ArabFinance: After the celebratory tone of the 2016 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which set in writing the world’s countries’ commitment to embracing a low-carbon economy and keeping the global temperature rise at a maximum of 2?C, the International Energy Agency (IEA) June 2017 report paints a less than enthusiastic picture of how these targets are being met.
The report, entitled Energy Technology Perspectives 2017 concludes that, generally, current policies are ineffective at achieving the goal of a sustainable shift to a low-carbon, much less zero-carbon, and economy. Out of 26 energy generation, transmission and storage technologies, only three were found to be on track in meeting the 2?C target. The report made clear that decisive policy actions and market signals will be needed to drive technological development and benefit from higher electrification around the world.
In this global scenario, nuclear power and renewables are taking centre stage as the main alternatives to hydrocarbons. Over the past few years, Egypt has been pursuing both these trends, with its ambitious nuclear programme and plans to supply 20 percent of generated electricity from renewable sources by 2022. With the contracts for Egypt’s first nuclear power plant at El Dabaa, to be constructed by Russia’s Rosatom, about to be signed, Egypt looks finally to be entering a new energy era. When commissioned, the plant’s four units will generate 4,800 MWe of electric power, which will likely suffice not only to meet the country’s energy needs for the observable future but also to free up energy for export.
Things look less impressive with regard to renewable power development, with solar and wind accounting for a measly 3% of Egypt’s energy production. Intent on changing the status quo, Egypt’s government intends to invest billions of dollars in the renewables sector.Considering the high volume of investment needed for both renewable and nuclear projects, a common criticism is that Egypt should rather focus on a single direction rather than trying to sit on two chairs. Given the country’s ample solar and wind resources, going for renewables would appear to be the natural choice.
Experts and international data agree, however, that choosing between nuclear power and renewables is not a dilemma Egypt should be facing. The key roadblock to wind and solar becoming a main source of power supply is that, due to their intermittent nature, they are unable to provide baseload power, which is the keystone of any functioning economy and is especially vital to industries operating round the clock. This makes renewables more suitable for providing additional energy capacities, while the main load on the energy system can only be provided by nuclear power in a low-carbon economy.
Then, there is the net capacity factor – i.e. how much power a plant actually generate relative to its technical capacity – which for nuclear can exceed 80% while barely reaching 25% for wind and solar.
Furthermore, wind and solar installations are expensive to service and require much more land area than nuclear power plants, with 1 GWe of solar power needing 1,000 hectares of land, which is hundreds of times more than for a typical nuclear power plant. Thus, a bet on the development of nuclear energy is no longer an extraordinary solution in the Middle East – rather, it is a growing trend, where several countries, such as Saudi Arabia, declare their serious intentions to develop nuclear energy, while some of them, such as the UAE and Jordan, have already started practical implementation thereof or about to start.
It’s worth pointing out that nuclear technology draws attention of not only those countries that have no own hydrocarbon sources, such as Jordan, but even major oil and gas producers like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This is due to the fact that the region is growing both economically and demographically, with the demand for electricity steadily growing as well. Nuclear energy sources will allow these countries to produce cheap electricity to satisfy their own needs and thus benefiting from possible increase of hydrocarbons supply to the world markets.
This tallies with the findings of the IAE report, which specifically advised the need for governments to provide clear and consistent policy support for existing and new capacity that includes nuclear power in clean energy incentive schemes and that encourages its development in addition to other clean forms of energy. This also means that, in working both nuclear and renewables into its future energy mix, Egypt is very much on the right track.