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The Energy Transition

In the last two years, I have been in India, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan – unquestionably impressive and exciting countries. But I also saw firsthand, how these countries struggle with accumulated mountains of municipal waste and all related problems such as critical hygienic conditions, stench or insects. So why don’t we turn these mountains of trash into real cash?

For example, Cairo produces 15000 tons of municipal waste per day, which means 5.4 million tons of municipal waste every year. This fact always has been seen as a serious problem by the government in Egypt, and it induces immense costs for burning and eliminating the waste. Not to mention indirect caused costs like the treatment of respiratory diseases. However, this huge amount of waste could produce 7.5 TWh*, which exceeds the whole electricity consumption of Luxemburg in 2016 and is almost equal to the whole electricity consumption of Kenya in 2014.

At the same time, converting the trash into energy could reduce the oil bill for those countries which need to import oil.

Do we talk about a problem or about an opportunity?

This is just one example which we can see overall in the developing countries. The available technologies today allow us turning this serious problem into a real chance, and turning this mountain of trash into real cash.

There are several proven technologies for making it happen. The most used one is the incineration technology: It starts with pre-treatment of the waste, then burning it in a grate boiler generating heat which we can use to generate steam. This steam can utilize a steam turbine which drives a generator to produce electricity or controlled steam for industrial usage. For example ~ 10 Mtoe* of primary energy was produced by the combustion of renewable municipal waste in the European Union in 2016.

The produced energy will support the emerging industrial infrastructures in developing countries and enhance the local societies to generate business and to combat unemployment and poverty. Furthermore, it will help these countries to reduce their oil bill.

We have the technologies and we have the waste. What are we waiting for? Why do we not see these facilities everywhere in developing countries?

There are several challenges which we should overcome in order to enable this shift:

Waste is, for now, a liability. The revenue streams for large-scale municipal WtE (waste-to-energy) facilities from selling energy, cannot cover their costs. Thus, the tipping fees are a key source of revenue for viable operation of a WtE facility. Another option is to guaranty a high FiT (Feed-in-Tariff). These should be regulated by government to create a viable basis for WtE industry. Therefore, the regulatory framework is always the first step to create this market.

Developing countries will need customized solutions, which consider their local conditions. Avoiding copy/paste of the facilities in EU is crucial. For example, all WtE facilities in India up to 2003 failed. Key reason among others: copying the European models without considering the local reality in depth. E.g., the size of the facility is related to the available infrastructure and its capabilities. Furthermore, in India, Middle East, Latin America and Africa, there is no need for district heating as in Germany or in Scandinavia, but there is a need for district cooling. In Saudi Arabia, Jordan or in Egypt, it is possible to desalinate the sea water by using the heat generated by incinerated waste.

The financial aid is also a considerable hurdle. We should look for attractive financing models to enable such projects in low income countries.

Depending on the local reality, it is possible to combine a WtE facility with a gas power plant or with a biomass power plant to achieve a feasible economically operating basis. Over the last years, Siemens gained huge experiences in dealing with all these challenges and models. Siemens mission is to help solving the challenge of growing waste by providing technologies, equipment, and services which convert the waste into fuel to produce valuable energy.

With our partners, we offer a broad portfolio to consult for governmental entities on the regulations aspects, or to support in the conception phase to help IPPs (Independent Power Producer) and municipalities to select the right concepts creating value for owners and for the local societies at the same time. We can support with financing aid and deliver world-class equipment for WtE projects.




  • Blue Chip™

    I thoroughly enjoyed this read. We cannot solve the problems of Africa by copying and pasting what has worked in the EU

  • Christian Trulley


    I can just underline your statement!!!!
    Waste is definitively on of the major problems to be fixed around the world and especially in developing countries and regions.
    However, it´s a global issue as well concerning the emissions! All of us need to have a high motivation to get this issue fixed in an effective and sustainable way.

    The Waste pyramid already presents the priorities. Prevention, Minimization, Reuse, Recycle and Energy Recovery and Disposal.
    The first 3 challenges are individual challenges for everyone! We need to be aware!

    Talking about Energy Recovery, that´s where Siemens an contribute a lot as you rightly pointed out.
    There are a few statements and sentences I would like to add to emphasize our capabilities as a global technology company.
    In order to make maximum use of the waste, it need to be considered as resource instead of waste! Having this in mind it´s essential to keep the loop closed between waste generation and Recycling / Recovery! The more you lose in that circle the less efficient you are and the less beneficial and sustainable is your system.
    Almost all esources that can't be recycled will then be available for recovery. Here, the thermal recovery is still that one which makes most sense. Even in this way of treatment, the emissions of the thermal treatment will me much less compared to a waste dump! This is where Siemens can contribute by providing high efficiency together with proven partners and their treatment technology!
    We can do even more! We can turn the whole thermal treamtent into green power!
    PostCapture of the CO2 emissions, Hydrogen Production out of the electric Power if not required by the grid, further synthesis to e.g. green methanol using the captured CO2,… there are many many opportunities for Siemens! It doesn't make sense for each project for sure and always depends on regulations and the individual situation of each project.
    But we have the technologies, we can consult our clients and help them to find the best concept for their project.

  • Lena Niebling

    Amazing! Super interesting article!

  • Mark Van Antwerp

    Thanks Ghiath, this was interesting reading

  • Masoud Tartibi

    I saw the same issue in Kurdistan north of Iraq few years ago. The large city like Erbil & Sulymanieh are having difficulties with tones of garbage and sewer issues on daily basis. They have reached out to European countries to resolve their problems. This article I believe could be the solution for their issues and opportunities for Siemens.