Energy Transition

North African countries look to scale up renewable energy capacity: What you need to know about the global energy crisis this week

Wind turbines clean energy crisis COP27

South Korea and Saudi Arabia have pledged to forge stronger energy ties. Image: Unsplash/Anna Jiménez Calaf

Roberto Bocca
Head, Centre for Energy and Materials; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Energy and Materials

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  • This weekly round-up brings you the latest on developments in the global energy sector.
  • Top energy stories: The EU looks to cap gas prices; Fears over US electricity supplies; North African countries scale up renewable energy capacity.
  • For more on the World Economic Forum’s work in the energy space, visit the Shaping the Future of Energy, Materials and Infrastructure Platform.

1. News in brief: Energy stories from around the world

India has unveiled a low-emission development strategy at COP27 in Egypt which reiterated its commitment to develop green hydrogen infrastructure, Mongabay-India reports. “Green hydrogen is critical for global decarbonisation,” said Noam Boussidan, platform curator on energy at the World Economic Forum. “Trucking, shipping, and steel, in particular, will benefit from enhanced production of green hydrogen.”

South Korea and Saudi Arabia have pledged to forge stronger energy ties, including an agreement to build a $6.5 billion hydrogen and ammonia production plant in Saudi Arabia. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit in Indonesia that the Gulf state is a key partner for its economy and energy security.

South Africa could produce more than five million tonnes of green hydrogen a year by 2040, according to a plan it presented at the COP27 summit. The initiative envisages reaching annual production of 10 million tonnes by 2050 and creating a local market worth $20 billion, employing around 50,000 people.

Europe has failed in its energy transition, the chief executive of Spain's biggest oil and gas firm Repsol told Reuters. Josu Jon Imaz said Europe has failed to guarantee its own energy security by being too dependent on Russia , and is falling short of decarbonization plans to tackle climate change.

A large portion of the US is at risk of insufficient electricity supplies during peak winter conditions, according to the organization responsible for the reliability of power grids. The North American Electric Reliability Corp says it is concerned about higher demand projections, vulnerability to extreme weather and infrastructure issues.

France and Spain have joined a pledge to stop sales of gasoline-driven vehicles by 2035, five years earlier than previously planned. The countries made their pledges at COP27, and were among a group of new signatories to the Zero Emission Vehicles Declaration launched at last year's COP26 conference in Glasgow.

The United States’ biggest solar panel manufacturer plans to build a $1.1 billion factory in Alabama, according to Bloomberg. First Solar says the facility is planned to come online by 2025. The move continues a trend of Southern and Midwestern states winning new solar, battery and electric-vehicle clean energy investments.

2. North African countries look to boost renewable capacity

COP27 host Egypt is close to signing agreements to build two wind and solar projects with combined capacity of 1 gigawatt, according to Reuters. The two new projects are expected to cost around $1 billion in total. One is a 500 megawatt (MW) solar plant near the southern city of Aswan, an area already home to one of the world's largest solar parks. The other is a 500MW wind plant near Ras Ghareb on the Red Sea coast of the Gulf of Suez.

The North African country has also been working on other renewable energy deals, and has signed memorandums of understanding with UAE and Saudi companies for two 10GW wind plants. It has also signed framework agreements for nine green hydrogen projects in the Suez Canal Economic Zone.

High levels of sun and wind give Egypt vast renewable potential. The country has brought forward a goal of producing 42% of its power from renewables to 2030 from 2035. However it missed a target of 20% this year, according to Reuters. Egypt has 6.8GW of installed wind, solar and hydro power, and aims to raise its renewable capacity to 10GW by the end of 2023, according to Ahmed Mohamed Mohina from Egypt's Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy.

A graph showing renewable energy in Africa.
9% of all energy in Africa came from renewable sources in 2020. Image: Statista.

Meanwhile, Italian energy group Eni and Algeria's Sonatrach are embarking on joint solar energy projects in the North African country. A 10MW plant will be the second built in the Bir Rebaa North production complex. It will be followed by another solar facility, also in the Berkine basin, with construction expected to begin in 2023.

3. Biden asks for funds to modernize the US oil reserve

US President Joe Biden has asked Congress for $500 million to upgrade the US strategic petroleum reserve (SPR). The proposed funding "would allow the SPR to both maintain operational readiness levels and also alleviate anticipated shortfalls due to supply chain issues, the COVID-19 pandemic, and related schedule delays," the White House said in the request.

Biden announced the biggest ever withdrawal from the reserve earlier this year, taking 180 million barrels in an effort to push down oil prices that spiked after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The historic release of oil has pushed supplies in the SPR to their lowest level since March 1984.

SPR oil is stored in dozens of underground salt caverns that potentially require maintenance when petroleum is removed and replaced. The facility's steel pumps and equipment are also vulnerable to corrosion. The reserve currently holds an estimated 405 million barrels in four heavily guarded locations on the Louisiana and Texas coasts.

The United States created the SPR in 1975 after the Arab oil embargo caused a price spike and damaged the US economy. The stockpile has been used to calm oil markets during periods of geopolitical instability or when extreme weather impacts infrastructure along the Gulf of Mexico.

4. More on energy from the World Economic Forum

At COP27, the Forum’s Net-Zero Carbon Cities programme, in partnership with NIUA, SEforALL, BASE, and EPRI, launched its new Toolbox of Solutions. It is a first-of-its-kind platform for urban decarbonisation, containing 300+ practical solutions from 150+ cities across the world. It intends to help city stakeholders accelerate local decarbonization while also boosting economic development, creating jobs and improving air quality.

Another COP27 session highlighted key outcomes of the Clean Hydrogen Project Accelerator, a collaboration between the Forum and IRENA. Panellists from I.a. EPRI, HSBC, Port of Antwerp-Bruges and RMI explored how progress towards final investment decisions is being hampered by offtake and finance. It also identified solutions to overcoming these barriers, and discussed best practices for establishing green hydrogen hubs to unlock hydrogen’s role in a net zero future.

At the COP27 session on “The Journey from Coal to Clean: A World Tour”, the Forum and Accenture presented a world tour of the most innovative ways to approach the retirement and repurposing of coal power assets. Participants from ENEL, EDP, ENGIE and EBRD exchanged on technological, financial, and Just Transition perspectives, providing input and bringing further visibility to the Coal to Renewables initiative.

Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements on Earth, and it represents a unique opportunity for a clean energy transition. Gerd Muller, Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization says green hydrogen is currently the only way to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors such as the steel, cement and chemical industries.

Industrial emissions account for almost a quarter of total emissions in the US. They are also some of the most difficult to halt. That is why focusing on decarbonizing industrial clusters is such an appealing concept, says Melissa Stark, Global Lead for Energy Transition and Net Zero Transition Services at Accenture, and Joanna Kolomanska who leads the Forum’s Materials Infrastructure Platform.

To learn more about the work of the Energy, Materials, Infrastructure Platform, contact Anne Therese Andersen: AnneTherese.Andersen@weforum.org

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