In a global effort to reduce carbon emissions, several countries in the Middle East and North Africa are planning to produce green hydrogen as a zero-carbon energy source. Calls for developing such clean energy technologies are particularly strong in the buildup to COP27, the global climate-change conference that Egypt will host next month.
Jawad El Kharraz, executive director of the Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (RCREEE), says that Arab countries should localise green hydrogen production technology. However, in an interview with Al-Fanar Media, he points out that there are challenges facing this process, related to water scarcity in the North African region.
RCREEE is an intergovernmental organisation with diplomatic status that seeks to activate and increase the utilisation of renewable energy and energy efficiency practices in the Arab region. It is also the technical arm of the Energy Department of the League of Arab States, and the Arab Ministerial Council for Electricity.
Highlighting Arab Successes at COP27
While El Kharraz believes that the coming COP27 climate summit will be a great opportunity for Egypt and its Arab and African surroundings, he says this major global event is also an opportunity to highlight success stories in the energy transition process, as Egypt is a pioneer in this field. Egypt suffered from an electricity deficit for years, he said, but now has a surplus thanks to conservation measures and investments in renewable energy, including in field of solar and wind energy projects, and investments in the field of renewable energy. It has set a an ambitious goal of increasing the contribution of renewable energy in the energy mix to 42 percent by 2035.
“We need nine litres of pure water to produce one kilogram of green hydrogen. So, the idea of responding to European demands at the expense of our water resources is unacceptable.”
El Kharraz described the contribution and commitments of European countries and the United States to financing climate funds as “below expectations so far.”
He said that developed countries wishing to import green hydrogen from Arab countries are invited to pump large investments in this field. He explains that providing funding is a burden on Arab countries.
The industrial sector in Arab countries needs to prepare to meet European requirements on the carbon content of imported goods, he said.
Regarding the Arab experience in the field of energy transition, El Kharraz said that Morocco aims to raise the contributions of renewable energy in its energy mix by 52 percent by 2030. He sees Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as pioneers in terms of the volume of investments, implemented projects, and legislative and political momentum.
On the other hand, he noted that some Arab countries have political, social and economic conditions preventing them from keeping up with energy transition, such as Yemen and Syria. His organisation is working on transferring and exchanging experiences in this field throughout the Arab world, he said.
Solar and Wind Energy
Arab countries have made great strides in exploiting solar and wind energy, El Kharraz said, but going forward will require huge investments. This will be difficult but not Impossible, he said.
As an example of the challenges alternative energy efforts must resolve, he mentioned the Gulf of Suez region in Egypt, where there is great potential for wind energy but also a need to protect migratory birds, especially with Egypt being a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and therefore obligated to preserve their habitats and flyways. The higher the number of wind turbines, the greater the risks to these birds, he said.
RCREEE has role in protection efforts, El Kharraz said. The centre acts as a mediator in the Egyptian government’s contracts with private sector companies in that region. It also conducts studies on the environmental and economic impact of the proposed projects.
“We must seize the opportunity, and obligate European partners and developed countries to localise this technology in our countries, so that we can benefit from it.”
“We are in favor of increasing the production capacity of renewable energy, but not at the expense of the environment and biodiversity,” he said. “Therefore, we have teams that monitor the movement of birds using radars, in anticipation of the passage of flocks of birds, as the company concerned is notified to stop the turbines.”
Green Hydrogen Production
Regarding the prospects of Arab countries exporting green hydrogen to Europe, he stressed the need to work towards localising the technology for producing this clean fuel in the Arab world.
“We must seize the opportunity and obligate European partners and developed countries to localise this technology in our countries, so that we can benefit from it, and to have accompanying scientific research for the same purposes in universities and academic institutions.”
El Kharraz noted that a recent conference in Bahrain had presented concepts for accelerating the production of “blue hydrogen”, which is produced from natural gas, instead of green hydrogen, which can be produced using renewable energy but requires significant water input.
“We need nine litres of pure water to produce one kilogram of green hydrogen,” he said. “So, the idea of responding to European demands at the expense of our water resources is unacceptable.”
But Arab countries are divided on plans for producing green hydrogen, he said. Morocco has issued a national strategy for this purpose, while Egypt is preparing one, and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates already have projects underway to produce green hydrogen by 2025.
In turn, the League of Arab States is preparing an Arab strategy for green hydrogen that will provide recommendations to member states, according to each country’s plan. However, there are legislative and financial challenges, in addition to challenges related to the technology of producing green hydrogen on a global scale. Its production through renewable energy is still limited, El Kharraz said.
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Read more about Egypt’s preparations to host the COP27 climate-change conference in Climate and Environment, an archive of Al-Fanar Media’s reporting on this topic.