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Egyptian students build solar-generated house

A team of 20 students are joining the global Solar Decathlon competition by building a house completely powered by solar energy.
After continuous blackouts that have been occurring throughout last year and AlAhram’s recent prominent first-page headline: ‘We await a dark winter and a black summer’, Egyptians are concerned with how they can save on electricity or at least have an alternative source of energy – especially after the government hinted that it might increase the price of electricity by annulling subsidies.

“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.”: the contagiously optimistic words of Egyptian university students that have been working on building a “Solar-House” for almost two years.

The house is part of a global competition called Solar Decathlon, which takes place every two years in a different part of the world – and this time, it is in China. The only African and Middle Eastern team participating in the final stages is from Egypt, particularly from the American University, and carries the name “Slide-S”.

The 20-member-team is going head-to-head with Israel, China, Belgium, United States, Turkey, Iran, England, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Malaysia, and Singapore, in order to build the most efficient, solar-driven house. The houses are evaluated according to their architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, energy balance and comfort zone.

And what better country to use solar energy than Egypt? “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 explains.

Trying to get sponsors from all over the world in order to come up with $3.5 million until February to build and ship the house to the competition headquarter in China, the team believes that winning the contest could be a first step to encourage a more sustainable lifestyle in Egypt.

“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.

The main problems facing solar power in Egypt are the lack of awareness and the lack of incentives offered by the government. Egypt has one of the highest levels of solar irradiance in the world, yet only 1% of all consumed energies depend on renewables, while 6% of the Gross Domestic Product is “wasted” on energy subsidies (World Bank, 2011). Electricity is cheap and no one offers incentives for using alternative energy sources.

Abroad, governments partly fund the installation of solar panels in normal houses and buy the excess electricity off house-owners.

“The initial cost for a PV-System is very high, but it pays off on the long-run. With incentives from the government, it might pay off after a year or two, and then one will never have to pay for electricity anymore,” Nermin ElKadim, “the architect” of the group explains. “But as Egyptians, we do not like long-term investments. We want short-term benefits that we can see and feel now. This mentality needs to be changed.”

Currently, solar companies cannot find a market in Egypt - yet, a lot of start-ups are beginning to focus on renewables.

“After the competition, we are planning to bring back the house to Egypt and market it. We would offer the designing and building of customized houses completely fueled by solar energy. The owner will then be in control of his own energy,” ElKadim states. “Egypt needs to be on the global map of the renewable energy industry. There is no way around it – and that is what we are trying to do.”

If Slide-S finds the necessary funds, the house will be complete in August 2013, and the winner of the competition will be announced shortly after.

Find Slide-S here: