AFRICA’S GREEN ENERGY REVOLUTION (Hydrogen’s role in unlocking Africa’s untapped renewables)
Hydrogen is increasingly recognized as a critical element in the global net-zero transition. Addressing climate change is increasingly urgent, and hydrogen’s role as a decarbonization vector in hard-to-abate sectors is clear. Hydrogen also plays a role in addressing concerns about energy security given the war in Ukraine as hydrogen will be critical to transport significant amounts of clean energy to energy-constrained global demand centers.
Furthermore, it could play a key role in accelerating socio-economic development in Africa. Green hydrogen tackles emissions that cannot be eliminated through direct electrification with renewables. It decarbonizes existing hydrogen applications such as ammonia production and refining, and new ones like maritime and aviation propulsion, steelmaking, and heavy-duty trucking. All these applications need a “clean molecule” if they are to phase out fossil fuels, and this molecule needs to include a hydrogen atom. Hydrogen also plays a critical role as an energy carrier in a global decarbonized energy system. It can store large volumes of energy and transport it over long distances via pipelines and ships.
This allows clean energy to flow from areas with abundant availability of wind and solar power – like Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Australia – to resource-constrained regions with high demand such as Europe or Asia. Because of these advantages, governments and regulators all over the world are increasingly backing hydrogen. Forty nations have announced hydrogen strategies and launched supportive measures to encourage early hydrogen uptake.
These include mechanisms like the Hydrogen Bank and IPCEI support under REPowerEU in the EU and the Inflation Reduction Act’s USD 3 per kilogram (kg) production tax credit in the US. The private sector is also increasingly investing in hydrogen as hydrogen’s momentum accelerates globally. Companies and alliances have so far announced more than 700 projects amounting to about 30 million metric tons per annum (mtpa) of clean hydrogen supply by 2030. Demand for hydrogen is expected to grow more than sevenfold to approximately 610 mtpa by 2050 (up from about 80 mtpa today) in a world where most countries achieve their net-zero commitments. Africa is strongly positioned for a clean hydrogen world.
The African continent is well positioned to produce low-cost, renewable hydrogen for export and domestic use, with several regions in the Northern and Southern parts of Africa having highly favorable wind and solar resources. Ample land is available, and while many of the renewable resources on the continent were previously “stranded” and inaccessible, hydrogen and its derivatives can now help make use of them. Consequently, there is no conflict between developing renewables for hydrogen export and domestic energy access and affordability – both are possible, and green hydrogen deployment at scale can enable and accelerate domestic renewables deployment.
Domestic and international stakeholders increasingly recognize this potential, and hydrogen activity on the African continent is picking up. African countries today account for about 3% of global hydrogen project announcements. While this is still a small share of announced projects globally, more should come since announced capacity has doubled in the past year alone.