Written by Coenraad Bezuidenhout
Key message 1: Green hydrogen collaborations should leverage legacy infrastructure and facilities.
Aldrich Louis, General Manager at ArcelorMittal South Africa, aims to rejuvenate the Saldanha steel mill by championing green ironmaking and steel production. This move comes after the mill was mothballed in 2020 due to soaring coal and electricity costs, resulting in the loss of 1500 jobs in the Western Cape. Louis recognizes that the project's viability must consider financial returns, environmental impacts, and local community benefits.
The initiative pledges to reinstate 600 steel-making jobs in the region, with prospects for additional employment in renewable energy. By producing 61,000 tonnes of hydrogen annually, leveraging local renewable resources like wind, waves, and solar power, the Saldanha mill can be revitalized in a sustainable manner. This shift reduces dependency on fluctuating fossil fuel and fish commodity prices, enhancing community resilience and environmental gains.
Amidst a growing climate crisis, the transition to green energy is paramount, with green hydrogen holding significant promise. However, given the substantial capital requirements and complexity involved, partnerships are pivotal in realizing this potential in green energy investments.
Key message 2: Swift government policy execution combined with private sector infrastructure collaboration can reduce risks for a “lighthouse” effect.
Namibia's Hyphen hydrogen energy project, led by project director Patrick Stein-Kaempfe, stands out as a pinnacle of green hydrogen excellence in African governance and European collaboration. Backed by German renewable energy company Enertrag, the €12 billion investment initiative is set to commence in January 2025. It will establish two 3.5GW renewable energy projects, featuring a 1.5GW electrolyser capable of producing 175,000 tons of hydrogen and a million tons of ammonia annually. Over a minimum 4-year construction period, the project anticipates employing 15,000 people, with 3,000 permanent jobs, primarily held by Namibians.
Hyphen's European collaboration is evident in its infrastructure investments, mitigating project-on-project risks associated with relying solely on government-provided infrastructure. Stein-Kaempfe envisions it as the first of many green hydrogen projects in Namibia, serving as a guiding light for other African governments due to Namibia's stellar governance, policy, and execution.
Key message 3: Leveraging Africa’s renewable energy abundance and Europe’s initial demand, the change can be more rapid than expected.
Senegal, located further up Africa's west coast, emerges as a nation poised to lead in green hydrogen and foster Europe-Africa collaboration. Mamadou Fall Kane, Energy Advisor to President Macky Sall, reveals Senegal's ambition to develop a national hydrogen strategy, leveraging Africa’s abundant solar energy advantage relative to Europe.
Senegal envisions exporting hydrogen as it does with liquid natural gas, recognizing the immense potential in hydrogen-based transportation and mobility. With 32% of its installed generation capacity already relying on renewable energy since its first solar plant starting operations in 2016, Senegal demonstrates its commitment to a sustainable energy future, making it a promising player in the global green hydrogen landscape.
Key message 4: Small can be beautiful and Africa can innovate the way.
Africa offers more than abundant energy sources, it also offers innovation. Keren Energy, based in Stellenbosch, is a strong advocate for small-scale, distributed green hydrogen production. Collaborating with the University of the Western Cape's South African Institute for Advanced Materials Chemistry, they pioneered one of South Africa's leading green hydrogen programs.
Together with other stakeholders, they established a proof-of-concept facility powered by a 100-kW solar photovoltaic generator, using an electrolyser to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Keren now plans to scale up with a 10-megawatt commercial project on a 20-hectare site, targeting bespoke customers. Their determination, backed by interest from companies like Grindrod, drives their quest for further support despite the economic challenges. With a 95% certainty of success, Keren Energy exemplifies Africa's commitment to green hydrogen innovation.
Key message 5: EU-level lean-in on certifications standardisation and regulatory simplification can make all the difference.
Africa's green hydrogen production ambitions may for some time require looking beyond it’s own shores for stable take-off at scale. Patrice Viaene, industrials and energy partner at law firm Clifford Chance, suggests the need for standardization and certification possibilities, especially for European markets. Simplifying regulatory requirements for African hydrogen exporters and fostering EU-level partnerships with African nations, rather than individual countries, is crucial. Viaene emphasizes the importance of a unified European voice to streamline capital flow to Africa, citing partnerships with countries like Namibia, Congo, and South Africa as opportunities to enhance collaboration and advance the region's green hydrogen aspirations.