Energy Capital & Power

In Pursuit of a Green Hydrogen Economy: African Opportunities and Resource Value

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Green hydrogen is becoming an increasingly valuable resource in global energy markets as more sustainable energy source in the transition to a green energy future. With its accelerated uptake in global markets, coupled with enhanced technological innovation and the decreasing costs of fuel cells, the resource is beginning to garner increased attention in African markets, with the continent’s significant renewable resource base and urgent need for alternative energy solutions driving developments. By leveraging its renewable energy sources to produce clean, sustainable green hydrogen, Africa can drive socio-economic growth, enhance energy security, and eradicate energy poverty by 2030.

Why Green Hydrogen in Africa?

Africa’s pursuit of clean energy solutions in the transition to a low-carbon future, as well as continent-wide targets to address energy poverty, accelerate economic growth, and ensure a consistent energy supply for years to come, have created fundamental opportunities for green hydrogen developments. There are over 600 million people in Africa without access to electricity, and only 17% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa has access to clean cooking. Yet, the continent holds sizeable renewable energy resources that could address these issues. By leveraging these resources in the production of green hydrogen, Africa could significantly enhance energy access, security, and supply.

Africa’s green hydrogen potential is largely attributed to its significant renewable resource base. Generated via the electrolysis of water using electricity derived from renewable energy sources, if sufficiently developed, Africa could emerge as a green hydrogen leader. With total renewable power generation estimated at 1,475MW – most of which is undeveloped – the continent is well positioned to become a green energy leader. Projects such as the 6,450MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia; the 580MW Noor Ouarzazate Solar complex in Morocco; and the 310MW Lake Turkana wind farm in Kenya are just some of the continent’s most significant renewable energy developments. By using new and existing renewable projects to accelerate green hydrogen development, Africa serves to significantly benefit from a green energy future.

“Hydrogen is valuable for Africa as it has broad applications in the industry sector, transport sector, residential sector, as well as for electrification. There is a possibility for hydrogen to be used across several sectors of the economy, from power and heat generation to feedstock in the industry sector, to transport,” stated Solomon Agbo, Senior Scientist and H2Atlas-Africa Project Coordinator at the Conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa pre-event on Tuesday.

What makes green hydrogen so valuable in Africa, is that it provides the best solution to intermittent renewable resources. Despite having an abundance of hydro, wind and solar resources, renewable energy continues to be dependent on external factors such as weather and season. Accordingly, green hydrogen offers an ideal solution to intermittency, and will not only ensure supply consistency and security, but enables sector coupling – resource conversion and combination – to ensure the highest possible output. Theoretically, green hydrogen will not only increase the pace and penetration of renewable energy in Africa, but will work in conjunction with the sector to drive access and supply.

Potential Markets and International Drivers

Potential markets have been identified across Africa, and with national objectives, international-African partnerships, and growth-oriented programs in place, Africa is well positioned to become a competitive green hydrogen market. Programs such as the African Hydrogen Partnership (AHP) – a framework for the vision of a hydrogen economy in Africa – has motivated African governments to refocus their attention on green hydrogen developments. AHP foresees the development of power-to-gas renewable energy hubs in Africa that will provide critical energy for the industrial, transportation, commercial, and social sectors.

Additionally, national initiatives such as South Africa’s Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) program are promoting green hydrogen as an effective resource to enhance job creation, electrification and poverty eradication. HySA seeks to increase local knowledge and innovation regarding green hydrogen technology, accelerating growth through local capacity building. What’s more, Nigeria, through its National Energy Policy 2018, has introduced a long-term strategy for green hydrogen development. By aligning renewable energy targets with green hydrogen considerations, countries can create competitive hydrogen markets that will accelerate socio-economic growth.

“Africa needs to get their own hydrogen market. In order to do that, we need to be involved in generating the technology that is needed. We really need to build our scientific base. There is no reason we cannot build up sufficient capacity for training our own people for hydrogen, in the same way we have done with hydrocarbons. We need to break some of the monopolies to see how new energy systems can come on board. We need room for expansion. We need new models to enable these plans to grow, with teams of innovators who can bring new technology to market,” stated Victor Konde, Scientific Affairs Officer, United National Economic Commissions for Africa.

Meanwhile, international players have recognized the value and potential of a green hydrogen economy in Africa. Germany, in particular, has pushed for enhanced Germany-Africa partnerships in the pursuit of green hydrogen developments. With signed partnerships with Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as collaborative projects with South Africa and Morocco, Germany is driving green hydrogen growth in Africa. Additionally, through the H2Atlas-Africa project – a joint initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and sub-Saharan African partners aims to produce 165,000TWh of green hydrogen annually in West Africa across several projects – Germany has become a front runner in Africa’s emerging green hydrogen economy.

“With a continent with so many people without access to energy and without clean cooking, there is an opportunity for us to transform our economies and communities. There is no reason why we can’t welcome one of the best forms of energy that will replace hydrocarbons – hydrogen. What we need is an enabling environment. African governments need to create an environment to bring in investors and drive the development of green hydrogen. Governments need to play their own role. When we create the environment to stimulate the economy, we will start to see investment and development,” stated NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber.

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Charné Hollands

Charné Hollands

Charné Hollands is the Deputy Editor at Energy Capital & Power. She holds a Higher Certificate in Professional Photography and Masters in Media Studies from the University of Cape Town. Charné writes content for ECP's website and events as well as co-authored African Energy Chamber: Road to Recovery.