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Egypt has a staggering wind energy potential. The wind resource is huge and largely unrestricted; the country's industry is developing and the population growing, with demands for ever more electricity; a giant grid loop is being constructed along the Gulf of Suez, with plenty of capacity for wind power plant; and the country's supply system includes enough hydro power to make integration of wind relatively easy. Moreover, Egypt has been identified as a recipient for western aid, with the energy and environment sectors singled out for special attention. A veritable paradise, it would seem, for any wind turbine salesman.

Winds blow at phenomenal average speeds in Egypt across hundreds of miles of unpopulated open land along the Gulf of Suez. The coastal potential is estimated at 20,000 MW for five identified sites: Zafarana, Ras Ghareb, Ras El Behar and Hurghada, with wind speeds ranging between 7.6 m/s at Hurghada, where the wind technology centre is sited, to over 10 m/s at Zafarana where 80 MW of wind plant is in the pipeline, financed by Denmark and Germany. Extensive wind measurements over the past four years have revealed areas of even greater wind potential than previously believed, says Jens Carsten Hansen of the wind test centre at Denmark's national laboratory at Risø. A huge area -- the Gulf of El Zaut -- has been found to have winds with an energy content some 50% greater than those at Zafarana. Winds of up to 11-12 m/s can be found along the coast and up to ten or even 20 kilometres inland.

"We know much more about the wind now. In 1990 it was impossible to say where projects could be placed or what the potential was because we did know enough about the wind," says Hansen. He points out that a project in Egypt would produce 50% more than the equivalent project in Denmark. The potential of the 80-square kilometre Zafarana site alone is 600 MW, with the expectation that it will all be developed within ten years.

Zafarana is also blessed with being just off the route of Egypt's massive electricity grid expansion programme. The 40 kilometre link to Zafarana should be completed this year, only requiring construction of a sub-station, scheduled for June 1997. Longer term plans for Egypt's grid include a link to neighbouring Libya, opening up the potential for export of electricity, including that generated from wind energy.

Historically, Egypt, home to the Aswan dam, is used to having a never ending source of clean energy. Until 25 years ago, cheap hydro power made up a large proportion of its electricity supply. Today nearly 80% of Egypt's power comes from fossil fuel, mainly oil and gas plants. Many Egyptians feel politically uncomfortable about this reversal to dirty power technology and the growing likelihood that the country will become dependent on imported oil.

With wind on the agenda as an alternative, bird studies of the whole of the Gulf of Suez have been carried out. The area lies within striking distance of a major avian migration route, but the studies reveal there should be no problem at all at Zafarana. The spring migration has still to be studied before a final report is published, but there is no indication that Zafarana, or Hurghada, lie in flight paths, assures Hansen. "There are few areas of the world where several thousand wind turbines will have such little impact," he adds.

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