In the quest to decarbonize Europe, the southern region of the continent is emerging as a key player. Spain, with its ambitious hydrogen aspirations, is facing stiff competition from its neighbor to the south, Morocco, which is rapidly positioning itself as a heavyweight in the hydrogen sector.
A study commissioned by the European Commission has indicated that Morocco could potentially outpace Spain’s hydrogen production by more than 30% by 2050, reaching a staggering 160 terawatts. This could position Morocco as a significant supplier, meeting over 5% of Europe’s hydrogen demand.
Despite the geographical proximity of Spain and Morocco, the study conducted by the German Fraunhofer Institute suggests that Spain can become the second major hydrogen power in Europe, with an electrolysis capacity of over 120 gigawatts by 2050, second only to France. However, this competition assumes ideal scenarios where hydrogen use and renewable energy generation are both widespread.
Morocco has demonstrated a firm commitment to developing its hydrogen sector since 2021, with official support and backing. A study by Deloitte estimates that income from green hydrogen exports could effectively counterbalance deficits in Morocco’s trade balance.
Major players are also entering the scene, with French energy company Total Energies announcing a substantial investment of 9.4 billion euros in a hydrogen and ammonia project aimed at exporting to Europe. In addition, the public company OCP, responsible for processing phosphates, has unveiled a similar initiative with a budget of 7,000 million euros.
Emilio Nieto, director of the National Hydrogen Center, suggests that Spain and Italy could serve as entry ports for North African production, although national energy plans do not explicitly mention hydrogen imports.
Maximizing Morocco’s potential is dependent on building infrastructure connecting the Iberian Peninsula with North Africa and the rest of Europe. Spain and France have ambitious plans, such as H2Med and Enagas’ trunk network, which includes physical interconnections with Morocco through a center in Tarifa, Cadiz.
Transporting hydrogen via pipelines is a more efficient method, reducing energy losses and avoiding the need for excessive electrical infrastructure. Cepsa has also announced plans for a hydro duct to import hydrogen from Morocco to its San Roque refinery.
Experts view this competition as an opportunity rather than a threat. Khaled Al-Dabbas, a researcher, points out that Spain is projected to be a net exporter of hydrogen in all scenarios. This could be beneficial for the country, as it provides flexibility in dealing with fluctuations in supply and demand.
Daniel Fraille, policy director of Hydrogen Europe, emphasizes that factors such as official support, regulatory environment, and the industrial value chain are just as crucial as the economic model of a project in determining success in hydrogen production.
The European Commission’s study also highlights that domestic hydrogen production would be more cost-effective than imports, even through gas pipelines. African shipments would only be sensible if the deployment of renewable energy is suboptimal.
However, experts caution against repeating past mistakes, emphasizing the importance of locating production plants close to where hydrogen is consumed. Dependency on external energy sources, as witnessed during energy crises, can pose significant risks.
As Europe charts its hydrogen future, the focus is on avoiding dependency on foreign sources and ensuring energy resilience and reliability.”