CAIRO – How do you turn a blackout into a business opportunity?
According to some consumption statistics, Cairo is also one of the world’s most brightly lit cities, with such high amounts of energy used for illuminating homes and streets that can often exceed the capacity of what electricity networks can deliver.
That leaves the government with a stark choice: either increase energy generation or reduce consumption.
Amr Farouk, an expert in renewable energy and co-founder of Egypt’s Solar Energy Association, said Egypt’s energy consumption has gradually changed over the years. People now use many more electrical devices, especially in the summer. Every single air conditioner in the country may sometimes be at work for about 11 hours daily.
The ordinary Egyptian household uses an average of five kilowatts of energy per day, which means that it consumes about 1,500 kilowatt hours monthly, says Farouk. Egyptians, he says, lack a basic awareness about how energy is consumed — and preserved. “They think it’s a complicated process, although there are easy ways to make more than 15 percent energy savings, and good alternatives to traditional power consumption habits,” he explains.
Among these: energy-saving light bulbs, which can conserve 70 percent of energy consumption compared to other light bulbs. Installing 10,000 solar water heaters annually for the next 30 years could also compensate for one of the four nuclear stations the government intends to establish by 2050, he says. And, replacing old air conditioners with new high-efficiency devices is another effective energy-saving device, as their capacity decreases over time, causing them to consume higher amounts of electricity.
Moreover, Farouk says several other countries have managed to increase the use of renewable energy, including Germany and India. He says that Germany began early by providing tax deduction incentives to residents installing solar panels. In India, microloans were provided for those interested in switching to solar. Farouk says the Indian model is probably closer to conditions in Egypt, and he suggests a similar approach to encourage the use of renewable energy here.
Although the repeated blackouts of the past few months angered many, they also opened the door for creative solutions to overcome the problem. Farouk proposes applying a consumption model that turns people from energy consumers to energy producers — and help them make money. He says the trend toward renewable energy no longer focuses only on large entities but instead targets “the bottom of the pyramid,” people in their homes and at their work.
“We can change consumers to producers, by installing renewable energy equipment in households,” Farouk explains. “For example, photovoltaic cells that are used for the generation of electricity can be installed in normal houses to generate electricity either for the same house or for the neighboring houses when connected using a mini-grid.”
He also said photovoltaic cells could be connected to the main grid and pump the energy to the grid, a process used in many countries to allow consumers not only to generate their own energy, but also to sell the excess energy to the grid.
During the blackout days, many shops, restaurants and hotel owners bought expensive diesel generators that also pollute the environment. According to Farouk, the grid project could be applied here, as the photocells are not expensive and are environment-friendly. However, to implement the grid-connected solution, the relevant regulations need to be revisited.
Farouk says the government, NGOs, financial institutions, and businesses must all be involved in making a renewable energy initiative work. Governments identify the framework for the system to work, and banks can provide funds for renewable energy projects.
“Nowadays, we face a lot of challenges in Egypt. That’s why we need to cooperate and take the best of the organizations, the groups and even the individuals who have knowledge and technology because, with cooperation, challenges turn into potential products,” says Jay Cousins, one of the co-founders of icecairo, an Egyptian-run network that promotes environmentally-friendly business, with the support of German organization GIZ. “In addition to helping communities, we create business opportunities for people through developing those green technologies.