It seems renewables are taking a little bit of a bashing at the moment. First research emerges that wind turbines may be contributing to a temperature rise in the area, and now environmental campaigners in Egypt are calling for more careful deployment of solar panels in deserts. Speaking to Egypt Independent, Mindy Baha El Din (a conservationist who we profiled here) says that “There’s a misconception that the desert is a wasteland. It’s got an ecosystem of lifeforms, unique geological landscapes with fossils as well as cultural heritage sites.” And of all of this needs to be protected from various development schemes which includes large solar projects.
The hot and arid deserts of Egypt has been earmarked as perfect locations for large solar projects. There’s plenty of sun, not much around and there’s plenty of space. However, campaigners and nature experts insist that greater care needs to be taken to ensure that the location limits environmental harm and that the impact of constructing the large solar fields i minimized.
A150-megawatt hybrid power plant that will use both solar energy and natural gas to generate electricity, is under construction 90 kilometers south of Cairo in Kuryamatt. Plans for a second large solar plant in Upper Egypt’s Kom Ombo, are also underway. According to Baha El Din, such side by side expansion of solar plants could have a large impact on the desert’s ecosystem.
“We know from experience that any added complexity to the environment will attract birds to the land,” explains Baha El Din. “So solar panels will attract birds, but we don’t know if that will create more nature, or if there would be no vegetation [due to overuse].” Baha El Din estimates that around six million birds migrate annually through Egypt. The disruptive construction process which consists of vehicle traffic and noise will also adversely affect natural habitats.
In the US, various large solar projects have been put on hold due to their environmental implications. For example, a project worth USS2.2 billion, was halted when the site in the Mojave desert was found to home desert tortoises, which are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. BrightSource Energy, now cannot restart construction until it has safely relocated the turtles.
Green Prophet writer Maurice Picow has explored the ‘not so sunny side of solar‘ in the past. He has highlighted the fact that solar is costly, takes up large areas of land and consequently disrupts existing natural ecosystems. These are downsides that we have to tackle head on, he argues, especially as solar power is only going to become more widespread in the sunny MENA region.
:: Image via Green Prophet1/flickr.
For more on solar power in Egypt see: