Daily News Egypt interviewed Elham Mahmoud Ibrahim on the occasion of re-electing her as vice president of the World Energy Council representing Africa, for the second time in a row. She was the first Egyptian to hold this position. She was elected first in 2016, and re-elected during the council’s 24th Executive Assembly Meeting held in September in Abu Dhabi.
Ibrahim received her PhD in electronics and communications from the Cairo University. She used to work in the New and Renewable Energy Authority and then became assistant professor in a Saudi university.
She was the first woman to serve as Deputy Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy in Egypt, and then became the first Egyptian to work as the African Union Commissioner for Energy and Infrastructure in 2008. She was also re-elected in 2012.
Can you brief us on the World Energy Council’s role and objectives?
Established in 1924, the World Energy Council is a non-governmental body authorised by the United Nations. It is based in London, United Kingdom. It brings together everyone who is interested in energy affairs in the world, and includes governments, independent energy producers, universities, and individuals concerned with energy.
The council’s administrative organisational structure consists of president, vice president, and a board representing all member countries.
The council provides an opportunity for members to discuss and study energy problems and develop solutions, strategies, and possible scenarios for the future of energy through regular meetings every three years, such as the one held in Abu Dhabi in September.
What are the activities the council is currently discussing?
The council is currently discussing several activities and studies related to the future of energy, including a plan to develop the sector until 2060, a study on the main issues that concern the world’s energy leaders according to the interests and priorities of each region, and a study on Energy Trilemma, defined as the triple challenge of providing secure, equitable, and affordable, environmentally sustainable energy. Energy Trilemma comes after the radical transformation in the field of energy.
Do we, as citizens, need to be well-informed about energy sustainability?
Given what we have reached at the moment and how import is the energy conservation, we can say that things are going well. Many people are starting to feel responsible, yet we still need more efforts to increase awareness about energy sustainability.
Is clean and renewable energy still a dream hard to reach because of its high cost?
Our country is rich in clean and renewable resources of energy. We have come a long way in this field and achieved remarkable success. We have clear plans, like a 22% contribution of renewable energy in 2022, increasing it to 45% by 2035. We are trying to catch up with countries that are ahead of us in the field.
Should we put an end to using coal for power generation, or are there measures that can reduce its environmental damage?
Coal is still a cheap resource of energy, but if there is an alternative, we should use it. Some countries, like South Africa, are rich in coal mines, so they rely heavily on coal for power generation, but modern technology must be used to reduce its emissions. Egypt has alternatives for coal, including natural gas, especially after the recent major discoveries, and the trend towards using it in thermal plants.
Can we offer the required safety rates in nuclear energy?
The transition to nuclear power as a source of energy production was great, characterised by its low price and high capacity. Applying safety measures in nuclear operating system requires only experienced cadres, given the needed special abilities and skills. I believe there is no reason to fear the use of nuclear energy as long as it is subject to strict and controlled monitoring systems.
Do we have enough nuclear power cadres or we still need foreign experts?
Egypt has two bodies affiliated to the Ministry of Electricity specialised in nuclear energy, namely the Nuclear Materials Authority and the Nuclear Power Plants Authority. Egypt has sufficient cadres in this field, whether in research, operation, and maintenance. Officials responsible for Dabaa power plant are sending Egyptian delegations for training and getting more experience and knowledge.
Are African energy resources still wasted?
Undoubtedly, there has been a clear change in the using natural resources in Africa, although exportation of raw materials is still ongoing, and the African Union is now following the process of adding some value to materials before exporting them to preserve the wealth of the continent and make the most of them.
The AU also calls for the establishment of regional joint projects to make countries help one another. Everyone is working collectively to achieve real development and utilise raw materials and natural resources without wasting, which is a major role that has always been played by the AU. Its effort can be seen clearly in Africa’s infrastructure development programme, through the establishment of regional power plants and road networks.
Is energy production’s responsibility for climate pollution “an illusion” as US President Donald Trump says?
Energy production undoubtedly causes a major part of thermal emissions, such as carbon dioxide and sulphur. However, the transport sector is the largest contributor to pollution, followed by the energy sector, both during production and use.
How useful can electrical interconnection between neighbouring countries be? What are the obstacles facing it?
There are electricity interconnection agreements between Egypt and several countries, including Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, and Libya. There are also similar memorandums of understanding between Egypt and Jordan as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council. Electrical interconnection plays a major role in securing energy supply to countries in case of deficit or sudden shortage. This system can secure enough energy to connected countries during peak hours, which vary from country to another due to time difference, as well as in the case of excess production.
Agreements or memorandums of understanding in the field of electricity between states would strengthen relations between them.
What about the updated version of the Pan-Arab Renewable Energy Strategy?
Based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Arab countries established their own strategic plan in the field of energy, which is flexible according to the interests and needs of each region, as well as the challenges and variables of each era. The recent meeting of Arab foreign ministers in October in Cairo resulted in an agreement to update the Pan-Arab Renewable Energy Strategy and its role in achieving the objectives of the SDGs.
After the establishment of the Benban solar complex, does Egypt need more similar projects?
Given our capacity and needs for renewable energy, I can say that our current situation is good as our capabilities exceed our needs, especially after completing several energy projects, mainly the Benban solar complex which includes 32 plants with a total production capacity of 1,465MW, becoming the largest solar project in the world. These projects helped Egypt achieve a production surplus, making it an attractive country for investment in this field.
How do you see your re-election for this post in the World Energy Council, and assuming other major positions in Egypt?
I had the privilege of working as Deputy Minister of Electricity in Egypt, after this position was limited to men for decades. This was the result of hard work and great passion for knowledge and learning.