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Is Africa Ready for Decarbonization Using Green Hydrogen?

Globally, green hydrogen has been identified as the energy carrier required to achieve energy transition and meet the global net-zero carbon target. This is because green hydrogen is produced by using direct current from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind to split water in an electrolyser into hydrogen and oxygen through a process called electrolysis. Hydrogen is an extremely flexible energy vector that can be stored and transported easily and use to decarbonize energy-intensive industries.

As a fuel that produces only water when burned, green hydrogen can be used as fuel for heavy-duty vehicles, shipping, aviation, and power generation, thereby reducing carbon emissions in the transport sector. It can also be used for residential and industrial heating, and as feedstocks in industries to produce plastic, fertilizer, and refined fuel.

The several uses of green hydrogen coupled with its zero-emission production process and the decreasing cost of renewable energy generation and electrolysers have accelerated the hydrogen economy in many parts of the world.  Also, policies are established to drive the strategies required to develop a green hydrogen ecosystem to minimize reliance on fossil fuel and crude oil imports, decarbonize the economy, attract investment, promote the energy market, and for economic growth and sustainability. 

The policies vary and are set as strategic plans, target and framework legislation, codes and standards, payments and financing, information and education, and taxes and charges. Each policy has a specific aim and objectives, targets to meet, and expected impacts. They are usually categorized into phases which are defined by timelines; short-term, medium-term, and long-term. For maximum benefits, they generally cover one or more of the green hydrogen value chains: production, storage, transportation, and consumption.

Globally, more than 30 countries have established different policies to drive the green hydrogen ecosystem. For instance, Europe has adopted several strategies captured in the EU’s recovery plan, EU’s hydrogen strategy, EU’s green deal, and Carbon border adjustment mechanism to create a European hydrogen ecosystem. Also, while India’s policy is aimed at producing 5 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030, developing the related renewable capacity to make the nation a green hydrogen and green ammonia export hub; China’s green hydrogen strategy is focused on increasing green hydrogen production to 200,000 tonnes annually by promoting green hydrogen across the country, establishing national and local government policies, developing global manufacturing capacity for electrolyser equipment & components, fostering fuel cell vehicles and supply chains, and government investment;

A map of Africa showing countries developing a green hydrogen ecosystem

On the other hand, Africa, a large continent with an abundance of natural resources such as a vast land area of about 30.7 million sq km and a huge renewable energy resource potential (solar, wind, and hydro) has not yet fully exploited these potentials for a green hydrogen ecosystem. Out of the 54 countries in Africa, only six (6) countries: Egypt, Kenya, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, and South Africa, have made significant contributions to the green hydrogen evolution through a few low‐carbon hydrogen projects underway. Though, South Africa is the only country that has established a national green hydrogen policy. This low turnout is caused by some factors like the region’s dependence on existing traditional energy infrastructures (crude oil) for domestic use and export to grow its economy, lack of enabling frameworks (policies, regulations, and legal) to support green hydrogen value chain, limited supporting infrastructure and risks associated with insecurity and investment.

Therefore, to change this narrative and make significant progress toward green hydrogen development, Africa must be intentional in creating policies, including frameworks that allow quick implementation. The policies should ensure the following:

  • Capture the three stages of green hydrogen policy: technology readiness, market penetration, and market growth.
  • Identify and provide access to existing supporting infrastructures and enabling environments such as land, seaports, and gas pipelines.
  • Provide realistic production targets with timelines
  • Identify eligible applications or/and sectors
  • Include incentive schemes, tax reductions and waivers for producers, and large-scale production of renewables.
  • Specify market formation and export quota
  • Include supporting policies on the use of renewable energy sources for green hydrogen production
  • Develop a model for public-private partnerships and investors

In conclusion, with Africa’s many underdeveloped and developing nations’ eagerness for growth, high population of young people for capacity, and global declines in the cost of hydrogen production, Africa has enormous potential for a green hydrogen ecosystem both for local consumption and international export.

The question remains: is Africa ready to use green hydrogen to decarbonise its economy?

[1]       FSR, “Green hydrogen: bridging the energy transition in Africa and Europe,” no. October, p. 33, 2020.

[2]       R. E. Po, “Europe’s Energy Transition : A Common Challenge Europe’s Energy Transition : A Common Challenge,” 2021.

[3]       M. D. Mukelabai, U. K. G. Wijayantha, and R. E. Blanchard, “Renewable hydrogen economy outlook in Africa,” Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev., vol. 167, no. June, p. 112705, 2022, doi: 10.1016/j.rser.2022.112705.

[4]       International Energy Agency, “Electricity Market Report,” Electr. Mark. Rep., no. January, p. 118, 2022, [Online]. Available: https://www.iea.org/reports/electricity-market-report-january-2022.

[5]       I. E. Agency, “Africa energy outlook,” 2022, DOI: 10.1787/g2120ab250-en.

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