Experts disagree on how to confront Egypt's pressing energy needs

Deena Douara
5 Min Read

With gas and oil running out, alternative energy has to figure into Egypt’s agenda

CAIRO: Experts agree that oil and gas in Egypt are set to expire in approximately 30 years. Those same experts agree on little else regarding Egypt s energy woes and solutions, however.

The Economic and Business History Research Center hosted a panel discussion entitled The Politics of Energy: Oil, Gas, and the Nuclear Question, at the American University in Cairo Wednesday night.

Most of those present, including scholars and experts in the field, agreed that nuclear energy was necessary and a long-awaited symbol of Egyptian pride.

Panelist Dr Mahmoud Barakat, former director-general of the Arab Atomic Energy Agency, expressed his frustration at Egypt s repeated stalling of the nuclear energy plan. We would have been fourth in the world to have nuclear energy.

[Nuclear energy] is better, cheaper; it s the best source of alternative energy, he said.

Not all the praise for nuclear power was limited to electricity, he also pointed to medical and agricultural benefits, which are in fact already available through Egypt s plants in Inshas.

Further debate centered on Egypt s exportation of oil and gas. Panelist Ahmed Al-Naggar, economist at Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, said, Exporting oil is a grave and serious error for a country with limited resources.

In contrast to German Development Bank visitors to Egypt, who believed that local consumption of oil and gas were a great waste of a potential source of revenue for the country, most attendees agreed with Al-Naggar s sentiments, especially regarding crude oil.

Al-Naggar also criticized the backwardness of the government in needing foreign companies to drill for oil and gas, who then take a 25-40 percent cut of their findings. Egypt pays the cost of its backwardness.

Questions raised about why alternative energy sources were not receiving adequate attention, however, failed to be thoroughly answered.

Barakat focused significantly more on why solar energy was unrealistic than on wind energy, suggesting that solar energy was prohibitively expensive, and has its own set of environmental concerns.

In Saudi they paid $30 million for a solar energy station to light 15 houses in a small village, he claimed, adding that the best use for solar energy was in isolated areas.

Attendee Dr Adel Beshai, impressed with Germany s use of alternative energy, added that solar energy would not be as expensive in the future.

Another attendee pointed out that not all solar power need be converted into electricity, citing Israel s use of solar power to heat water.

As for the great potential of wind power with Egypt being one of the best sites in the world for wind energy, Barakat retorted, If the wind stops, or changes direction, the blades will stop, adding that the idea of building an accumulator has not yet been proven pragmatically.

Finally, Al-Naggar stated that hydropower in Egypt had been exhausted and is no longer an option.

Also discussed were the possibilities of using sugarcane for biofuel, as well as biomass on farms.

Controversy also centered around Egypt s 15-year deal with Israel, in which the latter receives natural gas at fixed prices currently less than half world market prices.

The Egyptian government is subsidizing Israel more than its subsidizing Egypt, said Barakat.

Barakat also responded to the debate over subsidies. While some attendees proposed that Egypt force citizens to conserve energy by amending their generous gas, oil, and water subsidies, as Germany has, Barakat vehemently disagreed, saying that incomes would have to be raised first. It won t curb consumption, he said. People are drumming up lifting of subsidies without knowing all the ramifications. The other argument made against lifting subsidies was that it would affect value-added industries.

He did agree though that behavior and consumption patterns needed to be addressed through better awareness.

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