In 1913 on the outskirts of Cairo, an inventor from Philadelphia named Frank Shuman built the world’s first solar thermal power station, using the abundant Egyptian sunshine to pump 6,000 gallons of water a minute from the Nile to irrigate a nearby cotton field.
World War I and the discovery of cheap oil derailed Shuman’s dream of replicating his “sun power plant” on a grand scale and eventually producing enough energy to challenge the world’s dependence on coal.
More than a century later, that vision has been resurrected. The world’s largest solar park, the $2.8-billion Benban complex, is set to open next year 400 miles south of Cairo in Egypt’s Western Desert.
It will single-handedly put Egypt on the clean energy map.
That is no small feat for a country that’s been hobbled by its longtime addiction to cheap, state-subsidized fossil fuels and currently gets more than 90% of its electricity from oil and natural gas.