South Africa set its sights on attracting as much as $250 billion into its nascent green hydrogen industry by 2050 to take advantage of abundant solar and wind energy sources.
The industry could create 1.4 million jobs and generate as much as $30 billion in annual revenue by that year, according to Masopha Moshoeshoe, a green economy specialist in the South African Presidency’s investment and infrastructure office.
Green hydrogen, which is made by splitting water using renewable energy, is one of three key ways South Africa is pursuing to shift its economy away from a reliance on coal, which currently accounts for more than 80% of its electricity. The others are developing an electric-vehicle industry and shifting power production to wind and solar power.
The plan, included in a presentation by Moshoeshoe at the COP27 international climate conference in Egypt on Monday, would involve South Africa exporting as much as eight million tons of the clean-burning fuel and its derivatives by 2050 and satisfying local demand of between two and five million tons, he said.
While other African countries such as Morocco and Namibia have already positioned themselves as potential hydrogen producers, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased interest in supply and created more opportunities for cooperation, he said.
The war has driven up natural gas prices and threatened security of supply. Investment funds, governments and utilities are pledging to spend billions of dollars on markets for the clean fuel.
The potential is for the country to supply between 4% and 8% of the global market for ammonia, which is produced using hydrogen, with a focus on supplying South Korea and Japan, he said.
Even so, the numbers needed to make the strategy a success are daunting.
Between 140 000 megawatts and 300 000 megawatts of renewable-power generation capacity would be needed to supply the industry, compared with the country’s current total power facility capacity of a little over 40 000 megawatts, the presentation showed.
By 2030 alone, between 6 000 and 10 000 megawatts of dedicated renewable energy plants would need to be built to power 3 000 to 5 000 megawatts of electrolyser capacity, according to figures shown in the presentation. Electrolysers use electricity to make the hydrogen from water.
A number of bilateral negotiations are taking place between South Africa and potential markets, Moshoeshoe said.