There is now a critical call for global change, and with the need for renewable energy rising rapidly, the opportunity to invest in these resources is now. For many African countries, there are opportunities to use their existing resources to handle the need to meet net-zero targets, and with this growing demand for wind and solar power, South Africa can harness the developments in green hydrogen to optimise this resource to its advantage.
Earlier this year, South Africa updated its Hydrogen Society Roadmap which intends to create a carbon-neutral society. For industries that are not possible to be electrified such as the steel industry and freight, green hydrogen is an essential alternative to ensure sustainable options are available in every sector.
What is Green Hydrogen?
Hydrogen is a clean alternative to methane but is still extremely damaging to the environment. It contributes to climate change by increasing the number of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, due to the way it is produced.
Hydrogen is usually extracted from gas or coal by using steam or methane, but green hydrogen is produced through the electrolysis of water by using renewable energy. Electrolysis is the process of using electricity to split water into two forms, hydrogen and oxygen. By using renewable methods to create this chemical reaction, it will not emit carbon dioxide, making this the cleanest option for energy.
Green hydrogen is incredibly versatile due to what hydrogen can be transformed into. Whether electricity or synthetic gas it allows it to be used in areas that are hard to decarbonise such as the transport industry.
Green Hydrogen developing in South Africa
Globally there is a high demand for alternative renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Hydrogen offers a solution to utilise the consumption of clean energy which can help transform the usage of alternatives to fossil fuels in South Africa, especially in the transport sector.
Shipping is a growing opportunity for South Africa to implement green hydrogen. Not only does it drive decarbonisation and export energy resources, but it also provides the opportunity for new areas of investment and improve public health.
International shipping uses 300 million tons of fossil fuels every year, representing 5% of global oil production. Outside of the Mediterranean, South Africa has the highest marine traffic in Africa, meaning there are ample opportunities to introduce green hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels. Not only this, but South Africa also has the capability to help the demand for green hydrogen across multiple sectors nationally.
With South Africa developing the hydrogen roadmap, it is promising to see works being developed on hydrogen projects where they look to decarbonise the local industry as well as be one of the low-cost exporters of green hydrogen-derived products.
Benefits of South Africa using Green Hydrogen
As mentioned before, South Africa has a large network in the marine freight industry. Green technologies provide incomparable performances for vehicles, and some are even able to outperform their fossil fuel counterparts due to weight efficiency and faster refuelling times. In the shipping and aviation industry, green hydrogen's ability to produce carbon-neutral fuels to power carbon-intensive vehicles makes it an unrivalled technology to decarbonise the transport industry.
Heat and Power
In countries that use natural gas as a source of power, green hydrogen offers a cleaner alternative. Swapping hydrogen into gas grids can offset the carbon emissions emitted from heating and power in households. Fuel cells are already widely used in Southern Africa for off-grid power, so supplying nationally can help withdraw carbon emissions.
An issue with renewables in the energy sector is how to efficiently store the energy to maximise its use. With capacity limits to hold energy within grid systems and substantial costs with battery storage makes hydrogen a more economical alternative. Green hydrogen can allow converting excess amounts of electricity into hydrogen when faced with oversupply.
Green hydrogen can shift the way existing renewables are used, but with that, some requirements and limitations can halt these plans. The biggest and most obvious is finance. Capitalising on South Africa’s existing renewable sources and ensuring proper funding is put in place can ensure the developments of green hydrogen are backed to its full potential.
Other finances which significant investments can also help add to the development of green hydrogen are strengthening research on the advancement of sustainable technologies to improve the competitiveness of the sector.
However, it is not just funding the research, but also ensuring South Africa has the infrastructure and framework in place to efficiently produce, store and transport green hydrogen. As new technologies improve, South Africa must establish the groundwork to be a key player in producing and supplying green hydrogen.
Having greater commitments to eradicate the use of fossil fuels is key to meeting net zero targets and the introduction of green hydrogen can help take steps in doing so. Once the right foundations have been formed, South Africa can start to place itself as a reliable hydrogen exporter. The future developments of green hydrogen can allow South Africa to reap significant rewards and stand in a position to become one of the green energy giants of the world.
If you would like to see how we are helping to combat climate change and meet our net zero targets, read here.