North Africa should keep green hydrogen for itself and share renewable electricity
A few months ago I published an assessment of the long distance shipment of green hydrogen from Namibia to Europe, finding that the shipping cost per unit of energy delivered would be 5 to 7 times higher to that of liquid natural gas, not to mention the higher cost of hydrogen itself. As a result, when Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and The Transnational Institute (TNI) were looking for someone to do an assessment of European hydrogen efforts in Morocco, Algeria and Egypt, they commissioned me.
Time, research, calculations, writing, editing, checking, etc. followed, and now the report is online.
It was an interesting trip to know another slice of data on the complexities of African countries. I had looked at energy, storage, climate impacts and electrification in maybe 5 of the 55 countries on the massive continent, which is second only to Asia in land area and population, but I didn’t hadn’t spent a lot of time on energy and economics. opportunities and challenges of Morocco, Algeria and Egypt. Now my understanding of Africa is slightly better and broader, but still deeply inadequate, of course.
Each of the countries faces its own climate and energy challenges, and making hydrogen for Europe will not solve them.
Morocco is the most advanced country in terms of renewable energies and electrification. Before COVID, I spoke with a then-traveling serial entrepreneur who had just gotten off the high-speed electric train that connects Tangier to Casablanca, his current 323 km of high-speed train and part of his planned 1,500 km. Morocco has more wind farms and solar farms than the other two countries, and the king and government are focused on transforming and decarbonizing their economy.
Like the other two countries, however, the country’s agricultural sector is heavily dependent on gray ammonia, which is mainly imported. Gray ammonia, of course, is made from gray hydrogen made from natural gas without capturing the resulting 10x mass of CO2, and of course doing nothing about upstream methane emissions. When applied, ammonia breaks down into various things including NOx with global warming potentials 265 times greater than CO2. Making green hydrogen and shipping it to Europe in whatever form before decarbonizing their local fertilizer use makes little sense.
Morocco, despite its green efforts, still produces the majority of its electricity from coal, 27 TWh per year. Each TWh comes with a megaton of CO2, so renewable electricity would be much better used to decarbonize its grid before being used to make hydrogen and hydrogen by-products for Europe.
Algeria has different challenges. 14.39% of its GDP comes from fossil fuels, mainly from the export of natural gas to Europe. In addition, almost all of its electricity is generated from natural gas. While the temptation to believe that exporting green hydrogen via the existing Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline instead of natural gas is an economic winner, the numbers belie it. A blue hydrogen project is also being considered, with the significant issues that this mode poses, including methane emissions, low-efficiency carbon capture and higher expense.
Blue or green hydrogen will be much more expensive per unit of energy than natural gas, 5 to 11 times more expensive. And then upgrading and using the pipeline would probably triple the hydrogen transmission costs as well. Is Europe interested in paying much more for energy than it is even with the current very high natural gas prices? Unlikely. And mixing hydrogen in the pipeline will cost more, deliver less energy by volume, and only reduce CO2 emissions by 7% when used.
It is highly unlikely that blue or green hydrogen from Algeria will replace their oil revenue. He is in a difficult economic situation and there is also a big problem with gray ammonia fertilizer.
Egypt is larger than the other countries, but shares their concerns. It uses a lot of ammonia-based gray fertilizer which must be decarbonized, and 90% of its electricity is generated by burning gas and oil. Fossil fuels make up a much smaller percentage of its GDP, but that’s still enough to be a concern. Egypt is focusing more on manufacturing synthetic fuels for export near the Suez Canal. Again, exporting green hydrogen and by-products does not decarbonize Egypt.
Many European organizations and companies are trying to decarbonise Europe at the expense of North Africa.
There is a clear alternative to all of this, of course. MEDGRID is a transmission line network project linking Europe to North Africa, spanning those linking Morocco to Spain and those crossing the Bosphorus Strait. HVDC loses 3.5% less energy per 1,000 km of transport, and none of the proposed routes are 1,000 km long when crossing the Mediterranean.
Connecting the Mediterranean to high-efficiency electricity transmission that could bring North Sea offshore wind and Scandinavian hydro south, and desert solar and wind north could decarbonize Europe and North Africa, providing inexpensive energy to modern economies in the region.
Europe would have more electricity to use at the point of industrial demand for hydrogen in these countries for the purposes for which it is suited, primarily the manufacture of ammonia-based fertilizers. Similarly, it could have more electricity for mini electric steel mills to scrap its fossil fuel infrastructure, which I consider to be a far greater source of new steel than the reduction of green hydrogen from ore iron in the coming decades.
Europe has had a long period of hydrogen hype, under pressure from fossil fuel giants and economies that don’t want to see their natural gas reserves become stranded assets, and therefore push the chain of l blue hydrogen up. They are pushing to replace petroleum derivatives with blue hydrogen and derivatives in heating, energy for industry and transport. REPowerEU is being redesigned in recent months as natural gas prices rise, leading to the clear realization that there is no value in relying on blue hydrogen.
There are signals coming out of Brussels that green hydrogen is focusing on the parts of the hydrogen ladder where it actually makes sense, current industrial demand that won’t go away, instead of being seen as a substitute for fossil fuels. Hopefully those signals won’t be awash with lobbying dollars for the oil and gas majors and their semi-captive governments, and the deep electrification of all energy will be the way forward for the hundreds of millions inhabitants and many European countries.
If, on the contrary, Europe continues on the path of making hydrogen a mainstay of heat and transport, it will invest in highly inefficient and inefficient infrastructure, significantly delay real climate action and put pressure on Morocco. , Algeria and Egypt to waste time and money that could be better. spent.
Government and business leaders in Morocco, Algeria and Egypt have tough decisions and a careful balancing act to follow. They have the opportunity to take advantage of Europe’s inappropriate fixation on hydrogen, knowing that it will not last more than a few years, to obtain major investments in renewable energy, grid infrastructure and electrolysis which will benefit them. There are clear signs that many of them know this is the game they are playing.
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