The use of clean hydrogen can help to address global greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, but only if net zero emissions costs and prices are set by governments across the world, Deputy Minister in The Presidency Pinky Kekana said on October 14 during a keynote address at the Hydrogen Economy Indaba.
Necessary steps include reducing the costs of producing hydrogen from wind and solar power, or providing the option of hybrid technologies, which Kekana said “offers a promising solution to cut emissions in some of the most versatile and fluid-dependent sectors of the economy”.
The sectors referred to included heavy-duty vehicles, shipping and cement – all of which are major sectors in South Africa.
“There is much debate about the role of clean hydrogen as a key energy vector in a decarbonised world, but in South Africa, the discussion thus far has been focused on what the opportunities for the country might be to become a leading player, considering its unique position as the world's largest producer of platinum-group metals (PGMs) and its subsequent huge potential for renewable energy production,” she elaborated.
She referred to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s latest weekly newsletter, from which she quoted: “It's no exaggeration to say the world is facing a climate crisis of unprecedented proportions”.
In his newsletter, Ramaphosa referred to the latest report from the world's leading climate scientists, who have warned that the pace of global warming is rapidly increasing.
“Sub-Saharan Africa has been experiencing temperature increases well above the global average, which presents serious health, environmental and economic risks. These risks will have increasingly damaging effects on human health, water availability, food production infrastructure and migration,” he stressed.
Kekana lamented that the “devastating impact” of climate change was already being felt in South Africa.
However, while the world becomes more competitive in respect of a net-zero carbon emission status, South Africa's manufacturing sector is being driven by coal-generated electricity, which Kekana said “compromises [the country] in respect of global trade barriers, and consumer behaviour that is quite rightly being steered away from carbonisation”.
In undertaking widespread consultation, there have been calls from social partners for an ambitious, realistic and impartial transition as the country migrates towards a decarbonised economy.
“Crafting an objective transition that will not only meet social obligations to our people, but also enable our economy to grow immensely [will be critical].”
She stated that the transition process would need to be fully inclusive and involve industrial organised labour in reskilling and upskilling people, creating employment and providing support to ensure that South Africa’s people are the major beneficiaries of a greener future.
South Africa’s electricity sector should be prioritised in the decarbonisation transition, she stated, “so that there is beneficial impact across the decommissioning and repurposing of coal-fired power stations”.
This move will also require investment into new low-carbon generation capacity, such as renewables.
“While these are enormous challenges, we must not be blind to the opportunities that exist. South Africa has abundant resources and highly skilled people to unlock prospects for investment in building a new economy through green hydrogen.”