At the height of the Egyptian energy crisis in 2014, the country experienced around six power cuts a day for up to two hours at a time. In a desperate bid to stem the population’s frustration, the President ordered his cabinet to prioritize power generation and to control distribution. Accordingly, gas flowing to cement and fertilizer factories was cut from 940 million cubic feet to 350 million cubic feet per day. While this decision was made as a last resort, for the country’s major industries and businesses it was a real shock to the system.
Mahmoud Mohsen, Energy Manager for New Cairo-based Arabian Cement Company (ACC), vividly remembers this tough period.
“During the energy crisis, we were all very disappointed because it was the first time we were really faced with a situation of instability in our production,” recalls Mohsen.
“We were dependent on two production lines for steady operation, and suddenly they cut the gas. When we contacted the state supplier they simply told us that there was not enough gas. After two days went by, they told us our gas would be switched back on, so we started to heat everything up again and, just as we became operational, they cut the gas again!”
Cement production requires temperatures above 950°C to process raw materials such as limestone and chalk into cement clinker - this is a very energy intensive process. Unplanned plant shutdowns due to power outages can be extremely costly. For a cement company like ACC, an unplanned shutdown caused by a shortage of natural gas can lead to significant production losses, and increased energy costs due to the need to reheat machinery, as well as damage to refractory lining and equipment.
When things finally began to return to normal, some companies decided to take their chances and go back to business-as-usual. However, ACC saw the natural gas shortage and reduction in state energy subsidies as an opportunity to innovate and get ahead of the curve. After all, more blackouts were likely and ACC did not want to take the risk.
It was at this point in 2014 that Mohsen, on behalf of ACC, decided to participate in the ISO 50001 energy management systems training in Cairo. The training is being implemented by The Industrial Energy Accelerator — an initiative supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and led by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
“I have to say this programme came at just the right time for ACC. It really was a fantastic training opportunity and a great initiative by UNIDO,” says Mohsen, who went on to lead his company’s journey toward energy efficiency.