Securing a clean, affordable and sustainable energy future for South Africa

There’s an old African proverb that says, ‘If you want to sit in the shade in your old age, plant a tree now.’ This saying has never been more important or relevant than it is today as South Africa works its way towards a transformed future, one that leverages science and innovation to overcome legacy problems and create a better future for all.

This transformed future is the goal of science, technology and innovation (STI), and is key to economic growth, job creation and socio-economic reform in South Africa. Implementing the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) has become increasingly important in achieving this transformed future, and a critical part of this transition to a net zero carbon economy. When Cabinet approved the Hydrogen South Africa Strategy, the seeds for this economy were planted and are now rapidly growing towards that proverbial tree – one that will benefit the majority of those who live in South Africa.

The Hydrogen Society Roadmap is aimed at aligning stakeholders around a shared vision around the deployment of hydrogen and hydrogen-related technologies and for South Africa to be further integrated into the global hydrogen network. The goal is to see hydrogen evolve to become an energy vector that enables the decarbonisation of hard to abate sectors, such as heavy-duty transport and energy-intensive industry, and that creates an enhanced and green power sector in the country.

At the launch of the Hydrogen Society Roadmap in February 2022, Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, the DeputyDirector –General for Technology Innovationat the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), said: “The launch of this roadmap and initiative is a significant milestone towards building a hydrogen economy in South Africa, the importance of which cannot be overstated. It provides South Africa with the opportunity to position hydrogen as the key fuel to assist the country in its decarbonisation strategy, something that the DSI has been championing for many years.”

The roadmap is focused on propelling South Africa towards a resilient and thriving hydrogen economy. It is a national effort led by the DSI to support the country as a whole, and part of its signing of the 2015 Paris Agreement where South Africa committed to the reduction of carbon emissions across various areas of the economy. As Joel Netshitenzhe, Executive Director and Board Vice-Chairperson of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) points out: “We believe hydrogen has the potential to build a greener future, create jobs and stimulate investment. It has been a privilege for MISTRA to contribute.”

It’s a view shared by Dr Ishmael Poolo from the Central Energy Fund who added: “The DSI pioneered hydrogen economy initiatives long before they became fashionable and their leadership, resources and support – especially towards policy and research development – has been invaluable. It is anticipated that pure hydrogen consumption could grow eightfold to around 540 million metric tons per year, globally, and that would be driven by transportation and industrial processes. Therefore, the significance of hydrogen development cannot be overstated.”

The Hydrogen Society Roadmap (HSRM) serves as a national coordinating framework to facilitate the integration of hydrogen-related technologies across various sectors and to stimulate economic recovery. It will allow for the intelligent leveraging of the country’s significant natural renewable resources, mineral endowments, and capabilities, to drive local demand for renewable hydrogen and build a viable green hydrogen export market. It places gender, equality and social inclusion at the core of this transition to a low-carbon economy, and on overcoming the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

The actions that are set to define the initial roadmap of the HSRM from 2021-2024 outline a plan that’s clearly set in reality, and that is aligned with relevant national priorities. The roadmap will ensure that HSRM is integrated with relevant national plans pertaining to the energy industry, decarbonisation and transition to ensure investor confidence and the ability to scale sustainably. It will provide support to catalytic projects that demonstrate commercial viability with a focus on industrial clusters to support wider adoption; and a review of regulatory, fiscal and other policy measures to engage the development of a hydrogen economy. The roadmap will also include the identification of the skills required for a hydrogen workforce and developing a plan to build these skills while remaining aware of the objectives of GeSI – a globally recognised and proactive driver of ICT sustainability.

The hydrogen roadmap will also continue building a research ecosystem that’s empowered to support innovation and that will be essential to ensuring that costs are reduced and that hydrogen, and hydrogen fuel-cell technologies (HFCT) move from niche technology to the global market. In addition, it will map international finance programmes and partnerships that are instrumental in supporting the hydrogen economy and establish realistic targets through the implementation of a monitoring, evaluation and learning framework.

With this roadmap firmly in place, South African can build the necessary momentum to become a global player in the green hydrogen and green ammonia markets and underscores how important it has become to build on the achievements and technical expertise of the Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) initiative that was aimed at developing and guiding innovation of the hydrogen value chain. To this end, Cabinet approved the extension of support for the HySA programme for an additional 10 years so the programme can provide the technical expertise required for the implementation of the HSRM.

In addition, the HSRM is set to focus on international partnerships to realise the true value and extent of the hydrogen economy without compromising on national interest. It is essential that South Africa realise the full benefits of the hydrogen economy while leveraging key international engagements and removing the barriers to innovation and adoption. The participation of South Africa in international forums, such as the International Partnership for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in the Economy (IPHE) tasks teams on hydrogen certification and trade rules will be critical in ensuring that South African green hydrogen conforms to international standards.

“This occasion of the launch of the hydrogen society roadmap is taking place at an important time when our country, and the world, are faced with pressing challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, persistent economic crises, poverty and climate change,” said Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Education, Science and Innovation. “The launch of this roadmap is a leading instrument in our economic recovery and will support inclusive growth and assist government in reducing unemployment, poverty and inequality in South Africa.”

The purpose of this high-level roadmap is to develop a shared vision for the hydrogen society of South Africa and translate it into actionable goals. It enables multiple stakeholders to collaborate and develop a common path towards achieving a preferred future for the country. It has adopted a three-pronged approach that integrates the use of futures framework foresight method; a roadmap development process; and a hydrogen sector development model. Each component will translate into a rich, relevant and powerful hydrogen future for South Africa and put the HSRM on the right path to ensure that this future becomes a reality. It is time for everybody to plant that tree…



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