Focus on Climate Change

December 2009

Desert Winds Bring New Hope to Egypt

Africa’s largest windfarm on Egypt’s Red Sea coast / JICA file photoAfrica’s largest wind farm on Egypt’s Red Sea coast / JICA file photo

It is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Temperatures regularly soar to over 50 degrees Celsius in summer and winds whip across the stony desert with the same ferocity as storms in the North Sea. For centuries it was home only to the occasional nomad, off shore pirates or hardy desert reptiles.

Today, Zafarana on Egypt’s Red Sea coastline carries some of the country’s highest hopes for a better future. Its rocky shoreline has gained the reputation of being among the world’s top diving spots, attracting enthusiasts from across the globe.

And slightly inland, the harsh climatic conditions of extreme heat and wind have turned Zafarana into a virtual laboratory to establish mechanisms to combat climate change and develop clean, renewable sources of energy.

Starting in the 1990s European nations helped Egypt to establish a high-tech wind farm in this desolate region. In 2003 Japan joined the project, providing the equivalent of US$135 million in yen loans and providing logistics, construction expertise and consulting services to build 142 wind turbines on the desert floor.

Japanese assistance in building the huge Zafarana windfarm in Egypt / JICA file photoJapanese assistance in building the huge Zafarana windfarm in Egypt / JICA file photo

Harnessing the very ferocity of the desert to productive use has been a major challenge. Each wind turbine, for instance, had to be specially prepared to cope with the heat, salty sea air and withstand storms which whip across the region at the equivalent of nine meters per second—perfect for turning the turbines’ great windmill-style arms. Special seals were developed to prevent the fine sand granules from swirling into the units and rotor blade mechanisms and destroying them.

Africa’s Largest Wind Farm

Today, there are some 500 turbines providing 120 megawatts of power from the site. The government has earmarked more than 8,000 square kilometers—an area the size of Puerto Rico—in the region making Zafarana the largest wind farm in Africa and among the largest in the world.

It has received an official seal of approval as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project financed. CDM is a Kyoto Protocol system which benefits both developing countries, helping them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop clean energy resources, and the donor nations themselves such as Japan.

With around 81 million people, Egypt has the Arab world’s largest population. In recent years, its industries have been booming, boosting energy consumption by 8% annually. Both developments have put a massive strain on the country’s energy resources and its efforts to mitigate global warming and reduce its environmental impact.

Viewing a scale model of Africa’s largest windfarm / JICA file photoViewing a scale model of Africa’s largest windfarm /
JICA file photo

Egypt’s oil and gas reserves are expected to be exhausted within 50 years and the country aims to generate 20% of its power needs from renewable sources by 2020, with 12% of that target figure provided by wind power farms such as the one at Zafarana.

Once the farm is completed, it will have a total output of some 425 megawatts of electrical output and be able to provide clean electricity to some 340,000 households. Japan’s ODA contribution alone will help save 250,000 tons in CO2 emissions each year.

A region which was once considered as only a barrier to any kind of development is now carrying a country’s hopes for a better future.

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