The production and export of green hydrogen is one means for countries to contribute to the global energy transition, with other elements being renewables, energy-efficient design principles and behavioural changes.
“There is significant potential for South Africa to create a whole new industry that can help stimulate its economy by building and growing a hydrogen export value chain.
"In addition to creating opportunities for skills development and work opportunities at hydrogen harvesting plants, it could lead to massive infrastructure development and improvement,” says consulting engineering company Royal HaskoningDHV senior energy consultant Philip König.
The goal of increasing the role of green hydrogen in energy consumption from less than 0.1% globally to 10% by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency, could enable a 6.4% reduction in total cumulative carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
There are several opportunities that a green hydrogen ecosystem could offer South Africa. While there has been some discussion in South Africa about the use case for hydrogen in passenger vehicles, there is a stronger case for its potential six-million tons a year production to be split evenly between export markets, and for local use in high energy demand industries like ammonia and methanol production, refineries and steel and glass production, says management consulting company Boston Consulting Group principal Keshan Mudaly.
“There’s a value chain across the six so-called colours of hydrogen energy, including pressurisation, liquefaction, hydrogenation, ammonia and methanol synthesis and the Fischer-Tropsch process,” he explains.
“South Africa is well positioned to produce green hydrogen because it has large-scale, high-quality renewable energy potential, with its average load factors being among the best in the world. There are sufficient synergies to allow for water security, as 1% of South Africa’s land area could be the foundation to produce ten-million tonnes a year of green hydrogen and ocean water desalination costs could be as little as $0.01/kg of hydrogen.”
Other complementary opportunities include hydrogen trading, short- and long-term storage, pipelines and shipping. Hydrogen could also be used to replace diesel in rail applications, and to replace existing energy sources in shipping and aviation. Other applications include hydrogen adapted power generation turbines, backup power, and grid blending, says Mudaly.
“Assessing renewable and alternative energy solutions, the infrastructure required to support global decarbonisation and the adoption of low-carbon energy sources against the backdrop of a rapidly changing energy transition landscape is a complex task.
"However, these processes are required if countries and industries are to have a hope of working together to achieve the ideals of the Conference of the Parties COP26, reducing the impacts of greenhouse gases and ensuing climate change,” König notes.