While Egypt prepares to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 27 next November, the government has taken many decisions aimed at reducing domestic consumption of natural gas, the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon, to generate electricity in exchange for expanding the consumption of diesel, one of the worst fuels, the most polluting of the environment and the least efficient in generating electricity.
The Egyptian Prime Minister, Mostafa Madbouly, stressed that the goal of the decision is to provide natural gas for export to take advantage of its high prices globally to obtain the foreign exchange that Egypt desperately needs to overcome the severe economic crisis it is experiencing. Madbouly did not refer to the negative environmental impact of diesel or Egypt’s environmental obligations in this regard while referring to the financial benefit represented in selling one million thermal units at $30 in return for a local price of three dollars per million units at which the Ministry of Petroleum sells natural gas to the Ministry of Electricity.
The government plan to provide natural gas for external export instead of domestic consumption began in late 2021, without any official announcement. At the end of 2021, dependence on diesel fuel for electricity generation jumped by 620% compared to the end of 2020, bringing the volume of electricity generated from natural gas to 78.6% last year, while this percentage reached 96% and 95% during the previous two years, respectively. The reduction in dependence on natural gas continued to reach approximately 73% in May this year, according to a report by the Electricity Observatory affiliated with the Electricity Regulatory Authority and Consumer Protection. On the other hand, diesel consumption increased during the same month by more than 862% compared to May 2021, bringing its participation in energy production to about 11.5%.
The government has tended to rely on natural gas in the past five years in conjunction with the massive gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin and the decline in dependence on diesel. There were plans to increase local reliance on natural gas by converting all gasoline-powered cars to natural gas, but the fate of these plans is now unknown. Experts warn against relying on diesel fuel to generate electricity. From an environmental point of view, fuel oil negatively affects the environment as one of the worst types of energy. From an economic point of view, it is impossible to continue relying on diesel because of its adverse effects on power stations that will need frequent maintenance. To provide natural gas for export, the government announced a plan to rationalize electrical energy consumption, which includes a complete shutdown of internal and external lighting in all units of the state’s administrative apparatus after the end of official working hours and a reduction in street lighting, public squares and main axes. Malls that use central air conditioning systems will also be obligated not to lower the temperature below 25 degrees Celsius, and major sports facilities such as sports clubs, stadiums, football stadiums, and covered halls will be obligated to reduce electricity consumption.
The government says the goal is twofold, saving gas for export, reducing consumption and austerity. But it ignores the calls for austerity directed when it doesn’t stop holding a weekly government meeting in the new city of El Alamein, which has come to be called the government’s summer capital. This meeting costs the state budget millions of pounds per week, including transportation and accommodation expenses for 35 ministers and their auxiliary staff, and dozens of correspondents and journalists, to the city, which is 300 km from the seat of government in Cairo.