February 15, 2019
CAIRO — High prices of renewable energy are consistently used to justify Egypt's modest renewable energy ambitions, despite the country's natural assets such as high solar radiation and adequate wind speeds.
In 2014, in the face of an energy deficit, Egypt went in the opposite direction by resorting to coal as a source of energy. Since then, laws and policies have made way for the decision to take force, including modifications to Egypt's environmental law, which used to strictly forbid the use of coal as a source of electricity. The Federation of Egyptian Industries — coal's biggest fan — has often made the case for its low price and availability, also claiming that new technologies make clean coal possible.
Since then, subsidies have slowly but steadily been lifted, leaving the Egyptian people with rates of inflation reaching as high as 14%. But the energy deficit persists, and energy policies appear to be uncreative and shortsighted.
The energy deficit persists, and energy policies appear to be uncreative and shortsighted.
On the business side — apart from one promising investment of $4 billion from a variety of sources in the Benban solar park — a Chinese consortium has received the bid for a large coal-fired power station in the city of Hamrawein in the Red Sea governorate for $4.4 billion, and Russian state nuclear company Rosatom has made an investment of $21 billion in the city of Dabaa's nuclear power plant in the Matruh Governorate.
These three energy projects are expected to generate 1.6 gigawatts (GW), 6 GW and 1.2 GW of energy, respectively. But in the case of both the coal and nuclear plants, the construction price does not include costs of fuel, making the claim of financial viability questionable.
Energy strategies in countries like Indonesia and India — which are similar to Egypt in terms of GDP but have even greater energy consumption levels — are quite different. They stand next to economic giants like the United States, China and Canada, alongside Mexico and Brazil, to collectively account for 50% of the world's renewable energy in 2030. So what makes countries like India and Indonesia stand side-by-side, or at least realistically plan to, with the big players in terms of renewable energy, while Egypt falls behind?
The Indonesian Renewable Energy Strategy includes a specific rundown of renewable energy sources and energy demand. Targets set by Pertamina, Indonesia's state-owned energy group, include 2,300 megawatts (MW) of geothermal plants and 600 MW of solar energy by 2030, as well as 300 MW of wind and 200 MW of biomass power facilities, in addition to the distribution of 17,000 barrels of biofuel daily.
There is a strategic focus on small-scale biogas plants, which not only enables decentralized generation, but also provides jobs, increases community autonomy, boosts the local economy and contributes to energy security and independence. Energy efficiency plans are planned to reduce energy intensity by 17% across the transport, industrial, residential and service sectors. Reducing energy intensity in different industries indicates an increase of energy efficiency leading to an increase in the GDP contributed in comparison with the energy used in these respective industries.
Closer to home, the Moroccan Renewable Energy Strategy is another example of ambition. Renewable energy production has reached an all-time high of 34% in 2017, making the plans of reaching 42% by 2020 and 52% by 2030 quite realistic. The strategy also includes cutting coal power production from 37% to 26%, a drastic decrease of the use of one of Morocco's already-existing fuels, all the while increasing the share of wind power from 10% in 2015 to 15% in 2020 and 20% in 2030. Meanwhile, solar energy shares are to be increased from 2% in 2015 to 14% in 2020 and 20% in 2030.
Decentralized bio-fuel generation has proven to be a problem-solver not only in Morocco but in many countries, including India, Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mozambique. These countries — much like Egypt — have vast agricultural land and produce massive amounts of agricultural waste that are potential goldmines.
Jobs and savings
Morocco's regulatory framework of renewable energy production has also witnessed several amendments that have opened the door to self-producers and the introduction of net-metering (a system that allows entities and individuals to feed the national grid with electricity produced from solar energy during peak hours of solar radiation and credits them based on the amount of electricity produced to be remunerated in electricity equal to the amount produced and financially if the amount of electricity produced exceeds the electricity consumed).
Morocco's 2030 renewable energy strategy is set to decrease national emissions to 32% below business-as-usual (BAU) emissions (greenhouse gas emissions expected by the year 2030) in a scenario in which there is no change to the current Moroccan energy strategy.
Reducing emissions is not the only incentive for ambitious renewable energy strategies. In Indonesia, the plan's net reduction of energy system costs, along with mitigated emissions and air pollution, could stand to save the country $53 billion per year, the equivalent of 1.7% of its GDP. The strategy is also expected to lead to an increase in jobs in the renewable energy sector from 100,000 to 1.3 billion. The plan further provides Indonesia greater energy security since it will decrease its oil use by 9%, consequently decreasing its petroleum imports.
In Morocco, the renewable energy strategy places the country on the export side of the onshore wind power market. More than 13,000 direct jobs are expected to be created, in addition to the creation of over 36,000 jobs in the field of energy efficiency. Furthermore, cutting the heavy fossil fuel subsidies will allow the Moroccan government to offer renewable energy at affordable rates and fund research and development.
It's true that coal use is still very much present in Indonesia's energy strategy. But unlike Egypt, which is turning to coal at a time when it is being phased out globally, Indonesia has a long history of using coal. Also, Indonesia and Morocco use local coal, whereas Egypt has to import it. That's another thing that makes Egypt's insistence on using coal for power generation somewhat inexplicable.
In comparison with the global trend, inconsistency clouds Egypt's plans. According to governmental sources, Egypt's renewable energy strategy aims at 20% renewable energy by 2022, a 2018 MOU with the European Parliament refers to 42% by 2035 as Egypt's official renewable energy target, news articles have Egypt's Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Shaker announcing 37% by 2035 as the official target, while the minister has also been cited as announcing a target of 42% by 2035. The importance of renewable energy targets lies not only in the figures themselves, but in their acting as a frame of reference and an integral part of accountability mechanisms.
On the policy side, Egypt's energy strategy includes generic recommendations rather than specific energy policies. These include "strengthening deployment mechanisms for different renewable energies, and relevant monitoring systems' and "adopting a regulatory system for solar thermal and biomass applications."
The energy sector plays a vital role in any national strategy. Renewable energy penetration introduces a new skillset to the country's job market. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), not only does the deployment of renewables reduce greenhouse gases (and help safeguard public health and ecosystems), it also contributes to a significant boost of human welfare due to its contributions to job creation, education and changes in consumption patterns.
Egypt's solar radiation, one of the highest worldwide (and one and a half that of Indonesia's) in addition to rapidly plummeting prices of photovoltaic systems — one of the systems used to convert solar energy to electricity using solar cells — are bound to make solar energy more lucrative and much cheaper than coal, nuclear and even diesel in the near future. In Egypt's current energy and economic climate, a strong renewable energy strategy would contribute to solving the energy deficit but also contribute to the ever-volatile welfare of Egyptians.
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It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
October 27, 2021
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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