Monday, November 26, 2007

A load of hot air

While attending a training session this weekend I discovered that I have a thing for wind farms, which makes a change to my usual obsession with Cairo-based actors and singers of above-average height.

The training session was held in a hotel in Zafarana, which lies between Ain Sokhna and Hurghada. Sharshar, Umm Nakad and I had planned to set off early on Thursday - which of course didn’t happen because Umm Nakad and Sharshar suddenly developed a pressing urge to dine at Mohandiseen-eatery/dustbin ‘My Queen’, and arrived to collect me two hours late. I went down to the car encumbered with a ridiculous amount of luggage and the mild rage which always forms when people are excessively late and leave me fiddling my thumbs when I could be doing something more useful e.g. sleeping or dusting my eyeballs.

Umm Nakad thoughtfully placated me with a prawn sandwich from My Queen, which I didn’t eat of course and which spent the entire journey putrefying on the back shelf, filling Sharshar’s car with an aroma reminiscent of a festering wound and which proved too much of a challenge for his Black Ice air freshener tree.

We sped along to the sound of Sharshar singing Abdel Halim at full volume, as is his wont, surrounded by the impressive but intimidating topography of the hilly desert on one side and the black expanse of the Red Sea on the other. Twenty minutes after passing Ain Sokhna, Umm Nakad and I expressed our concern that we might have passed the hotel without noticing. Sharshar reassured us that we had not, because he had in fact driven on this same exact road in the morning, when he gallantly went to pick up a Lebanese friend with no other means of getting to Cairo Airport. He had unfortunately taken the road we were on by accident, only noticing the error 30 kilometres later.

While impressive, this doesn’t compare to our involuntary promenade in the Port Said area last week when we got lost for THREE HOURS. On leaving Port Said we made the error of thinking that we should disregard signs marked ‘Port Said’ (what fools!) and instead followed signs for Ismailia. The signs suddenly disappeared, and we found ourselves en route to Damietta, in some kind of twilight zone. This happened twice, until we concluded that we had entered the Bermuda Triangle. We left Port Said at 7 p.m. and arrived, skeletal, in Cairo at 11 p.m., feeling like cretins.

We did not enter our hotel in Zafarana on first attempt either, as is inevitable, but mainly because the entrance was obscured by a mountain of earth.

I opened the patio sliding door thingie of the hotel room the next morning and stepped out into the unbeatable gorgeousness of a Red Sea winter. The air is so crisp and clean that inhaling it was like giving my olfactory organs a colonic irrigation. I was further invigorated by the sight of the aforementioned wind farm.

While elegant, there is something slightly menacing about these huge monopod triskelions. The infantry of them opposite the hotel reminded me of the man-eating Triffids which I had been so terrified of as a kid. It’s their scale, the way they’re arranged and their silence – at night they disappear completely, lurking inaudibly and invisibly in the night

So taken was I by them that once back within reach of the Internet I googled them, and was happy to see that the scary monsters are doing their bit to delay the end of the world, particularly given this:

However, the current Egyptian power generation setup is not a model for the future. Eighty-six percent of the power plants are thermal, mainly gas-fired, while some still use heavy oil. Various hydroelectric power plants on the Nile - in particular, the major Asswan Dam power plant - deliver a further 13% of the country's power. Apart from the serious localised pollution caused by sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and dust along with heavy carbon dioxide emissions, the high proportion of fossil fuels fired in power generation is eating away at Egypt's export income, a third of which is currently accounted for by oil and gas.

Apart from that, the country's oil reserves are dwindling. If the amounts drilled stay constant and no new reserves are discovered, the country's reserves will be exhausted in fourteen to fifteen years. With domestic power consumption increasing at around 7% per annum, the country will already only just be able to cover its own domestic oil consumption. But the main problem is drilling, which is an expensive process. Intensive exploration and increasingly complicated technologies - all of the more complex instrumentation equipment has to be imported from abroad - are extremely capital-intensive.
Good to know that if we haven't all been obliterated by someone pressing the wrong button in a nuclear-power station we'll have an alternative energy source to rely on in the future.


Seneferu said...

Sorry Amnesiac,

Allow me to tap into your blog’s renewable source of readership and plug in my related post since I have positively depleted mine. Feedback would be welcome.

I just hope that the nuclear option is being adopted as a last choice after examining serious studies of alternative wind and solar energy options that we may have, and is not being taken for any political considerations that I touch upon in my admittedly cynical post.

عمرو غربية said...

You were actually standing on the one strip of land on this planet most suitable for harvesting wind energy. With 11 meters/second, the economics of already-competitive wind energy is so tempting in Zaafarana.

I see the only hindrance for a full-blown change of our energy scheme towards renwables is only legal and political. Egypt's potential with wind and concentrated solar thermal powers, also near Zaafarana can do us more good this century than oil did the one before.

And I won't start on the expensive and dirty nukes now. Grrr.

zoss said...

No need for alternative sources of energy -- scientists have fashioned a perpetual motion machine using cats and jelly.

Amnesiac said...

Seneferu, Amr: I did read thought that windpower is expensive...Which might be used as an excuse for not using it.

Yes, it was super windy where I was, and I spent most of my time there trying to stay vertical.

Zoss: Am having trouble opening link. Could you write it, rather than hyperlinking it, please?

عمرو غربية said...

What you read is either out of context or misleading. Speaking in absolute terms, on-shore wind power costs 7 cents/KWh, much less in a place like Zaafarana, and off-shore wind economics is even better than that. If you take a look at the trends, a good indication for where investment should go, wind has been growing more competitive for the past 20 years, while fossil fuels have been becoming more and more expensive.

Coming to Egypt, the problem is not the technology or the economics of renewables--anything is simpler than a reactor!--rather related to law and policy. Renewables are competing in a market that is not level. The government favors big investments than distributed, local investments as an ideology, and is asking renewables to compete against subsidized fossil fuels, although this is ending soon.

You would face problems in Egypt if you try to break away from the grid.

zoss said...

original link I posted:

if you prefer (a lesser quality) youtube link: