What are the keys to growth for the hydrogen society?

The vision laid out in the Department for Science and Innovation’s Hydrogen Society Roadmap for South Africa is bold and highly detailed. It builds on years of world-leading research and development in the sector, and is both strategic and practical in its proposed approach to growing the hydrogen society. Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology of South Africa, Dr BE Nzimande, launched the roadmap, highlighting the opportunity for the hydrogen society to address many of the wicked challenges, namely energy security, energy poverty and climate change.

Dr Ishmael Poolo of the Central Energy Fund explained to attendees at the launch the economic opportunity. “By 2050,” he said, “Pure hydrogen consumption is forecast to grow eightfold, to 540 million tons per year”, largely driven by applications in transport and industry as businesses, consumers and government work to meet decarbonisation goals. The roadmap is clear on the opportunities and blockers that will enable the local hydrogen society to grow to meet this need, the “levers of change” that must be acted upon to achieve its goals. 

There are eight areas outlined in the document, ranging from stimulating local demand for hydrogen, to ensuring a positive regulatory environment, to the development of skills. Some of the opportunities are clear: there is a lot of interest around the world in green hydrogen and fuel cells as a mechanism for decarbonising the economy. Right now, this means a high level of investor interest, in the near future it means a potentially large market for exports. 

The roadmap recommends “significant regulatory” reform, ensuring consistency across the hydrogen value chain in line with international standards (and notes that South Africa is represented in key working groups and standards bodies).  

 It also speaks to the need for infrastructure, particularly refuelling stations for fuel cell vehicles, but also points to other opportunities. As James Metcalfe, Africa South Market Lead for Energy at PwC points out, “hydrogen has the ability to revolutionise the entire energy space. Trials involving the use of hydrogen mixed into existing natural gas networks, for example, have been successfully carried out for domestic heating and appliances in the UK, the Netherlands and France. 

One key issue for growth is the right level of incentivisation for adoption. The Carbon Tax already introduced into South Africa can be used to drive demand, but government also has other mechanisms it can draw on to encourage investment in research, development and commercialisation, such as the Capital Projects Feasibility Programme (CPFP). 

In a similar way, one of the most exciting areas the roadmap covers is the potential for industrial clusters and Special Economic Zone (SEZ) status for “hydrogen valleys” alongside the complementary “platinum valleys”. South Africa is the world’s leading platinum producer, a vital material for fuel cell production.  

Mashudu Romano of Mitochondria Energy Group has been participating in the development of a hydrogen valley innovation hub and network of businesses. Based on his experience, he explained, “the development of the hydrogen society in South Africa is one of the most significant developments of the post-Apartheid era.” 

The roadmap aims to stimulate the growth of the hydrogen society by removing barriers, creating knowledge and manufacturing networks and seizing opportunities. “South Africa is positioned to play a leading role in the development of… green hydrogen,” said Dr Thulani Dlamini, CEO of Council for Industrial and Scientific Research. The roadmap will help to entrench that position. 



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