Solar Energy Projects Picking up Again After Uprising

Solar Energy Projects Picking up Again After Uprising

by Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

(This article also appeared on Al Jazeera)

CAIRO, Jun 22 (IPS) – On a blazingly hot summer’s day in Cairo, it’s 36 degrees Celsius in the shade. Air-conditioners and fans whirr across the city, burdening the national electricity grid. Last summer, the populous city experienced frequent water and power cuts, causing a furore. Consumption had grown by 2,600 megawatts, an increase of 13,5 percent from 2009.

Over 1,000 years ago ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun god Ra. Centuries later, modern Egypt is only just beginning to realise the importance of utilising the sun as an energy source. One of the most sunlight-rich countries in the world, this North African country is making slow strides with solar energy.

About 100 km south of Cairo lies Kuraymat, Egypt’s first solar plant, which is expected to produce 120 MW. A hybrid power plant, 20 MW will be from solar energy and 100 MW from natural gas. Initially expected to start up in Dec. 2010, its activation has been postponed several times. The Jan. 25 uprising further stalled the launch.

“Foreign partners on the project left and we couldn’t continue”, says Khaled Fekry, director of research and development at the New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA), a government body. German companies Ferrostaal and Flagsol, a subsidiary of Solar Millenium, provided the technology.

Currently, Kuraymat is in the final stage of commissioning, with tests being carried out. Fekry hopes it will be ready at the end of June.

A second 100 MW plant in Kom Ombo was announced last July and should be completed in 2017. Fekry lists other projects: “We aim to develop a 200 MW plant for cement factories and a 1,000 MW plant for the private sector. ”

This is all very ambitious but ties in with Egypt’s plan of producing 20 percent of energy output from renewable sources by 2020. Solar energy will provide a third, or 7,200 MW, of that percentage. Fekry is confident it can be achieved.

While large-scale projects won’t have a direct effect on Egyptians just yet, a joint undertaking by NREA and the Italian ministry of environment has changed the lives of villagers living deep in the Western Desert. The villages of Ain Zahra and Umm al Saghir, not connected to the national energy grid, have had their homes, schools, mosques and hospitals electrified with photovoltaic (PV) solar energy since Dec. 2010.

NREA engineers have remained on site, providing training to the villagers. Six months in, Fekry reports, there have been no complaints.

But Mohab Hallouda, senior energy specialist at the World Bank’s Egypt office, explains that, although PV energy is suitable for outlying areas, “the price must decline to be a viable alternative to electricity from the grid”.

Away from the bureaucracy of government-led proposals, a simple concept, SolarCITIES, is empowering residents of local communities. Darb el Ahmar and Manshiet Nasser are two of Cairo’s poorest areas.

Crumbling buildings are built close together, lining narrow streets and jostling with animal, vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Many residents cannot afford heating appliances and “women’s duties” include having to boil water on kerosene stoves. Winter is a hazardous time with frequent burn injuries being reported.

Mustafa Hussein, a Darb el Ahmar resident, is a founding participant of SolarCITIES. He became convinced of the usefulness of the technology after meeting Thomas Culhane, SolarCITIES founder, who sketched him a prototype of a solar panel and heater. The system was built; 25,000 dollars in funding was obtained from the U.S. Agency for International Development; and 35 units installed.

Amm Hassain, 70 years old, was one of the first residents to agree to the installation of the unit on his building’s rooftop. No longer does his family have to laboriously boil water for a bath, risking potential injury.

The unit provides 200 lt of hot water per day, which can serve up to 10 family members comfortably, and 200 lt of rooftop coldwater storage to help them get through the many days when water is cut in the community.

Mustafa Hussein feels projects like these have more value: “The government plans are removed from us. Here we involve the community directly. I live here, I know this place, I know how to connect with people.”

But, unless more funding is received, SolarCITIES may not grow. With the average annual income in these areas being 610 dollars, the 678 dollar unit is unaffordable for most.

Hussein feels people will realise the importance of turning to solar energy within a few years. “We’ll experience more power cuts. Last summer there was a scarcity of gas tanks and people died fighting for them.”

Fekry wants Egypt to follow the Tunisian model: “The government subsidised solar water heaters, and provided them on credit with low interest rates,” he explains.

But, with an unequal playing field, a paradigm shift toward renewable energy seems unlikely. Even with gas subsidies in Egypt being phased out, fossil energy remains cheap, while a lack of competition won’t reduce the cost of solar energy.

Kuraymat cost 360 million dollars and the Kom Ombo plant’s cost is estimated at 270 million dollars. The Egyptian government plans to spend 100-120 billion dollars to triple capacity by 2027.

Fekry points to taxes on imported solar components as the culprit contributing to the high cost of solar energy. He also believes that, “we can only expand if we have finance. Foreign investors should direct funds to Egypt now, and not wait until the country is stable. ” (FIN/2011)












Op-Ed The Guardian

Why we’re on strike at IslamOnline

New management in Qatar has hijacked our pluralist site in an attempt to make us follow a hardline agenda. We will not do s

On Monday, there were many on Facebook and Twitter who posted a reminder: “Beware the Ides of March”. I laughed at their superstition. But just as Caesar failed to see the betrayal by Brutus, so did we at IslamOnline (IOL) fail to see the treachery that would befall us on that portentous day.

We weren’t oblivious, nor ostrich-like; we were just trusting. When the new management at al-Balagh Cultural Society, the holding company in Qatar, imposed their dictates on IOL’s editorial tone, and issued guidelines for rather conservative content, the pluralistic body of staff balked at the editorial interference.


Pluralism was what had attracted me to IslamOnline. Impressed the first time I visited its website, I set myself a goal to write for IOL. It was my involvement with IslamOnline that transported me from science graduate to journalist.


Being sent to Lebanon on assignment after the July 2006 war catalysed my future. It created in me a desire to be a news journalist. In 2007, I represented IslamOnline at the Highway Africa conference, where IOL won in the category of Most Innovative Use of New Media. Networking at the conference led me to write for SciDev.net, and land my dream job at SAfm radio in South Africa. In 2009 I returned to Egypt, after being asked to start an internet radio station for IOL’s English site.


As a female, I feel honoured to work at IOL, where women sit alongside men in equality, and where travel opportunities for conferences are not the sole preserve of men, as in other Muslim organisations. As a managing editor, I’m allowed autonomy in setting my editorial agenda.


Heavy-handedness by the board led to the resignation of the site’s general manager and a Qatari, Dr Atef Abdel Mughny, was sent to preside over the Egypt office. Two hundred and fifty employees protested against the behaviour of the board, by signing a petition sent to both the board andSheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, under whose guidance IslamOnline was founded. A chill silence was the response.


A game of Chinese whispers ensued, with talks of restructuring and layoffs. A committee was sent from Qatar to deal with the concerns of employees. However, their presence heightened the speculation, especially after some lower-level staff were laid off. Insidiously, the password to the server was appropriated by Mughny, and the Arabic youth site was transferred to a smaller server. The purge spread, obliterating “luxuries” such as milk and toilet paper. A few employees resigned, afraid we’d all be consumed by the hunger for editorial control exhibited by the board.


Were the rest of us blind to the writing on the wall? No, just trusting. We believed in the soothing words cooed to us by upper management, who pleaded for calm. Since I abhor paranoia and conspiracy theories, I too dismissed the wild notion the website would be shut down; but anticipated downsizing. I thought IOL Radio would be the first to fall, since it was still in a fledgling state. My boss assured me this wouldn’t happen.


So, when we fell down the rabbit hole on Monday, we became cognisant we’d been duped by our own trust. The dominoes came falling down as we learned that Qatar had blocked Egypt’s access to the server. Then it was revealed that a contract – of which nobody seemed aware – between al-Balagh and Media International (which produces the website for al-Balagh) ends on 31 March and will not be renewed, and all employees will be released. The duplicity by Qatar persisted, with promises made to compensate those who resigned. They reneged on the deal a day later.


We vacillated between hope and fear, but never despair. A spirit of resistance reigned. Bound by unity, our hearts were also with those resisting the occupation of al-Aqsa. There were expressions of outrage and disbelief at our inability to cover the al-Aqsa clashes.


While others lamented the impending unemployment of more than 300 people, I also mourned for the loss of opportunity for freelancers worldwide. I had started as a freelance writer, and until this week I was living my dream of building up an internet radio station on a Muslim platform.


But it could all come to an inglorious end. Calling for more religious content, but behaving in this manner towards employees, is an insult to the ideals on which IslamOnline was built.


The clash between homogenous and pluralistic Islam is one of great importance. At IOL we make local news global, truly connecting Muslims and non-Muslims around the world. We offer content far more diverse and inclusive than that of other Muslim websites.


One defining chant rang out on Monday: “Where is Sheikh Qaradawi?” He finally answered the call on Wednesday, at the 11th hour. An emergency meeting was held where he revoked the decisions of al-Balagh’s general manager, Ibrahim al-Ansari, and his deputy, Ali el-Amady. Both were duly suspended and a Qatari woman, Mariam al-Thany, has been appointed general manager. But these are only interim measures; a meeting of al-Balagh will be held in two weeks where they will be put to a vote.


Meanwhile, the strike continues until we are given access to the website’s server and normality is regained.


We float in limbo. We can only wait and see what the final answer will be, and play our part in perpetuating the truths as we believe them to be.


Pluralistic Islam must win.


Waltz of War

By Bibi Ayesha Wadvalla

Freelance Writer – South Africa
Sunday, 22 February 2009 14:13
The human mind is capable of suppressing painful memories to the extent that they are all but obliterated. But these memories can lie dormant for years, then reactivate to plague the plethora of our consciousness.Such is the story of Ari Folman, an Israeli film director, who has created an autobiographical animated rendition of his time in the Israeli army, Waltz with Bashir. This is not classical animation, but rather a depiction of the murkiness of adult clarity. It is a documentary which unsettles and disturbs the viewer, a recording of truth made more vivid by animation.

Out of the nine people interviewed by Folman, seven voices are those of the interviewees. The other two chose to have their words spoken by actors. This gives depth to a deep film whose impact could otherwise be lessened.

Dreams Against Reality

The opening scene is hallucinatory in its stimulation of the senses-charcoal buildings, yellow sky, a pack of dogs gleaming black, with glowing yellow eyes, savage in their strength of congregation, running, snarling, charting a path of fear for those they pass by, chasing after one man.

This scene is the dream of Folman’s friend, a soldier in the 1982 Lebanon war, a recurring dream which signifies his guilt at shooting 26 dogs in Lebanon. Dogs which stood guard at the camps the Israeli army entered.

For Folman, the Lebanon war is a miasma of emptiness in his memory. But after hearing of his friend’s dream, a hazy image fogs his mind, and for the first time in twenty years, he remembers Lebanon. Not just Lebanon, Beirut, but Sabra and Shatila. The massacre.

Waltz with Bashir mastered the juxtaposition of dreams with reality. Folman is uncertain of the truth of what he sees, and so he contacts long-lost friends whose faces he often envisages. Boys who have just become men, boys bathing in the sea by moonlight; men who are soldiers trained to kill.

He speaks to those who had served with him, the first journalist to cover the massacre, a psychologist. His old friends do not remember the way he describes them by imagination, marking it as his own interpretation. They were all there, but they all remember it differently. Human memory invents things which are not real, filling in details where there are gaps.

The Warsaw Ghettoes?

The jarring snapshots of insidious imaginings of Folman and the puerile pornography create a chasm of emotion. Soldiers exist numbingly, sheltered in tanks that make them feel invincible, unloading dead bodies mechanically, watching, obeying, without thinking.

Yet fear consumes them, inducing insane episodes-a unit of soldiers seeing a boy in an orchard with a weapon, firing, firing, seeing the boy convulse a slow dance of death; Israeli soldiers in Beirut coming under fire from snipers, one dancing a waltz with his machine-gun; a waltz with posters of Bashir Gemayel, the Christian Phalangist leader.

It is when Bashir was assassinated that the Christian Phalangist Army, with the full support of the Israeli army, went into the camps and rounded up the women, children and the elderly. Loaded into trucks, led to stadiums, the comparison can only be to the Warsaw ghettoes.

The soldiers suspect, but they do and say nothing. Some do, and are assured the army is handling it. When Ariel Sharon is told of it, he merely says, ‘Thank you for bringing it to my attention.’ History now records that Sharon himself was the mastermind behind the plan, a conductor in the orchestra of destruction.

If Waltz of War is an ‘acid trip’, as Folman calls it, then the flashbacks will perpetuate in continuity. For aren’t we all soldiers of war? We witness live scenes; we are stuck to our television screens. Yet, we do nothing.

We too will have our flashbacks, but only when history records this injustice. For now, we accept the morsels of discarded remnants of truth we are fed, and thus are satiated by lies.

While Folman is antiwar, the message the film portrays is ambiguous. While the account of boys sent to fight a war of which they barely know anything about is haunting, they cannot be called innocent. Yes, for some, innocence was sacrificed in slaughter, but this cannot absolve them of guilt. Acknowledgement of a lie is not a victory for truth.

Thus I was left unsure if Waltz with Bashir is an honest admission of regret, or a partly propaganda piece for pity.

But with the war on Gaza still fresh in the world’s goldfish memories of atrocities,Waltz with Bashir is very likely to walk away with an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.


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