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Israel eyes solar opportunities in Egypt

Israel is working with Egypt to build solar power plants in the country, taking advantage of Egypt's vast areas of unused land.
The solar tower of Israel's Ashalim power station

Israel is making plans to build solar power plants in cooperation with Egypt and other neighboring countries, Bloomberg reported Nov. 18.

Bloomberg quoted Yair Pines, head of the Israeli prime minister’s office, as saying, “Discussions are underway for potential joint projects in Jordan, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and countries further afield.”

“The sites will be built in countries with more idle land than densely populated Israel, which will provide its technological know-how,” Pines said. “Our neighbors have lots of open land, something we don’t have. We have the technology.”

According to Pines, the plants would be connected to the respective countries’ energy grids, paving the way for Egypt to increase solar’s contribution to its energy mix.

In a Nov. 18 report Egyptian Enterprise said, “What seems more likely though is that these facilities will ship most of the electricity back to Israel, helping it to meet its new target to obtain 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.”

In August 2020, the Israeli Ministry of Energy announced a plan to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and promote the transition to renewable energy production, attaining 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Egypt is also trying to enhance its use of renewable energy in generating electricity. The Egyptian Ministry of Electricity confirmed in a Nov. 23 statement, “Egypt has developed a strategic plan to maximize the participation of renewable energy in the energy mix to surpass 42% by 2035.”

Egyptian Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker said in a Nov. 26 statement, "Egypt can be one of the largest producers of renewable energy. More than 7,650 kilometers [4,750 miles] of unused land was allocated for new and renewable energy projects to generate electricity." He added, "Egypt has the largest electrical capabilities in the Middle East and North Africa. Its production can reach about 90 gigawatts of wind and solar energy."

In December 2019, Egypt opened the Benban plant in Aswan Governorate, one of the largest solar power plants in the world with a capacity of 1,456 megawatts, equivalent to 90% of the production capacity of the High Dam.

To finance the project, Egypt signed an agreement in 2017 with the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank worth $653 million.

In January, the chairman of the Upper Egypt Electricity Distribution Company affiliated with the Egyptian Ministry of Electricity, Sayed Mohamed Farouk, explained that 8,000 feddans have been allocated for the solar plant, one of the largest such projects in the Middle East.

Israel got involved in the Egyptian Benban solar power plant complex after Ecoppia Scientific, an Israeli supplier of cleaning robots, signed an agreement for its equipment to be used in the plant. Dust and desert sand on the panels require frequent cleaning to ensure stable and optimum levels of production. Every night, the remotely operated robots clean about 10 million solar panels at power plants around the world that generate about 2,500 megawatts globally.

Energy and environmental consultant and member of the World Energy Council Maher Aziz told Al-Monitor, “Israel’s cooperation on solar power plants on Egyptian soil is in the best interest of both Israel and Egypt. Tel Aviv’s lands are overcrowded, unlike vast areas of land in Egypt, which lacks the financial capabilities to finance the construction of solar power plants. This is what Israel will provide.”

He pointed out that Egypt is in dire need of such resources, saying, "Cairo is one of the most polluted cities in the world."

Aziz added, "The most important obstacles facing the Egyptian-Israeli project are some voices inside Egypt that oppose any economic cooperation with Israel. These voices, however, lack a political vision on the current situation and the necessity of cooperation with a neighboring country such as Israel."