March 28, 2010

Sudan Has Ambitious Solar Energy Plans

Sudan is looking to exploit the Saharan sun to power its underdeveloped regions and green its deserts.

The expense to use the sun's energy for regions like Darfur is great, but the country's ministry of energy and mining believes that advances in solar technology will lower the costs.

"The costs are high compared to other conventional energy resources but we think that with the technology advances going on there will be a substantial decrease," the ministry's secretary general, Omar Mohammed Kheir, told AFP.

He said that the plan was to develop solar energy in regions not linked to the national grid like North Darfur.

By using solar power, Sudan could be setting a global example across a world that is worried about climate change.

Sudan is Africa's fifth largest oil producer and is multiplying its hydroelectric projects along the Nile.  Three fifths of its product is exported to Asia. However, conventional energy sources will not meet the increasing demand of the country's 40 million people.

The French company Solar Euromed signed an agreement with Sudan earlier this month to build and run solar power plants over the next decade.

"Our country is developing very, very fast and we think there is a need for more electricity. That is why we have a master plan to generate about 20,000 megawatts within the coming 20 years," Kheir said.

"The hydro power may contribute to 20 to 25 percent at maximum. The rest will come from other sources, all renewable energy including biofuel, solar energy, gas and maybe even nuclear energy."

Sudan already launched a plan to produce biofuels, with a goal of 528,000 gallons in two years.

Chairman of Solar Euromed Marc Benmarraze said Sudan was well placed to use solar energy. However, he cautioned over the country's conflict-ridden history.

"Sudan is in the zone known as the solar belt, where there is a direct normal radiation that is one of the world's strongest," Benmarraze said.

The company's first project will produce at least 150 megawatts of energy, with up to a third being generated by solar power.

The agreement could be a first step in ambitious plans to green the deserts in northern Sudan and North Darfur.

"In this region, desertification has happened," said Osama Rayis with the African City of Technology, which is linked to the ministry of technology.

"So our idea is turning yellow to green, through the use of solar energy for pumping because there is a lot of underground water in all these areas, so we can change the picture dramatically," he said.

"It is very difficult to use fossil-based energy there because transportation is a problem," he said.

However, costs still stand in the way.

"Our problem is the lack of funds. So we are trying to work it out," he said. "We are trying to market these projects for the parties, the government, the international community, NGOs."
Sudan's government is not financing Solar Euromed's $10 billion project.  The company wants to finance it with partners and make a profit by selling the energy.

Kheir said the Solar Euromed deal is a "preliminary memorandum of understanding."

The conflicts in Sudan, such as the two-decade civil war between the north and the south and a devastating war in Darfur, makes investing in the country risky.

Benmarraze said Sudan "has its own political risks," and it is necessary to take it "step by step" rather than try to secure the full $10 billion for the project.

Ulrich Mans, who is a renewable energy specialist at Amsterdam University, said it was necessary to show that the technology would work in the country to gain investors' confidence.

"In order to get significant investors on board it is crucial to show that this technology makes economic sense and offers returns on investment to foreign companies," he added.


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