megaproject
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In October ESI Africa was invited to visit a newly-unveiled megaproject in Beni Suef, Egypt that needed a first-hand experience to truly appreciate its scale. Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl reports.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 5, 2018. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy. 

Photographs of the world’s largest combined cycle power plant and its boilerplate are impressive – but nothing compares to visiting the site on the banks of the Nile River. It was an enviable opportunity to travel from Cape to Cairo to witness the celebration of consortium partners Siemens, Elsewedy Electric and Orascom Construction teams’ delight at a job well done – completing three plants totalling 14.4GW in a record time of 27.5 months is an achievement of note. However, is an additional 14.4GW of generation capacity needed in Egypt?

Since 2010, Egypt has experienced frequent, lengthy power cuts and blackouts. At the peak of the country’s electricity crisis, the power shortage was estimated to reach 5GW, causing many factories to halt operations, seriously affecting the country’s economy.

This continued until, in late 2014 – coupled with aging power plants – the country was crippled by a severe blackout, which spurred the Egyptian government to unblock its energy pipeline. Taking a progressive outlook in 2015, government announced the liberalisation of its electricity market whereby the state would no longer manage utilities, but instead regulate and coordinate them. In the reform, production, transmission and distribution of electricity would be separated and privatised, and the state’s role would be limited to keeping the sector competitive through tariff structures and promoting an inclusive energy mix.

Government also announced its intention of moving the administrative capital from Cairo to a yet to be named city, but this required a shift in residential and industrial construction as well as much-needed reliable and affordable power.

Could this have been the final motivation behind the political will to sign the memorandum of understanding for the construction of this and other megaprojects to overcome Egypt’s electricity challenges?

Undoubtedly no project of this size can run so smoothly without the backing of the government, which in this instance included a hefty consideration toward local content – resulting in various small to medium local companies and authorities working on the megaproject, thereby having a direct hand in the advancement of Egypt’s energy transformation.

Confirming the reasoning behind supporting megaprojects in the wake of distributed power and off-grid market growth, Egypt’s minister of electricity and renewable energy, Mohamed Shaker, said: “The completion of the power plants is a significant milestone in the government’s strategy to modernise energy infrastructure in Egypt to drive industrial growth and economic progress. This new power infrastructure will serve as the backbone for economic prosperity in Egypt for years to come.”

The plants, situated in Burullus, New Capital and Beni Suef, use a combination of gas and steam turbines, making it superefficient. The €6 billion price tag includes high voltage transmission lines, substations, and a long-term O&M service contract.

According to Sherif Kotb, Siemens’ deputy project director & head of project office, due to the area’s geography building the plants required tremendous logistical coordination.

“The Beni Suef site needed the excavation and removal of 1.75 million cubic metres of rocks, equivalent to the volume of the smaller Giza Pyramid,” he said. Due to the sloping terrain on the banks of the Nile River, levelling and backfilling the entire site took three months.

A single combined cycle power plant block with a capacity of 1,200MW typically takes approximately 30 months for construction. For the Egypt Megaproject Siemens in parallel built 12 of these blocks in record time and connected them to the grid. Each of the three power plants are powered by eight SGT5-8000 H-class gas turbines, four steam turbines, 12 generators, eight Siemens heat recovery steam generators and 12 transformers, plus a 500-kilovolt gas-insulated switchgear.

At the time of publishing, Siemens had successfully energised six substations that will transmit electricity generated by the new power plants. The company has also provided training to 600 Egyptian engineers and technicians, who will be responsible for operating and maintaining the plants, while helping to expand the skills and knowledge of the local workforce.

Reiterating the importance of this megaproject, Emad Ghaly, CEO of Siemens Egypt, added: “This is a major achievement for our country and our people. I am proud that the Siemens team was selected to contribute to this success. The plants will supply enough electricity for 45 million people and enable Egypt to achieve $1.3 billion in fuel savings on an annual basis.

With these projects, we provide an essential contribution to stabilise both the energy supply and the economy in our country, which has an outstanding importance for the whole Middle East region and Africa.” It’s a start to effectively upgrade the country’s network, but arguably the highlight from this megaproject is the three year vocational technical education programme – the Zein Al Abdeen Technical School – that is the key to developing the economy. ESI

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 5, 2018. You can read the magazine's articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.