Analysis: Egypt embraces wind power

By DEREK SANDS, UPI Energy Correspondent  |  Nov. 6, 2006 at 9:43 AM
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CAIRO, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- As part of an international trend toward increased reliance on wind power, Egypt is developing wind farms along the Red Sea, though there is little likelihood it will push aside fossil fuels to be a significant source of energy in the near future, experts told United Press International.

While Egypt's recent decision to embrace nuclear power has captured much of the world's attention, the country's small supply of petroleum has long forced it to embrace alternative sources of energy.

The Nile River, home to the Aswan High Dam, has provided hydroelectric power since 1970. While it has historically supplied a large share of the country's needs, dramatically increasing demand has meant the dam now provides only about 15 percent of the nation's electricity, with natural gas providing almost all of the other 85 percent.

Now, like many other countries around the world, Egypt is turning to wind power to supplement its gas and hydroelectric power.

A study of the world potential for wind power published in 2005 found that since 1999 it was the "fastest growing renewable energy technology." The study, by Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson at Stanford University, said while it was also the fastest-growing source of electricity, wind was still responsible for only half a percent of the world's supply.

At the end of 2005, almost 60,000 megawatts of electricity were available from wind power around the world, according to the World Wind Energy Association, an international wind energy advisory and advocacy group.

The European Union, in particular, has shown remarkable growth. In 2000, the EU set a goal of expanding its capacity for wind energy to 40,000 megawatts by 2010, but it now predicts that Europe will reach 72,000 megawatts by that year.

Although the WWEA and the EU paint a rosy picture of wind power, its rise in other parts of the world could be more sluggish.

"Wind will have a noticeable, but probably not dominant, position in energy production markets in the coming few decades. There are a number of reasons for this, including resource availability, capital costs and environmental concerns," said James Winebrake, chair of Science and Technology Policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

In Egypt, wind energy accounted for only 140 megawatts, or less than 1 percent of the country's total electricity supplies of 17 gigawatts in 2004, but it is attracting investment from around the globe to reach its goal of 850 megawatts by 2010.

The Zafarana wind farm is being built in stages by companies from Germany, Denmark, Spain and Japan, according to the Egyptian New and Renewable Energy Authority. It sits on a 31 square mile tract of land along the Red Sea coast, about 120 miles south of Cairo, and will likely be expanded to cover 56 square miles.

The government plans to develop another 270 square mile area in nearby Gabal el Zeit, which it estimates could provide another 3,000 megawatts, according to the NREA.

While wind power shows potential in Egypt, it may not translate to success in other Middle Eastern countries.

"Although desert areas in the Middle East provide economic opportunities for wind power generation, these areas are often remote from urban centers where power is needed. The added expense of running and maintaining grid connections in such cases can push wind economics to be unfavorable compared to alternatives," Winebrake said.

But there are other alternatives for the Middle East that may lead it toward wind power.

"In addition to standalone wind systems, the Middle East has an opportunity to develop solar-wind hybrid systems that combine wind turbines with solar power arrays. These systems can capture energy from the wind at night when wind tends to be greatest, and energy from the sun during the day when winds die down," Winebrake said.

Although the promise of wind power is high, it will not compete with petroleum and natural gas while their prices remain relatively low and do not reflect the environmental damage they cause, Winebrake said.

"Fossil fuel prices are artificially low," Winebrake said. "As long as they remain low, wind will always have stiff competition, and we will never see it become a dominant energy source."


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