A pioneer in Egypt’s solar power industry, Infinity Solar was the first Egyptian company to develop and construct a large-scale solar project in Benban Solar Park, widely recognized as the world’s largest solar power complex. Its investments at Benban have helped spearhead Egypt’s reputation as a global solar power player while bringing new jobs and knowledge to the local community. Here, Mohamed I. Mansour, Co-Founder and CEO of Infinity Solar, explains Infinity’s definitive role in Egypt’s renewable energy future.
As the Co-Founder and CEO of Infinity Solar, you are playing a major part in supporting Egypt’s renewable energy generation goals. Please give us an overview of Infinity Solar’s mission and commitment to supporting a sustainable energy future.
Established in 2014, Infinity Solar seeks to utilize Egypt’s unexploited renewable energy resources, mainly focusing on solar energy, to build a greener, healthier and more sustainable future. Infinity Solar believes that environmental, social, health, and safety standards are of major importance for the company’s sustainable growth and positive impact for future generations. Our competitive advantage does not solely rely on the quality of our work, but also on safe and sound environmental and social performance. We believe our profitability increases as we improve our environmental and social performance because we are therefore developing both the capacity of our human resources and the efficiency of our operations. Infinity’s current projects in operation are estimated to generate about 530,975 MWh of electricity per year, which translates to preventing 293,832 tons of CO2 emissions per year if the same amount of electricity were generated using conventional sources.
Infinity Solar is one of the main participants in the giant Benban Aswan solar project, which is set to become the world’s largest solar park. What is the significance of this project?
Benban Solar Park is playing a very important role in introducing solar energy to Egypt on a large scale by providing the opportunity to gain practical experience during project construction. It created approximately 13,000 job opportunities and capacity building for the local community, which was only familiar with agriculture beforehand. They managed to construct a project that is considered the largest solar park in the world within only two years. This project has made it possible to produce more clean energy thanks to collaboration from all parties, including the government, investors and lenders.
Founded in 2014, Infinity Solar now operates six utility-scale projects with a total installed capacity of 235.95 MW. Please describe your participation in the feed-in tariff (FiT) program, your projects as part of the Round 1 and 2 of that project, and how much new capacity this will introduce.
Infinity has become a major player in the solar power scene in Egypt, developing two projects under Round 1 of the FiT program, one in 6th of October City in Cairo and another in Benban. These projects are the first to come online, and are currently feeding the national grid with a total installed capacity of 65.3 MWp. In addition, Infinity has developed another four projects within the Benban solar project under Round 2 of the FiT program, which are operating with a total installed capacity of 170.652 MW. Moreover, other developers have elected our representative as the chairman of the Benban Developers’ Association (BDA), the body that represents all the developers working in the Benban complex. This is a recognition of Infinity Solar’s continuous presence and productive relations with government entities, as well as showing the company’s proven commitment to developing the Egyptian renewable energy scene.
Infinity Solar aims to support the government to produce 20% of Egypt’s electricity from renewable sources by 2022. How are government energy policies enabling you to support this ambitious goal?
The Benban Solar Park has resulted in the creation of great expertise and industry know-how in the Egyptian power sector. However, until now, power purchase agreements (PPA) of electricity from large-scale renewable energy sources have been mostly limited to the national grid operator. As the last project plots in Benban are reaching commercial operation, there is a growing need to open the sector to private-to-private PPAs. The current net-metering regulations limit PPAs to 20MW. We believe that in order to reach the goal of generating 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2022, the government will need to put in place frameworks regulating private-to-private PPAs and charges for “wheeling” electricity on the national grid, from the location of the solar plants to private consumption. Infinity Solar is taking a leading role in the efforts being made by private sector developers to discuss and formulate such a framework.
Why should German investors consider getting involved in the Egyptian solar energy market?
The Egyptian solar energy market is very promising in terms of the regulatory environment and private demand for solar power from medium and large corporations. Many decision-makers in Egypt have become aware of the importance of renewable energy and its financial and environmental benefits in terms of reducing energy bills and GHG emissions. At the moment, we have a significant pipeline of corporations working in various sectors, especially the heavily energy-dependent industries, such as cement, aluminum, sugar and agriculture. This can be a great opportunity for German investors considering the high demand and awareness shown by private sector, the relatively high solar irradiance in Egypt, and the government’s enthusiasm to increase renewable energy sources in the country’s energy mix.
Germany’s Bayerische Landesbank financed the landmark Infinity 50 solar project. What can other German investors learn from this experience?
Infinity 50 is a very significant solar project with a capacity of 64.1MW, and was the first large-scale solar project in Egypt. It was also the first project to achieve financial closure and conduct commercial operations under Round 1 of the FiT program. The project was jointly developed with our German partner ib vogt GmbH. It was particularly challenging in that it was the first project on such a scale in Egypt and due to very demanding requirements for sophisticated financing solutions. The process of securing and developing this project was highly complex, starting with the financing, and then regarding imports, logistics, training and, finally, constructing the plant in a well-organized process under the heat of the desert sun. The result of this effort was a key milestone in the development of photovoltaics in the Middle East & North Africa region. While all other external third-party financing plans from other developers were unsuccessful, in a race against time – including pressures from additional requirements and currency fluctuations – the Infinity 50 consortium was able to obtain financing from the German Bayerische Landesbank for 85% of the debt, and 15% from Arab African International Bank. The loan is secured by Hermes Cover, an export credit guarantee from the Federal Republic of Germany. For a project in these conditions to succeed, bringing solutions and efforts together is very important, as well as working together very closely and openly with a very high degree of common alignment and trust.
How important are CSR initiatives to Infinity Solar?
Due to the long-term nature of renewable energy projects, we believe that large-scale economic investment in our projects must be coupled with social and economic development of the project area. Infinity has been engaging with the local community in Benban Aswan from the commencement of our projects, and managed to provide equal job opportunities to individuals and small companies. Therefore, we managed to maintain good and strong relationships with the local community. In addition, a training center was established where participants received technical training, which ultimately prepares them to work onsite as skilled workers, technicians and supervisors. Some of these trainees were hired permanently during the O&M (operations and maintenance) phase. Moreover, Infinity has donated two dialysis units to Benban’s local health unit, which is currently in the installation phase to attend to local health issues.
In the commercial segment, Infinity Solar installs backup and hybrid solutions, on-grid and off-grid solutions, as well as solar lighting and solar carports. Who are some of your major commercial clients and why should German companies consider working with you?
We worked with Majid Al Futtaim City Centre Almaza, Cairo to install a 1.2MW solar PV power plant under a self-consumption scheme customized carport structure, as well as McDonald’s Amreya in Alexandria, where we installed a solar thermal water heating system and complete off-grid solution feeds for their parking lot’s 42 lighting poles. Other clients include Mansour Chevrolet on the Cairo-Alex road (233kw solar PV power plant under Net-metering scheme customized on corrugated sheet rooftop), the Palm Hills Golf Course in Cairo (25 solar-powered LED poles), the Palm Hills Residential Units in Cairo (backup PV systems for a number of private residences in case of power cuts, ranging from 8KW to 40KW). Infinity encourages partnerships with German companies with the aim of developing a beneficial relationship through knowledge exchange in the renewable energy industry.
Finally, what gives Infinity Solar a competitive advantage in the renewable energy market?
Infinity has a very strong capability of overcoming diverse obstacles that might be incurred while developing and constructing different renewable energy projects, such as regulatory requirements, lenders’ requirements and standards, acquiring permits, and licenses. Additionally, Infinity always focuses on delivering its projects on budget, on time and with high quality. Infinity was the first Egyptian company to go through the whole process of developing and constructing a large-scale solar project in Benban Aswan (Infinity 50), as well as the only developer to manage cumulative issues among other stakeholders.