HomeRegional NewsAfricaIs there space for hydrogen in the just energy transition?

Is there space for hydrogen in the just energy transition?

A just energy transition within the Global South context doesn’t just mean changing the energy source from brown to green, but often means creating energy access in the first place.

A newly released TIPS policy brief into the relationship between energy access and poverty and the necessary energy transition brewing around the world, suggests that addressing the lack of access to electricity could help create the necessary change.

The International Energy Agency in its Financing Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging and Developing Economies report says the world’s energy and climate futures are increasingly hinged on whether these economies can manage their transitions successfully.

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While the world does have enough money to manage the necessary transition (according to the report), the money isn’t making its way to where it is needed. This is despite the fact that in many cases it is easier for emerging and developing economies to develop green energy sources from scratch rather than make the same mistakes developed nations have already made with brownfields developments.

While Africa may be considered energy poor by most metrics (the World Bank earlier this year said close to 85% of sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to clean cooking, accounting for 35% of global access deficit) it is enriched with renewable resources as well as the metals required by the technological processes to produce green hydrogen.

Could green hydrogen boost Africa’s just energy transition?

Hendrik Malan, CEO at Frost & Sullivan Africa, sees hydrogen as a key building stone in addressing sub-Sahara Africa’s electrification challenge. “Select countries in the region already have infrastructure in place which can be leveraged to take advantage of green hydrogen for both production and export.”

Given the attributes and pace of development of the sector, Malan believes it is critical that Africa creates a conducive R&D and investment environment to drive local applications for hydrogen. For him, this starts with an enabling policy environment: “Without a local market and commercial ecosystem, it would be challenging to consistently attract large scale investors due to the capital intensive nature of the sector.”

He thinks South Africa is at least ten years away from developing a functioning hydrogen economy, if that enabling policy environment is first created.

Malan will moderate a roundtable on hydrogen on 1 September, during which he will discuss with expert panellists the kinds of policies and support mechanisms Africa would need in place to foster the development of the sector.

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“Chemical storage systems such as hydrogen are considerably easier, cheaper and can be stored for longer periods than battery energy storage systems, which generally have higher production costs and geopolitical complications. With Africa’s renewable energy opportunities, would the advancements in hydrogen and storage technology enable Africa to fully utilise these resources and supply the world with large quantities of green hydrogen for instance?” asked Malan.

MoUs between developed nations with aggressive decarbonisation targets who want to use hydrogen and emerging markets in Africa are a sign of traction in the market. Whether this results in Africa as a net exporter of hydrogen or creator of more electricity for own consumption is anyone’s guess. ESI

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a conference producer for Clarion Events Africa.