The Politics of Green Hydrogen and the Future of Moroccan Foreign Policy

The energy transformation currently taking place in renewable energies and green hydrogen development is a transformative process that’s going very fast while at the same time is clearly irreversible. The shift that is occurring in the sector of energy exploitation and consumption is impacting worldwide economic and political dynamics. Knowing that control over energy sources is of primal importance geopolitically as it has historically influenced power and was leveraged by states who until now secured petrol and gas related resources; the green hydrogen shift will be a turning point for the geopolitical distribution of power.

 

At the speed with which countries are moving towards a cleaner consumption and exploitation of energy, and with ambitious plans to cut on net emissions, green hydrogen does present the most adequate alternative. As it gradually moves towards substituting fossil fuel, providing an alternative to airplanes’ fuel, electricity production and domestic heating among many other uses.

 

While the positioning of different actors on the international value chain of hydrogen will be of the utmost significance in the near future, it would be interesting to investigate and observe the current climate of these partnerships from a geopolitical perspective in order to comprehend the position Morocco will be shifting to as an emerging power in the field.

 

Although talks about Green Hydrogen production are not new, the technology and business models that prove its competitiveness, as well as conceptions of national and regional roadmaps, are relatively still in development. With COVID-19, and as it was the case with many economies and climate-related plans, these strategic visions for the future of energy were accelerated and there is considerable pressure to start the development of pilot projects and experiment on a variety of technologies. Be it though the partnerships already established with Germany for the Power to X pilot project, the ongoing negotiations with a number of European countries for investments in the upcoming green hydrogen projects as well as the conceptualization of a Moroccan National Hydrogen.

 

The Moroccan strategic vision in terms of renewable energies based on previous successes and future opportunities of green hydrogen development for export places the country in an advantageous position both economically and geopolitically. Becoming an exporter of an energy source that the world is shifting to while substituting fossil fuel in the coming decades will make Morocco an emerging energy player on the international scene.

 

To understand the foreign policy impact and opportunities this future strategy will result in, it will be interesting to look at the current state of the relevant policy, provide perspective for where it is headed, and how Morocco can benefit from this geopolitical shift while remaining at its center.

 

The Global Energy Transformation and Morocco’s Place in it:

 

Thanks to the Moroccan ambitious renewables’ strategy, capitalizing on natural sources of consistent solar and wind power, full-on plans where implemented early where substantial infrastructures and adequate institutions of research and innovation (MASEN, IRESEN…) were put in place. In the process, projects were conceptualized in a way that brought-in international investors interested in the present and future opportunities of renewable energy in Morocco.

 

Thus, it became clear through NOOR Ouarzazate, currently the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world, that Morocco is not only able to carry projects of such magnitude but it also proved to the international community that opportunities for investment in Morocco in the renewable energy sector are realistic, can be executed with reliable institutional partners and can potentially be competitive in terms of profits.

 

This dynamic as well as the pressing climate-change challenges have led to the current interest in Green Hydrogen in terms of technological innovations, opportunities for investment, and partnerships. What is also interesting to observe is that this dynamic is already global, where a number of countries are investing. Be it securing the natural resources needed or building of potential partnerships that will drive the future of the international value chain to substitute fossil fuels; countries with greater energy consumption such as China, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, and even the United States with the new Biden administration are developing their respective roadmaps to shift into clean energy in the coming decade.

 

In Morocco, a Green Hydrogen National Roadmap is currently being designed to present the governments vision for the future of the sector, preliminary feasibility studies are currently being conducted in partnership with a number of partner countries. The major one so far has been the conceptualization of the Power to X projects with Germany, through an agreement signed with the Kingdom this summer. PtX is set up to be a pilot plant aiming to produce clean hydrogen with the goal of mitigating 100,000 tons of CO2 at the budget of €2 billion in investment on research and innovation.

 

Future Geopolitics of Green Hydrogen and Perspectives for the Future of Moroccan Foreign Policy:

 

As Morocco is clearly set to be a major player in this global process of energy transformation due to the its advantageous wind and solar potential, this position  is set to be solidified in terms of economic impact and political influence in the future. In this respect, we can consider the following questions: What are the implications of this position in the future of global geopolitics? If the current power distribution in the world order is influenced by access to energy and relations between exporters and importers, where will Morocco stand in the near future within this dynamic? What does it mean for Moroccan foreign policy and our national causes?

 

The question of geopolitical shifts as consequences of the global processes of energy transformation has started preoccupying scholars in the field of international politics and policy thinkers. In January 2019, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a report titled “A New World: The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation” which took 10 months of consultations, the fundamental argument of the document is that geopolitical transformation as a consequence of the global energy transformation is inevitable. It will reshape relations between nations and result in structural changes where some states will face risks and instability while others will profit tremendously in terms of influence on the international scene.

 

In maps showing the future of countries with opportunities based on Wind and Solar resources published by Vaisala, the leading environment data company, Morocco figured on the global map of 9 countries in wind resources and 8 countries in solar resources. These two maps traced the power shifts in the 21st century and the countries that will influence them. And as it states, countries like Morocco will have more energy security and more independent decision making ability. In another report from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs from the Harvard Kennedy School, Morocco figured in a group titled: “Export champions with vast renewable energy and water resources, as well as high infrastructure potential” along with only three other countries: Australia, the United States, and Norway.

 

These reports from renowned policy institutions are analyzing both theoretically and technically the changes on the international scene due to the green hydrogen energy transformation. The economic aspect in these case studies cannot be separated from its political repercussions. Geopolitically, the significance of such studies as they indicate is focused on the fact that this reshaping will be structural mainly because new players such as Morocco will emerge.

 

Another Special Report produced by POLITICO in June 2020 under the title “The World in 2050” where an article was reserved to the future of dependency between Europe and North Africa in terms of energy and how the roles will be reversed as the EU is planning on securing hydrogen from across the Mediterranean. The article affirmed that Morocco is the only country with infrastructure-readiness to take the lead in this future partnership, especially with the power cable linking it to European grid.

 

Although Morocco is in a favorable position at the moment, this does not negate the possibility that competition with neighboring countries, such as Egypt, Tunisia or Libya could arise. Thus, it is an opportunity to consider the best way to consolidate the position of the Kingdom with future-oriented policy actions.

 

Instability in many North African countries will be a decisive political variable in the future of such partnerships, especially with Europe. The stability Morocco enjoys will be more than favorable in terms of attracting foreign investments. At the same time, it is important to consider that eventually, when green hydrogen will become an energy substitute heavily consumed in Europe, this will create a reliance from importing countries on leading exporters.

 

Other political implications of the energy transformation on migration, economic development, the future of jobs, and social stability are also mentioned in different European reports aiming at considering the variety of advantages of building partnerships with Morocco. The positive impact of such investments in the strategic partnership between the EU and Morocco will be advantageous to Morocco’s green hydrogen plans.

 

In foreign policy, the impact of this energy transition will be significant on two levels: first on the level of the Moroccan national cause related to its territorial integrity, and second on the possibility of Morocco becoming a worldwide leader of this new hydrogen ‘club’ of influence.

 

The Moroccan Sahara cause will benefit to a great extent from such a geopolitical shift. With Morocco becoming a major player in the international value chain of the number one alternative energy source, negotiations concerning the Sahara will be conducted from a position of strength.

 

It would not be very far-fetched to theorize about an international organization that could look like OPEC but green-hydrogen-centered in the future. As major importing and exporting countries will start fully transitioning to renewables and substituting oil, we could see the creation of a new international organization of major contributors in the green hydrogen value chain. Moroccan foreign policy and diplomatic actions can seize the opportunity to take a leading role in such an organization with adequate future-oriented strategizing.

 


SAFAA EL HALOUTI
 

Safaa El Halouti is a Political Scientist and a Strategist for international development projects. 

Upon her return to Morocco, she worked as a consultant for Development Alternatives Inc (DAI), and prior to that, she served as a research assistant at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Qatar. She also interned as an analyst at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research in Turkey. Safaa has a Masters in Politics and International Relations from the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and a Bachelor in Political Science from Istanbul Şehir University.

Safaa participated in several international conferences as a paper presenter, speaker, and representative of different think-tanks. Her research interests include Moroccan foreign policy, political theory, and collective intelligence.

 

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