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Egypt’s world largest 1.6 gigawatt solar park holds much lesson for Nigeria

The Egyptian government has said it expects the 1.6 gigawatt solar project which is also set to be the world’s largest solar installation worth $2 billion to operate at full capacity in 2019, a development Nigeria can learn from.

According to sources, by the time it goes live in 2019, the Benban Solar Park  will house 32 power stations across a 37km2 site, and will be capable of generating 1,650 megawatts of electricity which will go a long way toward Egypt hitting its goal of having 20 per cent of its energy needs met by renewables.

Located at the Western Desert, some 650 km south of Cairo, the Egypt’s most ambitious solar energy projects, the Benban Solar Park is expected to produce enough electricity to power one million homes and is also expected to meet 20 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2022 and up to 40 per cent by 2035.

The Egyptian investment ministry said in a public statement that the $2 billion project partly funded by the World Bank who invested $653 million through the International Finance Corporation(IFC) while Multilateral Investment and Guarantee Agency (MIGA), another part of the World Bank Group, is providing $210 million worth of “political risk insurance” to private lenders and investors.

“Egypt’s energy sector reforms have opened a wider door for private sector investments,” World Bank President David Malpass said during his recent visit to the site alongside Egypt’s Investment Minister Sahar Nasr.

Egypt’s investment ministry said some parts of the park are already operating on a small scale, while other areas are still undergoing testing.

Egypt is on a drive to lure back investors who fled following the 2011 uprising with a slew of economic reforms and incentives the government hopes will draw fresh capital and kickstart growth with most foreign direct investment directed towards its energy sector, a senerio Africa biggest economy can learn from in order to solve its old perenial energy challenges.

Unlike Eqypt, the sound of noisy, petrol-powered generators have become the background theme of Nigerian life.

Nigerians are used to either living without or providing their own sources of power as an estimated  of $14 billion is spent on powering small scale generators each year, at a significant cost to wealth, health, and the environment.

While successive governments have trumpeted their plans for the power sector and how important it is as a development imperative, Nigerians continue to feel the pains of a lack of electricity, with its resulting impact on productivity, education and crime.

According to the Nigerian Power Sector Recovery Programme, Nigeria’s erratic power supply results in more than $25 billion in annual losses to the economy and more than 6percent of GDP while over 60percent of Nigerians lack reliable access to energy.

It is this gap that firms such as All On Partnerships for Energy Access, a Shell funded impact Investor, the EU Electrifification initiative, Persistent Energy Capital and others are looking to fill.

In the face of the sector’s obvious institutional shortcomings, developers can choose from options including the REA/World Bank $350m Nigeria electrification project, the N1 billion All-On BOI Niger Delta Energy Access Fund, USADF – All On Off-Grid Energy Challenge, the AECF Household Solar Challenge amongst other interventions that are available for entrepreneurs.

Renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass are now firmly in play, and an ecosystem of developers such as Rubitec or Arnergy are focusing on driving energy access to underserved rural populations and small businesses while on a larger scale; Lumos’ Solar Home Systems in partnership with MTN, a telecommunications provider, provide instant power to more than 80,000 low-income households across Nigeria.

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