Morocco Stokes Green-Energy Ambitions, Forges EU Partnership

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

By Middle East Policy

The kingdom, “with its advantages in infrastructure and geography, is well placed to send hydrogen to Europe,” scholars argue in new journal article. 

Morocco announced this week that it will seek investors for a new project to produce green hydrogen, an emissions-free fuel. The European Union, facing extreme shortfalls due to its sanctions on Russian oil and gas and trying to meet its net-zero goals by 2050, seeks to dramatically ramp up the production of this crucial source of clean energy. Tying these together, a new analysis in Middle East Policy explores the factors that will allow the kingdom to develop and export hydrogen to the continent. 

“Establishing or enhancing hydrogen cooperation represents a mutually beneficial opportunity,” argues a team of scholars associated with the Clean Circles research cluster in Germany. “While Morocco aims to reduce its energy dependency and become a major hydrogen exporter in the long term, the EU needs hydrogen to drive decarbonization in heavy industry and in heavy and marine transport.” 

The Clean Circles cluster project brings together researchers across Germany to solve the technical and economic challenges posed by the energy transition. 

The Middle East Policy article, coauthored by Friedrich Plank and six other researchers, examines the opportunities for—and the obstacles to—a partnership that can expand Morocco’s production of green hydrogen for both export to Europe and domestic consumption. Given the EU’s ambitious goals, the clean-burning fuel cannot be manufactured on the continent in sufficient quantities. 

Hydrogen is considered green if the hydrolysis that creates the fuel is driven by renewable sources. 

Plank and his coauthors lay out the case for Morocco to act as a supplier for the European market. “With capital expenditures and production costs for renewable energy being much lower than in other parts of the world,” they write, North African states have competitive advantages. In addition, the kingdom’s geography allows for solar and wind energies that are central to the process. Indeed, Morocco is trying to supply 4 percent of the world’s green hydrogen by 2050. 

Most important, the scholars note, are the pre-existing political ties. Morocco and the EU have a history of cooperation that goes back to the 1970s. Since 2008, when Morocco was granted advanced status, they have seen “a substantial intensification of diplomatic and trade relations.” Further efforts toward “enhanced dialogue, trade liberalization, and adjustments of Morocco’s economy” have sought to reduce Rabat’s barriers to the continent’s single market. 

More specific to energy, the EU and Morocco have already partnered to integrate gas and electricity markets. And individual member states like Germany, Spain, and Portugal are looking to create their own green-energy projects in the kingdom. 

The authors argue that Morocco’s advantages fit well with the EU’s investment capacities, technological innovation, and technical expertise. The kingdom has received more than $1.7 billion in project investments from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development since 2012. 

Still, many obstacles remain. While Rabat has invested substantially in renewables over the past two decades, many of the projects, such as the Desertec and Medgrid initiatives for harnessing solar power, have fallen short of their goals or failed altogether. 

The research team also sees these challenges ahead for Morocco: It must continue to open itself to private investment, address its water scarcity, compete with other producers around the globe, and address regional disputes such as the status of Western Sahara to build the confidence of diplomats and investors. 

Still, the scholars are hopeful not only for EU-Morocco progress on clean energy but for the initiative to serve as a regional model. “With both parties equally keen on developing green hydrogen…[and] Rabat having already initiated partnerships with countries like Germany and Portugal, hydrogen seems to have a considerable potential to ignite collaboration and fuel cooperation across the Mediterranean,” they assert.  

Among the major takeaways readers can find in “Hydrogen: Fueling EU-Morocco Energy Cooperation?”: 

  • Concerns about climate change, as well as the war in Ukraine, are pushing the European Union to diversify its energy sources.  

  • Green hydrogen—the alternative fuel produced without a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions—has become a favored replacement for fossil fuels. 

    • Hydrogen is a flexible energy carrier that burns cleanly, producing heat and electricity, plus water vapor. 

    • It is made by splitting water through electrolysis, a process that is often fueled by oil, gas, or coal. It’s considered green if produced using renewable sources like solar or wind, making it carbon-free. 

  • The EU sees Morocco as a desirable partner in energy production. 

    • The country’s coastal and desert areas hold great potential for renewables. The combination of Morocco’s geographical advantages and the EU’s financial and technological strength provides opportunity for deeper collaboration. 

    • The production costs of these energies are anticipated to be lower in the North African country than in the EU. 

    • Morocco and the EU share goals for the renewable-energy transition. 

    • Morocco’s close proximity to Europe makes exporting energy easier. 

      • Existing infrastructure channels like shipping lanes and pipelines, such as the Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline that connects Algeria to Spain and Portugal via Morocco, give Rabat an advantage in transportation. 

  • Morocco is a privileged EU partner, and energy cooperation goes back decades. 

    • The Association Agreement of 1996 focuses on renewables, energy efficiency, and electricity. 

    • A 2007 declaration commits the two sides to grow Morocco’s role as an electricity exporter to the EU. 

  • The EU and Morocco announced an extensive partnership on green energy in 2021, including renewable-energy infrastructure, energy efficiency, and water usage. 

    • The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has invested more than $1.7 billion in projects in Morocco since 2012. 

  • Challenges remain: 

    • A regulatory framework is needed to monitor investment and technology. 

    • The global hydrogen market is still young, and development carries risk. 

    • Scarce water resources are required for green hydrogen. 

    • Political disagreements, especially territorial disputes, have undermined projects in the past. 

You can read “Hydrogen: Fueling EU-Morocco Energy Cooperation?” by Friedrich Plank, Britta Daum, Johannes Muntschick, Michèle Knodt, Christian Hasse, Ingrid Ott, and Arne Niemann in the Fall 2023 issue of Middle East Policy, forthcoming in September. 

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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