A month ago, the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company began negotiations with the Shanghai Electric alliance on establishing a coal-fired power plant in Hamarwein on the Red Sea coast.
The project comes amid international calls for stopping use of coal as a source of energy, as it is classified as one of the dirtiest sources for energy, and a main source for CO2 emissions.
The coal-fired power plant is included in the 2022-2027 plan, and the construction of it needs a period of 4-6 years, aiming to expand electricity production after acute shortages in the years immediately following the 2011 revolution.
According to the Ministry of Electricity, the plan is to produce 6,000 megawatts (MW) from plants that operate with coal by 2025, besides the project planned to be implemented by Emirati Al-Nowais in the area of “Oyun Musa” (Moses Spring), which its contract will be signed this year.
Following the announcement of the winning consortium to build the 6,000 MW coal-fired power plant, the Greenpeace organisation expressed concerns over the new move that it has described as “a dangerous setback for Egypt’s ambition.”
Julien Jreissati, the Arab World campaigner at Greenpeace Mediterranean said in a statement, “this announcement constitutes a dangerous setback for Egypt’s renewable energy ambition and its efforts to move away from dirty energy.”
Jreissati added that his organisation demands the Egyptian government to “cancel this decision, which is loaded with health and environmental impacts as coal even when labelled clean is the dirtiest energy source of them all.”
Guiding the government to new environmentally-friendly solutions, Jreissati said that “Egypt should rather focus its investment on renewable-energy projects, just like the Gabal El-Zeit wind farm, which will create green jobs, reduce air pollution and contribute to a truly sustainable future for the Egyptian population.”
Ahmed Kenawy, assistant professor of environmental studies, and researcher at the Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología (IPE) in Spain, told Daily News Egypt that the problem with coal is that it is not a clean source for energy compared to the renewable resources that are environmentally-friendly, such as solar power, wind, and waves. He added that the chemical composition of coal contains high amounts of carbon the main source of CO2, one of the main greenhouse gases that are responsible for the global warming.
Kenawy explained further that even countries that are using coal as a source for energy, have short-term and long-term policies for transferring to renewable energy. He pointed out that Egypt is a promising country regarding the solar power, due to the long hours of sunshine.
According to the World Coal Association, coal fired power plants are a type of power plant that make use of the combustion of coal, in order to generate electricity. Their use provides around 40% of the world’s electricity and they are primarily used in developing countries.
The World Health Organisation report indicates that air pollution was responsible for the death of over 43,000 people in Egypt in 2012. A recent report for the United Nations Environment programme in December, pointed out that rates of respiratory disease have increased, adding to the burden on the state’s already-ailing hospitals. Citing the World Bank, the report indicates that the Egyptian economy is taking a pummelling, with poor air quality knocking off at least one percent of gross domestic product every year.
Egypt’s Ministry of Environment warned also in a recent report that the percentage of air pollution has increased in Egypt over the permitted limits, reaching 81% particularly from 2014 to 2017.
The power sector is expected to invest more than $7.2tn in power plants and grids globally, much of it into CO2-emitting coal and gas plants. These assets typically have long lifetimes and commit large amounts of (future) CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions from existing plants are enough to breach the carbon budget for 1.5 or 2C. These limits would mean no new coal plants and closing 20% of the fleet early, according to a recent study.
Findings of the study that was published in the Environmental Research Letters journal, pointed out that even though the growth of emission commitments has slowed down in recent years, currently operating generators still commit us to emissions 300m tonnes of CO2, above the levels compatible with the average 1.5 °C–2 °C scenario over 240ms of tonnes of CO2.
Furthermore, the current pipeline of power plants would add almost the same amount of additional commitments over 270ms of tonnes of CO2.
According to the latest report of the World Meteorological Organisation the years of 2015, 2016 and 2017 have been confirmed as the three warmest years on record. 2016 still holds the global record, whilst 2017 was the warmest year without an El Niño, which can boost global annual temperatures.
The Egyptian government argues that it will use clean coal. According to the ENDCOAL organisation, using clean coal is referring to a range of technologies that burn coal more efficiently, and pollution controls that remove some of the nastiest pollutants from the smokestack. The European Climate Foundation pointed out in a report that even the most efficient coal-fired power plants only operate at around 44% efficiency, meaning that 56% of the energy content of the coal is lost, adding that those plants emit 15 times more carbon dioxide than renewable energy systems and twice as much CO2 as gas-fired power plants.
According to ENDCOAL, the cost of installing pollution controls will exceed the cost of other renewable options, as it adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of a new coal plant. Pollution controls can remove sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and mercury from the smokestacks. But while pollution controls can remove a lot of the toxic waste from the smokestack, these toxins end up in the coal ash, which is stored in waste ponds or landfills, which leach sulphur dioxide and heavy metals into surface and groundwater.
Another myth about “clean coal” is that carbon capture and storage techniques can reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. However, CCS is an unproven technology, which has not yet been implemented at a large-scale fossil fuel plant, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change journal in December 2016.