Decisions about energy policy in Egypt are usually made behind closed doors, with little room at the table for anyone outside of the government and the private sector.
“We are trying to say that there should be a seat for civil society,” says Isabel Bottoms, lead author of newly released report titled “80 Gigawatts of Change: Egypt’s Future Electricity Pathways.”
The report, which Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation commissioned from the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), aims to equip civil society groups with hard data that can be used to analyze and discuss the impact of different medium-term energy policies.
It examines seven possible future paths for meeting Egypt’s demand for electricity through 2035, including continued reliance on natural gas to generate almost all electricity as well as models adding to the mix coal, nuclear power and a variety of alternative energy sources ranging from biomass to small hydroelectric turbines.
The initial analysis used LEAP, a software tool for analyzing energy policy developed at the Stockholm Environment Institute. The researchers then held technical workshops with experts from academia, business and consultancies to refine and revise assumptions and calculations. They also consulted with representatives from NGOs, community organizations and people with experience carrying out Environmental Impact Assessments to evaluate more qualitative factors like the impact on water resources or equality of access to electricity.
The result is an assessment of seven possible scenarios in terms of carbon emissions, building and operating costs, job creation and infrastructure requirements, as well as social and environmental costs and benefits.
The report examined seven scenarios, each of which was found to have its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The baseline scenario, “Business As Usual” (BAU), assumes that Egypt maintains its current energy mix through 2035, continuing to rely on fossil fuels — primarily natural gas — for 89 percent of energy. The effects of keeping the same energy mix but introducing efficiency measures are also factored in. A second scenario (BAU+Coal) looks at the baseline scenario but shifts 14 percent of electricity generation from natural gas to coal. Three scenarios aimed at reducing carbon emissions are considered: “Toward Zero Carbon” (TZC), which envisions 45.5 percent of energy coming from renewable sources by 2035; TZC+Nuclear which factors in 2 percent nuclear power; and TZC+CSP which includes Concentrated Solar Power in addition to more widely used photovoltaic solar panels. Finally, it explores scenarios that prioritize moving toward energy independence (TEI) and toward energy decentralization (TED).
The report carefully avoids endorsing any particular strategy, but a few are clearly bad news, and cast doubt on the wisdom of Egypt’s current plans. In its Vision 2030 plan, the government set targets of generating 29 percent of electricity from coal and 9 percent from nuclear power by 2030.
Scenarios including nuclear and coal power fared poorly in qualitative and quantitative assessments. The report found that adding even 14 percent coal power to the mix would result in fewer jobs than the baseline scenario, while also causing more carbon emissions, making Egypt more dependent on imports, and increasing overall costs.
A carbon reduction strategy that relies on nuclear power for 2 percent of energy also gets poor marks. At US$23.7 billion more expensive than the baseline by 2035, TCN+Coal was the second most expensive scenario. Nuclear power plants were also found to create fewer jobs per Gigawatt-hour than any other energy source, while increasing Egypt’s reliance on imported fuel. In addition to these tangible disadvantages, the report notes that attendees of both the technical and social workshops regarded nuclear power as unviable and unsafe in the local context.
Incorporating Concentrated Solar Power — currently less popular and more expensive than photovoltaic solar panels — into the mix was also found to be a bad fit. Giving CSP a 2 percent share of energy generation resulted in the most expensive scenario — US$24 billion above baseline — while comparing unfavorably to other low-carbon strategies in terms of emissions and water use.
The remaining scenarios offer an intriguing mix of pros and cons — and it is here where the discussion among civil society groups is likely to focus.
Simply adding efficiency measures to the baseline scenario would save billions of dollars while reducing emissions. Other options — toward carbon neutral, toward energy independence and toward decentralized energy — are costlier, but pay dividends when it comes to creating jobs while reducing Egypt’s greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on imported fuel.
The energy independence path looks fairly similar to the carbon neutral path, but reduces thermal energy and bumps up the reliance on biomass to prioritize locally available fuels. Consequently, it would be more expensive but also create more jobs and fewer emissions. It would also be the quickest way for Egypt to cease reliance on energy imports.
The most radical departure from the status quo is the decentralized energy scenario. While the other paths focus on different energy generating technologies, they all assume the majority of electricity will be distributed through a centralized grid. With this comes the domination of the energy sector by the central government or large corporations, and unequal access to electricity for rural areas and marginalized urban communities. The decentralization path envisions an increase in energy production and distribution at the community level. Losing out on economies of scale, this is one of the more expensive possibilities, but the only one that seems likely to create more equal access to electricity.
Personally, Bottoms says she finds this one of the most appealing options. “The decentralization model is very interesting because that gives people a lot more autonomy over the creation and use of energy,” she explains. “It can tackle the root causes of poverty in a more profound way, even if it’s more expensive.”
Whatever model civil society groups prefer, Bottoms says she and her colleagues hope the report helps broaden the discussion about energy policy in Egypt. “I’d like to see a more people centered-approach. I hope this can be part of the process,” she says.