Cooperation between Europe and the countries of North Africa with the aim of finding solutions to their energy needs was the latest topic discussed at the colloquiums organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Madrid.
With a panel of renowned experts, as is customary for the German liberal foundation, the round table coordinated by Iskander Ben Mustapha, project manager and senior advisor at International Development Renewable Energies, focused in particular on green hydrogen.
The former Secretary of State for Energy, economist and businessman with experience at Repsol, Nemesio Fernández-Cuesta, and David Henneberger, Director of the Madrid office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, were also present.
Nemesio Fernández-Cuesta was the first to give his opinion on the famous green hydrogen, which is often presented as the "golden" energy of the future by the European Union's plans. Regarding this image, Fernández Cuesta said that green hydrogen is indeed part of the solution, but not all of it. "The key to the solution to our energy problems is electrification," said the former Secretary of State. "Our electrical energy should be around 50% of what we consume, almost double what it is now," he added to his premise. In the 50% that Fernández Cuesta correctly estimates, hydrogen would play a key role.
For this key role of hydrogen, Fernández Cuesta sees a clear opportunity in the countries of North Africa, which have sufficient resources to produce clean hydrogen much more cheaply and efficiently than the countries of Europe. The opportunity that Nemesio Fernández-Cuesta spoke of is the Sahara desert, and the long, strong hours of sunshine that bathe North Africa practically all year round. "This is Africa's comparative advantage," said the energy and climate change expert.
Transporting this cheaper green hydrogen would require considerable investment in terms of infrastructure. According to Fernández-Cuesta, transforming and reinforcing gas infrastructures is the step to be taken in order to realise this energy achievement. "With large investments it is possible to turn the gas pipelines from Algeria to Morocco, Spain and Italy into an infrastructure capable of transporting green hydrogen," Fernandez-Cuesta announced in response to Iskander's questions. "Technically, we know it is possible. But investment is needed," he concluded.
On the issue of financing, David Henneberger, director of Naumann's Madrid office, added that it is not so much a problem of capital, but of political will. "Political governments have their concerns with North Africa in terms of their own energy security," Hennerberger added. The Naumann director summarised all the concerns of European political sectors when it comes to establishing these types of agreements. Human rights, reliability...
Although the European Union does not have Africa's green hydrogen production capacities, it could position itself as a competitor to the north of the neighbouring continent. According to the panel of experts, the issue boils down to a "free market" situation, in which the most viable, economical and profitable option for operators triumphs over the others. If Europe is able to create a green hydrogen industry, it will be in direct competition with the North African industry.
In addition, there are all the other types of hydrogen that can be produced that have little or no environmental impact, and which are options that European countries could explore in the future, without needing a partnership with Africa. "We must reach a win-win situation", concluded the moderator of the round table, Iskander Ben Mustapha.
The moderator of the round table, Iskander Ben Mustapha, asked a question about the problems of political tensions between Mediterranean countries. He did not want to allude to any specific country, but it goes without saying that the climate of international relations in the Euro-Mediterranean is not at its best, as the balance sheets of the 25 years that have elapsed since the beginning of the Union for the Mediterranean's efforts point out. "Is it safe to trade dependence on Russia for dependence on other African countries?" the renewable energy expert asked the director of the Naumann in Madrid.
To this David Henneberger replied that if there is one good thing that the crisis in Ukraine has brought, it is changes in the geopolitical chessboard in many respects. And these changes can bring many positive things in the long or medium term for European countries. One should not rely on Africa, but rather look for diversification in international politics, in the same way that one looks for diversification in energy. "You cannot rely on just one supplier. You cannot rely on Russia alone, as has been the case until now. Representing a German foundation, I can say that my country is making great progress. We have gone from 55% energy imports from Russia to 35% in just a few weeks of war, and I think this will bring many positive things in the medium and long term," Henneberger said.
In conclusion, for Henneberger, while there is no need to rely on a single supplier, the North African countries have shown themselves to be responsible and reliable partners in this matter, and the political trust between governments has been amply demonstrated and recently reaffirmed with the extension of contracts such as Italy and Algeria.