The newly launched Yalla Shams initiative wants households to go solar
By Farah Al Akkad
I n their dreams to make Egypt a better place, some people want to reach for the stars. The Yalla Shams team wants you to reach for the sun. With no end in sight to recurring power outages and some areas off the grid completely, this recently launched initiative is bringing together the national power companies, solar panel suppliers and individual consumers to reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel generated electricity.
Yalla Shams was founded by Ahmed Mousa, an eco-tourism and solar energy expert and the owner of Deseret Lodge, the first eco-lodge in Dakhla Oasis, and Heba Selim, a management and PR consultant. Selim explain they wanted to work together on a project “that will help build a better Egypt after June 30, with a main goal to create a snowball effect in shifting to solar energy.”
The Yalla Shams founders, also including Hatem Tarek, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the British University in Egypt (BUE), wanted to find a project to help reduce the government’s responsibilities. “From our daily experience with power cuts, it goes without saying that the energy crises are the biggest challenges our government is currently facing,” Selim explains. “We wanted to have the ultimate vision to overcome the energy crisis through the community.”
The initiative promotes the use of solar panels to produce electricity instead of fossil-fuel power plants, “which in the long run is cheaper and can help reduce the energy crisis that is continuously escalating in Egypt” adds Mousa, noting that Egypt’s abundant sunlight is essentially being wasted.
Yalla Shams officially launched their campaign on March 18 at BUE, joined by students in the university’s branch of Enactus, an international student organization that promotes socially responsible leadership.
“What we basically do is, we deliver the message to people, explaining the benefits of solar energy and how it will benefit both its consumers and the community,” Selim explains. “If they are convinced and are willing to be part of the eco-friendly community that is continually growing, we give them a list of the companies that sell solar panels.”
There are two ways a household could use solar power. First, Mousa says, the consumer could sign up for on-grid service, where you connect to a central solar energy power supply and pay for it on a monthly basis just like electricity.
Or the consumer could choose an off-grid solution, using solar panels to generate and store electricity in batteries. The solar panel companies design and install a photovoltaic (PV) system that suits the needs of the household and will work with the local electricity distributor to make sure the meters are updated to reflect how much of the household’s power consumption is covered by the PV system. This in turn leads to lower electricity bills. “Currently, there is more demand on the batteries, many people use them when electricity goes off,” Selim notes.
Selim says that many people believe that switching to solar energy is a time-consuming process that needs a lot of effort “when it’s easy as plugging in a new receiver.”
It doesn’t have to be very expensive either. The Yalla Shams team says switching to solar powered electricity costs between LE 4,000 and LE 12,000, depending on the type of PV system and household consumption.
“Our main target is people of middle and high social classes, who will be able to afford switching to solar energy,” Mousa says. “Research has proved that if only these classes switch to solar energy, there will be a 14% reduction in electricity pressure [on the national grid].”
The Yalla Shams team also wanted the project to have a social dimension, this is where BUE’s Enactus students come in. Some of the mechanical engineering students specializing in renewable energies have been working to provide solar panels to villages not connected to the national power grid.
Mousa says they’ve signed agreements with more than ten solar power companies, including on- and off-grid suppliers, and the on-grid suppliers have agreed to donate 2% of their customer’s power bill to fund solar projects in villages off the national grid.
Selim explains that the big challenge now is not raising money but raising awareness. The Yalla Shams initiative has the backing of Dr. Laila Eskendar, Minister of State for the Environment, who Selim says “was very welcoming and excited about the idea.” They also have the moral support from other government entities, including the Ministry of Electricity’s New & Renewable Energy Authority, Cabinet’s Information Decision and Support Center and the Ministry of Tourism.
Mousa stresses that “The project was greatly received by the government and we now have their full moral support which will hopefully make more people know about us.” et