Egypt’s Power Cuts May Lead to Environmental Crisis


Power outages have become a daily occurrence during the past few months in almost all the major cities in Egypt. In the past three years, we have witnessed the different governments trying to tackle the energy crisis with different perspectives and solutions with no tangible success. Unable to grapple meaningfully with Egypt’s multifaceted malaise, successive administrations have taken spurious actions to address its symptoms. A case in point is the interim government’s decision to import coal to fuel the cement industry, because power shortages are threatening to shut it down.

One does not have to be an environmental expert to realize the fact that Egypt outstandingly qualifies as an environmental disaster zone; a desert country with just 5.5% arable land, suffers from coastal erosion and salinization of its decreasingly fertile Nile Delta. The world’s greatest annual loss of farmland to urban development and rampant pollution, while its population struggles with high rates of respiratory diseases.

Given these facts, the last thing Egypt needs at the moment is coal-fuelled cement production, particularly because that industry is locally known for its lax emission control and inefficient use of power. Along with cement industry, the fertilizer sector is also one of the top consumers of natural gas as fuel and, mainly, as a raw material. Both industries are serious hazards to environment and heavy burdens on the energy efficiency scheme.

The controlled use of coal in power production is not an impossible concept to apply and it has already been executed in several cases in the Western world. Yet, the Egyptian cabinet’s promise to apply “the latest technologies” to regulate coal emissions rings hollow, considering the state track record and the cost involved. America’s first “clean coal” power plant, designed to capture carbon emissions and stash them safely underground, costed USD 5 billion. Although Egypt would be using coal on a smaller scale, the “latest technologies” may translate into whatever the cement plants can get away with.

It is very important to point out that, according to the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, the country’s cement factories use up to 34% more energy than comparable plants in Europe. Allowing the industry to purchase its own coal may reduce the burden on the electricity grid in the short term, but it fails to address the greater problem of delivering an adequate power supply. Egypt’s Minister of Environmental Affairs and several environment-related NGOs have openly opposed coal imports while proposing the development of alternative energy sources.

In spite of burgeoning population growth and ever-increasing energy demand, Egypt’s administrators have yet to work cooperatively towards viable, comprehensive solutions to the energy crisis.


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