibility of such incentives, most global energy policies still encourage non-renewable energy sources, such as coal and fossil fuels, which are not only unsustainable but also extremely dangerous to the environment, exacerbating the global climate crisis and even resulting in nuclear crises such as in Chernobyl, or more recently, Japan.
According to the late Hermann Scheer, who was president of Eurosolar and general chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy, “solar energy is not only sustainable, but it is the best alternative we have to fossil fuels.”
“Fossil fuels create increasing economic problems for all,” said Scheer. “They create political and military conflicts and environmental damage. And that means our children subsidize our energy, and for this subsidy we destroy the environment – this is a contradiction which cannot be continued anymore.”
Following the screening, the panel discussion with Ahmed Zahran from TriOcean, Mohamed El Hamamsy from Desertec and Amr Abd El Mohsin from the Lotus Company used the key points developed in the documentary to show how Egypt could benefit from a transition to solar power.
“The Nile is surrounded by hot deserts and farms owned both privately and by the government,” said Hamamsy. “If similar initiatives to the German Renewable Energy Act were put forward and taken seriously here in Egypt, not only would we be able to solve our extremely severe energy crisis, but economically the country would also vastly improve. We would also be able to trade the excess energy to other countries,” he says.
According to the speakers, Egypt's mass energy crisis resulted in temporary blackouts throughout Cairo last summer. Worse, the Ministry of Electricity has a practice of switching off the power to outer governorates completely for extended periods of time in order to accommodate the increasing demand for energy.
“The Egyptian government is not being transparent about its major problem,” said Zahran. “There’s a huge, growing, lower social class of electrical power consumers that causes the actual energy crisis. Previously the government turned away from this issue, but in light of the recent revolution, we must now demand serious attention and get the message out.”
According to Abd El Mohsin, a solar power plant has already been constructed in Kuraimat, 90km south of Cairo, but it is estimated to only produce 140 megawatt hours – which is about 10 percent of Gartner’s installation. “The lack of government initiatives has merely allowed pilot projects to be created which actually divert attention away from solar energy’s full potential,” he said. “We need to put immense pressure on the government to create wider scale initiatives in order to allow for fully functioning developments."