I’ve been fascinated by Egypt since I was eight years old, and after finally completing all my studies I recently moved there. I wasn’t sure what the living standards would be like because that is not the focus of ‘Modern Egypt’ or ‘Islamic Egypt’ university classes, and especially hadn’t considered how green living would translate in the city I would live in, Cairo. Despite the first appearance of a developing nation with a new government just finding its footing, there are surprisingly hundreds of green projects run by NGOs and government programmes that are currently working, quite successfully, throughout Egypt.
The first time I noticed a local green initiative was while walking along the pavements in downtown Cairo. As the Maghrib adhan was called, the street lights began to illuminate my path. Alhamdulilah, for light-sensitive-solar-powered street lamps! While public solar-powered lights are still rare in most of the US, I soon noticed these not only in Cairo, but in most of Egypt’s cities such as Suez, Alexandria, Assiut and the like.
Green projects extend far beyond solar power in my new host country. In Zamalek, Cairo recycling bins line the pavements outside shops, embassies and gated communities. This trend was echoed in other Cairo neighbourhoods such as Maadi and Dokki. Was this something only for the elites or was this project truly planned to expand throughout Egypt? I tracked down the recycling centre to find out more.
Through an alleyway in the development of Zabaleen in the Mokattam Mountain near the outskirts of Assiut, there are teams of eight men that each work for one month (followed by two weeks off) sorting the majority of Egypt’s recycling. The team I spoke with sorted paper and cardboard. Other groups sort metal and glass. The final group sorts plastic and old electronics (although this final category is still under development). The staff says recycling is now available nationwide, but getting collection teams to bring it back to the sorting centres is a problem. This is extremely hard work. It takes three weeks to bring the recycling from the big cities; it must be sorted out of a rubbish centre, and then finally brought into the sorting centre of Zabaleen. Although they encourage self-sort prior to rubbish collection, the centres still sort the recycling, clean it and package it to be exported and processed.
Green living in the ‘Mother of the World’ aka Egypt, is not just about recycling; it also boasts the largest wind turbine farm in Africa and the Middle East. The Zaafarana Wind Farm has over 700 wind turbines that provide over 20% of all of Egypt’s energy, according a 2013 report by the Egyptian Ministry of the Environment. The site produces 550 megawatts of power annually. The government has earmarked more than 8,000 square kilometers to continue to expand this wind farm. There is a second large farm called the Elsewedy Towers with 300 turbines that generate 240 megawatts of power. The Renewable Energy Authority (a joint comission by the Ministry of Electricity and the Ministry of the Environment) states that electricity from wind turbines makes up 37% of annual energy sources in Egypt.
My curiosity expanded: What are the other major sources of Egyptian energy? Other sources originate from hydroelectricity from the Aswan High Dam, solar fields in the desert, and of course old-fashioned oil and gas.
The Aswan High Dam was completed in 1970 and although it remains controversial due to the cost benefit analysis, it has helped regulate plant growth, allowed for resettlement of entire communities and has made a huge energy impact on Egypt. With 12 generators at 175 megawatts and a total of 2.1 gigawatts, it has transformed the electrical grid of modern Egypt. When Aswan High Dam first hit peak production, it was responsible for more than 50% of Egyptian electricity production. It is also the number one reason many Egyptians first started to have electricity in their homes. This hydroelectricity has literally brought entire towns out of the dark and continues to brighten their communities as they transform into cities. The villages of Toshka became New Toshka City and High Dam City. This unplanned urbanisation and social development launched a new desire to educate and increased energy consumption. The hydroelectricity from the Aswan High Dam still provides Egypt with more than 15% of its annual electricity consumption.
Hydroelectricity has fascinated scientists in Egypt before in the 1920s due to exploration of the Qattara Depression. In 2010, renewed research to develop this project began. The Renewable energy Authority plans to launch this project in 2018.
The first solar field built in Egypt is Kuraymat in Ain Sukhna Port (between the Zaafarana Wind Farm and Suez Canal Proper). Launched in 2007, it is a joint project proposed by the Ministry of Electricity, endorsed by the Ministry of the Environment and implemented by the Renewable Energy Authority. Kuraymat Solar Field is currently being managed by Orascom Construction who has partnered with Solar Millennium. Unlike the solar panels used to power the street lamps I admired, Kuraymat Solar Field uses parabolic trough technology. From a distance they look like waves cresting in the ocean. The similarities end there. These waves rotate to collect the optimum amount of sunlight. They also produce 150 megawatts of electric capacity – this means that this one portion of the field supplies nearly two million people with power. The combined total of energy provided to Egyptians by solar thermal electricity is nearing 20%, according to a 2014 report by the Ministry of Environment.
After wading through the research, I was exhausted but pleasantly surprised to discover approximately 72% of Egypt’s energy, specifically electricity, is from renewable resources!
What locals do
I soon began to wonder about everyday, small scale ways Egyptians are bringing green living into their homes. Eco Egyptians is a group with 1000 members, with monthly meetups with an average of 20 participants who make furniture and household items out of discarded wood, tyres and bottles. Many group members either buy products from or work for companies and NGOs with green projects in Egypt. Some of the organisations tied to Eco Egyptians are: ECO Homes which launched a line of PVC Windows, Shutters and much more; Energy Wise with lighting and power solutions for everyday life; Dayma who conduct nature and preservation tours for environmental awareness and lastly icecairo (many members are very involved with this) is a social enterprise to help launch green businesses, and finally the construction of an earthship (ecologically and sustainable living space typically made primarily from recyclables and natural items) being considered to be built near the Science Museum in Alexandria.
I’m not sure what the future will hold for these projects. Will everyone have recycling bins, PVC furniture and live in earthships? Probably not, but could the economic and ecological benefits of green living help Egypt prosper? Insha Allah. Green living is already proven to be a lifestyle for many people living in Egypt.
Jillian Pikora is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where she studied the Middle East, Global Perspectives, and Political Science. She is a former UN Foundation Fellow, currently residing in Egypt. In her spare time she studies Islam at Al Azhar. Jillian is a blogger and YouTuber: jillianpikora.com