In a paper just published in Energy Policy, Professor Bob van der Zwaan of the Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences and co-workers at TNO present detailed model calculations confirming that Europe and North Africa could turn into each other’s trading partners when it comes to energy. By focusing on two main energy carriers, electricity and hydrogen, the researchers describe what the technology impacts and cost implications of such a Euro-African energy partnership could look like.
In their paper, the researchers substantiate the ‘dream’ of Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for the European Green Deal, that he presented in 2019 before the EU Committee on the Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety:
“In my dreams, we would create a partnership with Africa, especially North Africa, and we would help install a huge capacity of solar energy in Africa and transform that energy into hydrogen. Then we would transport that hydrogen to other parts of the world and Europe,…”.
Van der Zwaan and colleagues argue that Europe, despite potential fears over security and costs, should indeed seriously consider an energy partnership with North Africa. Not only because of the associated increase in overall climate change mitigation efficiency that can be realized but also since trade revenues can lead to a series of positive socio-economic effects in North Africa.
Because of differences in irradiation levels, it could be more efficient to produce solar electricity and hydrogen in North Africa and import these energy carriers to Europe, rather than generating them at higher costs domestically in Europe. From a global climate change mitigation point of view exploiting such efficiencies can be profitable, since they reduce overall renewable electricity capacity requirements.
Yet the construction of this capacity in North Africa would imply costs associated with the infrastructure needed to transport electricity and hydrogen. The ensuing geopolitical dependencies may also raise energy security concerns. With the integrated assessment model TIAM-ECN we quantify the trade-off between costs and benefits emanating from establishing import-export links between Europe and North Africa for electricity and hydrogen. We show that for Europe a net price may have to be paid for exploiting such interlinkages, even while they reduce the domestic investments for renewable electricity capacity needed to implement the EU’s Green Deal.
For North African countries the potential net benefits, thanks to trade revenues may build up to 50 billion €/yr in 2050. Despite fears over costs and security, Europe should seriously consider an energy partnership with North Africa, because trade revenues are likely to lead to positive employment, income, and stability effects in North Africa. Europe can indirectly benefit from such impacts.