Egypt tries Concentrating Solar Power
February 20, 2007 - Derek Sands - UPI
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
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
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.
The technology 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.
"Combining [Concentrating 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 National Laboratories.
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
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,"