November 6, 2023 [Daily Maverick]- At the second annual Green Hydrogen Summit held in Cape Town on Monday 16 October, representatives of the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape provincial governments signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to cooperate on the development of the green hydrogen economy in South Africa.
It was signed by Dr Harry Malila, Director-General of the Western Cape Government and his counterparts in the Eastern and Northern Cape, Mbulelo Sogoni and Justice Bekebeke.
Green hydrogen is a clean and sustainable fuel and energy carrier produced by using renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power, to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through a process called electrolysis.
This hydrogen can then be used as an emission-free energy source for various applications such as fuel cells or industrial processes and is seen as being key to decarbonising “hard-to-abate” sectors such as long-haul transport, chemicals, and iron and steel.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) explains that hydrogen can also “support the integration of variable renewables in the electricity system”, being one of the few options for storing energy over days, weeks or months.
A statement by Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa explained that “key areas of collaboration amongst the three provinces concern the development of the green hydrogen sector and its associated infrastructure and logistics networks, trade promotion and facilitation, and human capital development”.
“Combining renewable energy potential with sustainable and desalinated water resources and dedicated electrolyser clusters will foster large, medium and small green hydrogen production sites.”
The statement continued: “The collaboration between the three Capes aims to facilitate a coordinated approach to leverage the potential of green hydrogen in the region through the MOU which highlights areas of cooperation, including the development of an interprovincial green hydrogen strategy; the development of shared logistics, infrastructure and manufacturing facilities; the creation of a shared marketing and funding portfolio to promote green hydrogen initiatives and the development of a shared programme to enhance human capital and create social awareness within the green hydrogen sector.”
On Monday, Ramokgopa addressed some of the concerns about the stresses that green hydrogen production would place on South Africa’s scarce water resources.
He explained that “some of the literature, reputable literature, makes the point that coastal countries have the potential to use seawater to produce green hydrogen, and therefore eliminating water stress concerns for less than 5% additional energy”.
Ramokgopa continued, “There is significant opportunity for corridor development in the Cape provinces and also extended to Namibia and then also parts of Angola.”
Though the potential is immense, so too is the cost.
Turning South Africa’s green hydrogen plans into reality will “require essentially about $1-trillion in cumulative investment over a period of time measured until 2050”.
The IEA in its recent Global Hydrogen Review report notes, “Measures to stimulate low-emission hydrogen use have only recently started to attract policy attention and are still not sufficient to meet climate ambitions.”
Speaking on Monday before the signing, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said, “We are facing a number of crises. Two of them – one being an energy shortfall in our country and the other being climate change. Those two crises are massive.”
“We will be signing an agreement between the three provinces, showing our commitment, as the coastal regions of this country, to green hydrogen…We are pushing very, very hard to make sure we end the first crisis, which is the energy crisis, that enables us to at the same time do our part with the climate crisis.”
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