Egypt on power plant fast track

CAIRO // The first two gargantuan gas turbines of a total 24 that Egypt ordered in June last year have been mounted on their bases in Beni Suef, less than a year since the country signed a contract to build the world’s biggest power plant.

The huge project is designed to end an electricity crisis that has caused rolling blackouts and closed industries down for months at a time over the past few years.

The Siemens H-class gas turbines were loaded at Berlin’s Westhafen port on February 16 and, with the help of two cranes, were hoisted on to a barge and hauled downstream to Rotterdam, where they were transferred to a ship, carried through the Strait of Gibraltar then the Suez Canal to Adabiya Port at the northern tip of the Gulf of Suez.

From there, the turbines, which are 12.6 metres long and 5.5 metres wide, had to be loaded on to 40-axle trailers for the 250-kilometre drive from Adabiya to Beni Suef, 110km south of Cairo, a journey that took five days.

Each of the turbines weighs 445 tonnes and special measures were needed to handle them, including a strengthening of the motorway.

The two turbines are the first of a planned eight natural gas turbines and another three steam turbines at the combined-cycle Beni Suef power plant. Each gas turbine can produce 400 megawatts (MW) of power, and together with the steam turbines, which take advantage of the heat produced, the plant will generate 4.8 gigawatts (GW) of power, making it the world’s biggest.

Siemens is building another two plants elsewhere in Egypt that will be almost identical. One is at New Capital, just to the north-east of Cairo, and the other at Burullus on the northern tip of the Nile Delta.

Together the three plants will cost a combined €6 billion (Dh25.03bn) and generate 14.4GW, an amount that will boost the entire country’s generating capacity on last year by 50 per cent.

Egypt has been suffering from an acute shortage of power as population and consumption grew while investment infrastructure was neglected.

At the peak of the crisis in the summer months of 2013, blackouts darkened homes and businesses daily across the country, sometimes for up to 10 hours in a single day.

In the following two summers, the government opted to cut power to heavy industry rather than the general public.

After his election in 2014, the president, Abdel Fattah El Sisi, drew up an urgent plan for a major boost in power capacity. He ordered floating natural gas import terminals and increased imports of fuel oil to keep power plants at full capacity.

The government signed a memorandum of understanding for the three Siemens power plants at the Sharm El Sheikh economic summit in March last year, and a contract was signed in June last year.

Four of the eight turbines have arrived in Beni Suef.

The gas turbines will produce their first electricity at about the end this year, six months faster than usual, says Siemens. Later it will add heat exchangers and steam turbines. The full 14.4GW of power is scheduled to come on stream by 2019, in time for the peak summer months of power consumption.

“I think it was right also what president Sisi has done to take a directional approach at the beginning,” says said Dietmar Siersdorfer, the chief executive of Siemens Middle East.

“To say, ‘yes, we do this now’, because if he would have started a negotiation process and a tendering process for two or three years nothing would have been developed and we would still be in the same situation and we would still have three summers gone without any stability of supply.

“But he took the way forward and said, ‘I do this now and with that I stabilise my economy’, and I think he’s right.”

Siemens, which opened its first office in Cairo in 1901, brought in Elsewedy Electric and Orascom Construction as their local partners on the project.

It has also agreed to build up to 12 wind farms along the Gulf of Suez and to the west of the Nile where 600 wind turbines will generate about 2GW of electricity.

Siemens plans to build a rotor-blade factory near Ain Sokhna that is scheduled to go into operation toward the end of next year. “We have already progressed with that factory very well. We have selected the site and have the drawings,” Mr Siersdorfer says.

Siemens has already installed or is installing 78 of its H-class turbines throughout the world, but only Egypt has ordered megaplants with eight of the turbines in each.

“That can be applied in other countries,” says Mr Siersdorfer.

“There are economies in the region and in the whole world which have the same needs. They are in a very unstable situation with electricity supplies, like two years ago here, and they need to put that up in place. There will be examples of countries that also follow that direction.”

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