Green Hydrogen Potentials in Africa’s Energy Transition
The energy mix in Africa is evolving, and several changes are being made in how energy is generated in the continent. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the energy transition is “a pathway toward transforming the global energy sector from fossil-based to zero-carbon by the second half of this century.” The focus of the transition bores down to a shift away from conventional fossil fuels (Coal, Oil, and Gas).
The need to reduce energy-related carbon emissions is the core driver of this energy transition. Adopting renewable energy and energy efficiency is estimated to help make up to 90% of the carbon emission reductions. A shift away from conventional fuels will require their replacement with sustainable renewable energy sources.
Hydrogen is seen as the answer to the decarbonization of several sectors. Green hydrogen is a term used to describe hydrogen produced with clean energy sources. Renewable sources such as wind and solar are used to power large electrolysers that separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules from water. The Hydrogen can subsequently be collected or liquified for storage and later use. Hydrogen is a clean gas that produces water vapour when burnt.
Africa, based on its vast amount of renewable energy potential, stands the chance of being a global hub for the production of hydrogen fuel. This will definitely shift the dynamics of the global energy landscape, making immediate impacts on commerce and industry in the African continent. Green hydrogen production presents various possibilities. One of such is the export of hydrogen to other countries outside Africa. Asides from this, hydrogen holds the huge potential of helping Africa achieve its decarbonization targets, especially through green electrification. This advantage stems from its energy storage capacity, improving energy security and reliability.
Aside from the benefit of decarbonization, the adoption of renewable energy holds some benefits for the economy and indeed achieving universal energy access. Green hydrogen can be used instead of fossil fuels to power heavy industry and fuel large vehicles, like planes and ships. These sectors, with characteristically hard-t0-abate emissions, can now be decarbonized using green hydrogen. Japan is currently the leader in the use of hydrogen-powered transportation. This development has been greatly encouraged due to efforts by the country’s local car manufacturers – Toyota and Honda.
Challenges in Green Hydrogen Development
With hydrogen, especially green hydrogen, beginning to gain more traction in the African energy landscape, there are still some challenges that pose heavy constraints to the growth and adoption of green hydrogen in Africa. Currently, there is a twin issue of a comfortable dependence on fossil fuels and the unwillingness to invest in hydrogen. Some African countries boast large fossil reserves and proponents of “local content consumption” believe that Africa must consume what it has in abundance. The reason for this is not far-fetched. The infrastructure for oil and gas is settling into maturity stages and government investments have gone a long way toward accelerating the growth of the sector over the years. This, therefore, brings an unwillingness to direct a new round of investment into a new technology that is perceived “untested” in Africa, by many.
Furthermore, policies play an important role in the adoption of new energy technologies. There is a need for adequate government/political support to drive the growth of the sector. A hydrogen economy will therefore call for proper regulatory policies that will establish the needed legal framework needed for the development of the hydrogen economy in Africa. Because the development of green hydrogen is tied to clean energy development, African governments need to ensure that they can create an enabling environment for clean energy development.
Hydrogen promises great dividends for Africa. Beyond electrification, a hydrogen boom, anchored in Africa would lead to rapid economic development as several other aspects of the economy will experience accelerated growth. However, for Africa to position itself strategically and take advantage of the current financing opportunities, geopolitical landscape and increased global appetite for sustainable energy.
This blog post is authored by Ayodeji Stephen, a Policy Research Analyst for the Electricity Hub. It is originally posted on the Electricity Hub.