Landmark event sets the stage for green hydrogen economy in EC

The Eastern Cape (EC) is powering ahead with developing the green hydrogen (H2) economy and leveraging South Africa’s natural resources, such as solar, wind, and platinum group metals, which are critical requisites for producing green hydrogen.

The Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT), the Eastern Cape provincial department responsible for environmental management and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, tasked with implementing international cooperation for sustainable development and international education on behalf of the German federal government, held a H2: Capacity Building and Policy and Regulatory Framework Workshop from 29 to 30 May 2023 in Gqeberha.

The workshop provided capacity building and shared the main outcomes from recent policy and regulatory studies relating to the H2 market in South Africa.

Addressing delegates, Professor Sampson Mamphweli, Head of Energy Secretariat at the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) announced that plans are afoot to develop an Eastern Cape Provincial Hydrogen Strategy to be done through Nelson Mandela University and key partners, including the Eastern Cape Provincial government.

He says the decision was motivated by the fact that the EC is one of the few provinces with Provincial Sustainable Energy Strategies. Furthermore, the province has vast land for renewable energy generation, a coastline where desalination of ocean water can take place and harbours for hydrogen product export opportunities.

Meanwhile, Ms Wendy Poulton provided expert input on the production of Green H2 and Power-to-X (Ptx). H2 production must rely on additional renewable energy sources to qualify for premium export markets.

“Ptx technologies offer expanded possibilities and value creation beyond H2 and can provide carbon-neutral products and fuels for various industries, including chemicals, fertilizers, steel, cement, glass, aviation, maritime shipping and heavy transport,” says Ms Poulton.

She advises countries to assess their Ptx profiles, develop national H2/Ptx strategies and create road maps with measurable targets and timelines aligned with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and commitments under the Paris Agreement.

The renewed discussion on H2, Ptx and their production has gained momentum through global decarbonisation and defossilisation efforts.

Policy recommendations were put forward to guide policymakers on key actions necessary to advance H2 development. Federico Villatico Campbell, who is an independent international green hydrogen expert said one of the recommendations involves establishing clear leadership in the H2 sector, potentially through the creation integrated of government committees to provide a focused approach.

He also recommended harmonising national and provincial policies on H2, integrating them with regional strategies and fostering collaboration between provinces in order to ensure a cohesive and coordinated approach. Other recommendations involve designating Special Economic Zones (SEZs) as “H2 valleys”; strengthening the electricity grid; creating a priority list of projects; focusing on exports to capture markets willing to pay a premium; considering carbon tax implications; de-risking projects and developing Technical and Vocational Education and Training programmes – focusing on reskilling, upskilling, and gender equality.

Globally, there is a growing emphasis on decarbonising value chains and this shift has specific implications for the Eastern Cape. The province recognises the importance of H2 in establishing low-carbon value chains and it, together with South Africa (SA), has the potential to become a key player in the global energy sector. SA is making significant progress in H2 initiatives while the EC is witnessing advanced developments.

However, H2 project development is a complex task that involves numerous interconnected components. It requires careful administrative decision-making and integrated institutional processes. Informed perspectives are essential for effectively navigating these challenges. The session sought to facilitate informed decision-making by discussing various aspects of H2 development. The aim is to seize the substantial global energy opportunity presented by decarbonising value chains.

There is much excitement from the national and local players who joined the discussion on developing an enabling policy, regulatory codes and standards. The participants included representatives from various key organisations, such as the Office of the Premier; DEDEAT; Provincial Special Economic Zones; Eastern Cape Development Corporation; the Provincial Infrastructure Steering Committee on Energy and Electricity; Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs; Transnet National Ports Authority; Eskom, Sarah Baartman District Municipality (SBDM) and Nelson Mandela Metro.