With the combined incentives of reduced fossil fuel subsidies and the falling cost of renewable energy equipment, Egypt is finding the resources and long vision to build the world’s largest solar farm.
In 1913 on the outskirts of Cairo, an inventor from Philadelphia named Frank Shuman built the world’s first solar thermal power station, using the abundant Egyptian sunshine to pump 6,000 gallons of water a minute from the Nile to irrigate a nearby cotton field. World War I and the discovery of cheap oil derailed Shuman’s dream of replicating his “sun power plant” on a grand scale and eventually producing enough energy to challenge the world’s dependence on coal. More than a century later, that vision has been resurrected. The world’s largest solar park, the $2.8-billion Benban complex, is set to open next year 400 miles south of Cairo in Egypt’s Western Desert. That is no small feat for a country that’s been hobbled by its longtime addiction to cheap, state-subsidized fossil fuels and currently gets more than 90% of its electricity from oil and natural gas. But the prospects for green energy here have never been better as the government has been scaling back fossil-fuel subsidies in line with an International Monetary Fund-backed reform program that aims to rescue an economy ravaged by political upheaval. Meanwhile, the rapidly falling cost of equipment for solar and wind power has increased […]