What appears to be a first for Egypt (but not the first for us to report) is that a group of university students from the American University in Cairo have finally developed an entire building dubbed “Solar House” after two years of work, and lack of funds, despite not being able to showcase their idea at the Solar Decathalon in Spain recently. The announcement by the university this month shows that the youth in the country are the driving force for environmental change, even with all their challenges. And in a country where energy worries - even before the revolution in January 2011 – are on the rise with a fast-growing population, solar power could be a huge boost for the country.
“When people see an actual built house that fully relies on solar panels as an energy source in Egypt, they will start to believe in the possibility of turning to alternative energy, and thus, the country will move forward,” were the optimistic words of the Egyptian university students who have been working on building this solar house for almost two years.
The project is part of an international energy competition, Solar Decathlon, which occurs every two years. Green Prophet attended the event this past fall, and next year it will be held in China and the AUC team, self-dubbed “Slide-S”, is the only African and Middle East group participating in the latter stages of the competition.
As a competition, they will be battling for the grand price – the most solar efficient dwelling – with teams from Israel, China, Belgium, the United States, Turkey, Iran, England, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Malaysia, and Singapore.
According to Solar Decathlon, each house is evaluated based on the “architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, energy balance and comfort zone.”
“Europe is planning to create a major grid that will supply the continent with electricity collected from the sun in Egypt. So why aren’t we making use of it for us? You see everyone else investing in your own country in something that you are not capable of doing,” Rana Samir, the “solar energy expert” of the group explained in a statement.
The AUC students are now looking for sponsors to raise upwards of $3.5 million through February in order to complete the house and ship it to China for the competition. If successful, and victorious, the team believes that it could be a watershed moment for solar energy and sustainability in a country that sorely needs alternative energy sources.
“We calculated the full energy consumption of the house and compared it to the energy produced by the PV-systems [i.e. solar panels]. The results showed that in the summer, there is a lot of excessive energy that can be saved in batteries for the winter. But even in the winter, all the energy consumption in the house is covered by solar energy,” Samir explains.
According to World Bank statistics through 2011, Egypt is in prime position to make solar power a top priority with some of the highest levels of solar irradiance across the globe. However, only one percent of energy consumption is from renewable sources. Adding to the frustration, and hope for the students, 6 percent of the country’s GDP is, according to the WB, “wasted on energy subsidies.”