For many African nations, the challenge is not how to lower their carbon footprint, since the continent’s overall contribution to global GHG emissions is already less than 4%; rather, they must evaluate how the continent can sustainably harness its current resources to fulfill the rising demand for energy required for economic growth and to raise inhabitants out of poverty, while pursuing a sustainable route to a net-zero future.
To achieve this balance, a number of African nations are considering green hydrogen as a promising technology. The goal is to minimize their dependency on fossil fuels, increase the utilization of renewable energy resources, and achieve their global climate obligations.
Countries planning green hydrogen investments
Namibia announced an estimated $9.4 billion green hydrogen project in 2021, with production beginning in 2026. The primary objective is to create 2 GW of renewable power for regional and international markets.
The $8.5 billion pledged at the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow to help South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Partnership’s transition to a low-emission development path includes an aim to “create new economic prospects such as green hydrogen.” In February 2022, South Africa announced intentions to fund around $17.8 billion worth of green hydrogen projects over the following decade. Kenya, Morocco, and Nigeria are also at various stages of developing plans to use green hydrogen into their energy mix.
Africa is on the starting line alongside wealthy nations for the first time in the global race to create green hydrogen. Governments throughout the globe are encouraging green hydrogen projects for home and export markets, and intend to invest billions of dollars over the next few years.
According to the consulting firm Accenture, the United States has a plan for the development of hydrogen technology. Germany is to invest $10.6 billion, while France and Portugal will each contribute $8 billion. Britain expects to spend $16.6 billion, Japan $3 billion, and China (already the biggest producer of green hydrogen) has committed $16 billion by 2020 to green their industries. Following the passage of a hydrogen law, industry consortia supported by the South Korean government agreed in 2021 to invest a total of $38 billion to build the country’s hydrogen economy by 2030.
The notion of using hydrogen as a fuel is not new. Automobile fuel, refining petroleum, treating metals, manufacturing fertilizer, and food processing are just a few of the areas in which it is being utilized. When utilized as a fuel, hydrogen produces a huge quantity of energy, about three times that of diesel or gasoline.
The green hydrogen vision, while technologically intriguing, comes with several restrictions for African nations, the most evident being economic feasibility. First, funding should be made available to develop the continent’s tremendous renewable energy potential and, perhaps, to profit on its abundance of minerals required to produce fuel cells. Furthermore, once formed, hydrogen, whether green or not, is unstable and combustible at normal temperature and pressure.
These restrictions should not deter Africans from manufacturing green hydrogen. They require visionary leadership, ambitious policymaking, and substantial new investments in order to:
- Create collaborative innovation platforms to boost research and the creation of readily maintainable, sustainable technologies in Africa to constantly improve the sector’s competitiveness.
- Construct the infrastructure for hydrogen energy to enable H2 production and efficient storage, transport, and recharging facilities.
- Promote the use of green hydrogen in productive areas by promoting its worth.
- Establish or enhance the legal frameworks for hydrogen in order to support the whole value chain.
Africa must create a skilled workforce and invest in relevant infrastructure in order to be a pioneer in the green hydrogen industry as it evolves.
Africans may be told that green hydrogen is too ambitious given the continent’s various objectives, but Nelson Mandela’s words hold true: “It always looks impossible until it’s done.”