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Although the Saharan trade winds that extend from Morocco through Senegal represent some of the largest wind energy potentials available on earth, their erratic nature undermines any optimal utilization possibilities to the extent that only a marginal proportion of that wind energy can be fed into the region’s weaker grids infrastructure. While clean energy generation perspectives are considerably reduced, this also prevents any industrial integration and economic development from taking place locally on a significant scale.

Thus, a conventional approach to wind energy developments to feed smaller local electricity markets cannot enable a viable wind energy industry to be established. Building local capacities to secure the gradual deployment of an integrated energy industry may be an essential component needed for tackling the region's current economic challenges. Indeed, due to a lack of local employments and as this area comes under pressure from Sub-Saharan migrant populations moving to the North, a significant development imperative is gradually emerging. Hence, an integrated wind energy industry accompanied by job creations and social benefits could improve the region’s economics significantly. This is particularly relevant as such developments would be based on the utilization of one of the world’s best wind resources.

Applied research projects aimed at developing skills through industrial synergies and renewables will enable North Africa’s scientific communities to take a comprehensive look at energy systems and adopt a more holistic, integrated approach to energy technologies. These have been driven thus far mostly by external market forces which tended to provide unsuited ready-made solutions in terms of local development.
Wind turbines in the background of Morocco's 100 Dirham currency note (source: Bank Al-Maghrib)
Wind turbines in the background of Morocco's 100 Dirham currency note (source: Bank Al-Maghrib)

Indeed, experiences in Africa showed that efforts aimed at introducing (new) wind energy technologies amounted ultimately to the simple import of turnkey equipments through concessionary sources of financing and export credit packages. Such policies achieved very little economic returns for a promising technology that could address global energy and security challenges.

In encouraging countries with similar potentials to collaborate and exchange expertise, upstream development activities relative to the Sahara Wind Project have made it relevant to deploy "green campus concepts". Within such regional applied research frameworks carbon-free hydrogen production perspectives have been established in dedicated excellence centers located at universities.

As mineral-exporting industries represent the main electric loads to supply in the Sahara desert, these collaborative partnerships will be extended into subsequent pilot projects aimed at sustainably transforming the region's significant mineral deposits.

Originating from the Atlantic trade winds, the transformation of the earth's largest known Phosphates deposits becomes a key element of global sustainability. With World Food Security at stake -since Phosphates are needed as fertilizers- the large-scale, cost-competitive incorporation of wind energy in support of endogenous energy intensive value-added mineral transformation processes is likely to significantly improve resource efficiencies. In addition to the possibility of transforming the major iron-ore deposits of Mauritania into steel derivatives through hydrogen direct reduction processes (using wind-electrolysis), this energy-water and global food nexus will become a central issue in years to come. They represent multi-generational global sustainable development imperatives that will mobilize the region’s industries for some time.