The saturation of Africa’s larger electricity grids by wind power projects will lead to grid stability problems and confirm the need to adopt a better suited, more integrated technological approach to wind developments. Because this region is located on the edge of one of the largest electricity grids (that of the EU), its vast renewable energy potential could be used to produce significant amounts of wind energy. Generated at competitive costs, these could ultimately end-up supplying broader electricity markets. This however, will require an effect of scale. Building capacity to progressively firm these intermittent energy sources locally is an imperative first step on the critical path of major alternative, sustainable energy developments.
Besides the large scale transfer of electricity utilizing the High Voltage Direct Current line of the Sahara Wind Project, local mechanisms for accessing renewable energies are needed to support energy-intensive industries. These could ultimately lead to the emergence of low-carbon industries dissociated from fossil fuels, relying instead on wind-electricity and energy storage technologies. Renewable hydrogen for instance, generated through wind-electrolysis can be integrated into the processing of mineral deposits. In supporting local energy intensive industries, cleaner technologies introduced through pilot projects could be gradually expanded over Morocco and Mauritania’s wider trade windblown region. When electricity and hydrogen are simultaneously co-generated through industrial synergies, no CO2 emissions are emitted. Used mostly in the hydrocarbon upgrading and fertilizer industries (with small uses in steel processing), over 95% of the world’s hydrogen production is currently derived from fossil fuel reforming. This Process emits 6 tons of CO2 per ton of hydrogen produced. This represents a significant environmental challenge, particularly when hydrogen-mobility perspectives are taken into consideration. Industrial hydrogen for the synthesis of Ammonia used in the upgrading of fertilizers for instance, consumes about 2% of the world's energy.
As Morocco holds 73% of the world's phosphate reserves -of which 90% are used in fertilizer industries- the development of sustainable hydrogen production technologies open new perspectives in the way renewable energies are being harnessed. Key to world food security, fertilizer production and the stabilization of electricity grids through wind-electrolysis are essential in accessing wind electricity. By providing storage and flexibility to fluctuating energy inputs, the functioning of the region’s weaker electricity grids can be enhanced. These technologies are currently tested within ‘green campus concepts’ deployed regionally at partnering Universities of the ‘Sahara Trade Winds to Hydrogen Project’.
It may be sensible to mention that wind-electrolysis for grid stabilization as well as hydrogen energy systems are modular. They enable the storage and integration of wind electricity at higher penetration rates through small, medium and large scale industrial applications. The latter represent the most promising route for accessing renewables and sustainable development objectives. They would indeed facilitate a more inclusive, cleaner processing of natural resources. Beside efficiency gains, the value-added derivatives generated through local industrial synergies provide significant economic gains to the region.
The development of a wind industry to service the energy needs of mineral processes could, thanks to the availability of local resources, be replicated on a very large scale in the trade windblown coastline of the Sahara Desert. Renewable hydrogen generated as a by-product, is likely to reinforce the local integration of wind electricity, which prior to any export considerations, remains the key objective of the Sahara Wind Project.