Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Let there be light!

It's summer time, and with summer, comes extreme heat. With extreme heat, comes air-conditioning. In Egypt, with air-conditioning, comes mass power outages.

Having lived in Cairo, I am not unfamiliar with power outages. In Maadi during the summer months, the electricity would actually be routed to different power grids, so that at times one power grid would have no power, while the other one was just fine. Reason being? The power grids in Cairo are simply unable to keep up with the demand on electrical power that is being fueled by the hundreds of AC units running 24/7 throughout the city. I was just explaining to Karim yesterday that this doesn't usually happen in the States, because he has grown so accustomed to power just "going out" that he never thought twice about it. That is until we got here.

First you may ask yourself why the power grid is being strained. The answer is quite simple really. As the middle and upper classes in Egypt are growing, so are their living standards and ideals. Most middle/upper class Egyptian houses you walk into are flooded with cold air coming from the multiple AC units they have running at all times - taking a page out of the American's book...I have never seen people use ACs like the Americans do! So as more and more people in Egypt are starting to make a decent living, more and more people are buying ACs. Meaning more and more strain on the power grids. Which then should mean that the Egyptian Electrical ministries are doing something to resolve the problem and accomodate the increasing load on the power grids, right? Well, in typical Egyptian fashion, that response is "lets just re-route the power at certain times, that way we don't HAVE to change anything!" Woohoo! This makes taking an elevator in Maadi during peak summer hours a very precarious decision to make. I have been stuck in an elevator only once...and it is an experience I hope to never repeat!

So now we're in Hurghada, and power outages are unfortunately not obsolete. In fact, it sometimes feels as though we have taken a step back in time when it comes to the reliability of electrical power in this town. The other day I was trying to work on the computer at home, and within 30 minutes, the power surged and went out four times...I kid you not.

Unfortunately, it's not just certain areas of Hurghada that lose power momentarily (or for a couple of hours...lets be honest here) like in Maadi or Cairo. No. It's the ENTIRE city. Unless you are running on a generator, you can lose power for upwards of 2-3 hours. At Hed Kandi the other day for the pool party, power went out for almost 2 hours. It made such a huge difference in the atmosphere; one minute everyone is dancing and enjoying the sun and the music, and as cliche as it sounds, everyone somehow looked cool. The next minute, the power's blown, no music, and we're just a bunch of idiots standing around in a pool with nothing to do. Despite the staff's attempts to liven up the atmosphere by banging on their serving trays (wonderful music let me tell you) there was just no denying that the atmosphere was gone. Music was the life, and without the electricity, the life was gone.

Now, anyone who has been to Hurghada, driven here especially, will have noticed the miles upon miles of wind farms that stretch across the desert just outside of the city. Illogically enough it would seem, I presumed that much of the wind power that these farms were generating would flow into Hurghada. These wind farms were first established as a wind power testing centre in 1993, and developed in subsequent years, starting out with 42 wind turbines, total capacity of 5.2 MW. There are now over 400 wind turbines in the Zafarana area, and yield roughly 1,600 KwH EACH. If you take the time to do a little research into these wind farms, they are also specifically designed to deal with the summer months, when the electrical supply virtually doubles to accommodate the AC units running throughout the country. The target is for these wind farms to supply up to 12 % of Egypt's total electrical needs as the demand continues to rise. This project has already cost several hundred million Euros, and with the continued expansion expected, costs will only further rise. (Side note...only 25 % of these millions of Euros that have been invested have gone back into the Egyptian economy - or rather...some big businessmen's pockets - because average users of electricity sure aren't seeing this return on an investment!)

And here's the part that really gets me. The wind farm in Zafarana (just outside of Hurghada), sits on a location of land that has the world's highest average wind speed, with an average of 9.2 m/s. Egypt boasts a number of locations throughout the country that are ideally suited for wind farms, yet are not being developed due to a lack of investors (or at least, that's the official excuse). So despite the fact that Hurghada should not be suffering from power outages the likes that we are seeing, the continual "development" of the energy sector and wind power sector in Egypt is obviously disregarding this town. Here's an idea...rather than spending millions of pounds on testing out wind farms, how about the responsible ministries in Egypt actually get off their asses and try to do something about the existing power situation? And resolve the ever increasing outages that are affecting more and more people? Oh, that's right. Because that won't fluff your pockets with millions of dollars from outside investors. *sigh*.

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